Indoor Photography: 11 Chicago Indoor Photo Locations Guide

Indoor Photography: Chicago Photo Locations

There’s a lot of things to love about Chicago, but our winters are not one of them. Now you might think that you must wait out the cold weather before you can take those ideal pictures you’ve been envisioning. But guess what! There are some amazing indoor photography locations in Chicago where you can shoot your perfect picture. From indoor greenery to stunning architecture, to quaint and cozy and artsy, there’s an indoor Chicago location to fit your photo needs. To help you out, I’ve pooled together a list of some of my favorite photo spots, including a few iconic landmarks and some lesser-known hidden gems.

 

I’ve also included a quick guide for each spot,  summarizing highlights, what it’s good for, and ease of access (on a scale of 1-5, 5 being the most difficult).

Highlights: Great natural light, greenery, and pretty good access.
Good for: Family, Engagements, and portraits. Requires permits for special events, e.g, weddings.
Access: 3

Like many on this list, this indoor photo location doesn’t “officially” allow professional photography, but with a bit of discretion and courtesy to other guests, you can take advantage of this indoor oasis.  Built between 1906 and 1907, this is one of the largest conservatories in the nation. Designed by renowned architect  William LeBaron Jenney, a.k.a. the father of the American Skyscraper, this 4.5-acre greenhouse is a masterpiece of landscaping designed beneath an equally breathtaking glass structure. Stepping inside from a gray, dry, freezing January day feels like you’ve been transported to an exotic destination full of verdant pathways, earthy aromas, and layers upon layers of stunning greenscapes.

Highlights: Natural light. Architecture.Covered outdoor section.
Good for: Family, Engagements, and portraits. Requires permits for special events, e.g., weddings.
Access: 3

chicago union station wedding photosAvoid rush hour and you’ll hear your footsteps echoing off the limestone walls of the Great Hall. Designed by one of Chicago’s most famous architects Daniel Burham in the Beaux-Arts style, it reflects the predominant architecture throughout Chicago. Inspired by Roman and Greek forms, you’ll find plenty of cornices, arches, and pediments to pose in front of for a classic, timeless background. The skylight ceiling creates soft, even light, diffused by the limestone walls harvested from quarries in neighboring Indiana. If you do run into issues taking pictures inside, head to the entrance on the west side of the canal where you’ll find cover from wind, rain, and snow among rows of columns.

 

Highlights: Natural light. Architecture, Unique Backgrounds.
Good for: Natural Family, Engagements, and portraits. Requires permits for special events, e.g., weddings.
Access: 4 (call ahead)

Chicago Art Institute No others on this list even come close to the sheer amount of natural light pouring through the mostly glass modern wing of the Chicago Art Institute.  A favorite among local photographers, with colorful artwork and skyline views that make for a perfect opportunity for silhouettes, it’s no wonder. Just know, access can be spotty. Like many locations on this list, discretion is key. Have a plan B, just in case. Or better yet, check out location #5 or #7.

  • 4. The Chicago “el”

Highlights: Uniqueness, grit.
Good for: Uniqueness, Engagements and portraits. Transit authority takes their job seriously. Pictures on the platform are discouraged.
Access: 3

For those who want a little extra grit and character, look no further than the Chicago “el” train.  There are dozens of stops with eight different transit lines and trust me, not all are equally photogenic. To help you out, I’ve picked three of my favorites.

  • 95th Stop on the Red Line. In 2017, Theaster Gates transformed the 95th Redline stop into a hub of art and music, creating custom-installations pieces and bringing in a rotating DJ on Mondays and Fridays.  Conservatory Stop or Rockwell Stop
  • Conservatory-Central Park Green Line Stop: Green and white station houses make for a lovely background.
  • Rockwell Brown Line Stop. This might be the most charming of stations on the “el.” Its unique street-level single platform is situated in the heart of Ravenswood Manor shopping district. There’s a beautiful glass mosaic inside the station and the exterior feels very quaint.

Highlights: Natural light. Architecture.Covered outdoor section. 
Good for: Natural Wedding, Engagements, and portraits. Requires permits for special events, e.g., weddings.
Access: 3

Chicago Cultural CenterWalking beneath the 38-foot Tiffany Glass Dome designed by J. A. Holzer feels like being inside a scene from a fairy tale story. The Chicago Cultural Center is a breathtaking five-story building with neoclassical Italian Elements. You’ll find plenty of backgrounds to pose against from winding staircases with intricate detailing to echoing hallways and arched windows.

Highlights: Natural light. Architecture.Covered outdoor section.
Good for: Wedding, Engagements, and portraits. Requires permits for special events, e.g., weddings.
Access: 3

When conditions are gloomy outside, take refuge inside The Drake Hotel’s north-facing entrance off Lake Shore Drive. You’ll find an ornate staircase between gray stone walls and warm, glowy crystal chandeliers. The revolving doors also offer another fun, unique spot for engagement or portrait pictures.

  • 7. Bars, Coffee Shops, and Restaurant

chicago indoor photography locationsFor a low key vibe when the weather’s not on your side, you can always retreat to any number of local bars, coffee shops, or restaurants throughout the city. If you time it right and keep a low profile, most places are pretty chill about letting you take some photos, especially if you buy a thing or two while you’re there. To play on the safe side, call beforehand and ask about popping in during off-hours.

 

Highlights:  Indoor vintage space with unique backgrounds.
Good for: Engagements and portraits. Best when you make an appointment. Permit cost: $150.

In the heart of Chicago’s hip West Town neighborhood, you’ll find a 60,000 sq foot second-hand furnishings space like no other. Inside feels more like walking through a well-curated art installation space with salvaged relics thoughtfully arranged in a way that makes you want to re-furnish your entire home.  One of Chicago’s favorite event spaces for alternative weddings and edgy events, you can take a chance at snapping pictures on Saturdays and Sundays when it’s open to the public, or otherwise have space to yourself starting at $150.

chicago indoor photography locations

Highlights: Natural light. Hip, vintage.
Good for: Wedding, Engagements, and portraits.
Access: 2

Tucked inside the walls of the Chicago Fine Arts Building, The Dial bookshop on the second floor is a picturesque scene with floor to ceiling windows and a small labyrinth of bookshelves. Unlike other bookstores, this one has an open, airy vibe. But don’t worry, it still maintains that scent of used books.

Also, full disclosure, this isn’t The Dial–this is another bookstore in Lincoln Park.

  • 10. Southport Lanes

Highlights: Fun. Unique.
Good for: Engagements, family, and portraits. Requires permits for special events, e.g., weddings.
Access: 2

chicago indoor photography locations

For a day-in-the-life location check out Southport Lanes.  This four-lane bowling alley is a classic, fun spot for families and couples. Skip the posing here and let your natural reactions come through. You won’t regret it.

Highlights: Natural light. Architecture. Covered outdoor section.
Good for: Wedding, Engagements, and portraits. Requires permits for special events, e.g., weddings.
Access: 2

Embrace the retro vibes inside Bubbleland Laundromat. The black and white checkered floor and fluorescent lights feel like an instant time warp. Just don’t forget your bubbles!

There are so many more places around Chicago to explore and consider for your photography needs. I’ll keep this updated as new ideas pop up. If you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments below. If you’re interested in booking your own portrait or engagement session, contact me here, call 402-304-4057, or email maggie@rifeponcephotography.com.

For a few of my favorite outdoor photo locations, check out the links below:

Then when the Chicago weather warms up, here are a few other photography locations I love:

  • Millennium Park for Family Photos: With its amazing collection of architecture, displays of art, and beautiful landscape design, Millennium Park is an excellent place to capture moments of time with your family.
  • Downtown Chicago for Engagement Photos: Iconic Chicago backgrounds make for unique photoshoots, whether it’s walking along a bustling street, or that solitary spot at the Observatory, or along the water’s shore with the city in the background, there’s bound to be the perfect spot for your perfect engagement photo.
  • Montrose Harbor for Engagement Photos: Bluewater, ships in the harbor, greenery, and the Chicago skyline all give Montrose Harbor great vibes that will make your pictures extra special.

 

Plus a list of my top 20 favorite Chicago places:

  • Headquarters Arcade Bar – Fun, arcade bar
  • Beatnik – Morrocan decor and lush greenery
  • Scofflaw – Cozy, Southern Formal
  • The Freeze – Throwback vintage ice cream and hotdog stand
  • Tied House
  • Mason
  • Ferns Coffee Shop – Electric and vintage.
  • Plein Air Cafe – French workshop inspired. Bright, white, light.
  • The Original Pancake House – Throwback retro.
  • Three Arts Cafe – Ornate and opulent.
  • SuperDawg – Casual, retro.
  • Fat Rice – Hip, Asian-inspired.
  • Three Dots and a Dash – Fun Tikki Bar
  • Fulton Market Kitchen – Eclectic & artsy
  • The Whale Chicago – Art Deco, old Hollywood
  • Etta – High ceilings, open, industrial
  • Bang Bang Pie and Biscuit – Cozy, Farmhouse vintage
  • The Warbler – Mid-century modern, art deco
  • Lonesome Rose – Mid-century modern, light and airy
  • The Hampton Social – California, beach-inspired

Chicago has limitless places to photograph memories. Bad weather? No problem! Our grand city has got you covered with many indoor locations to get you that idyllic picture. Good weather? Of course, that’s not a problem either. With our urban, lakeside, and greenscape areas surrounding us, you’re sure to find an ultimate spot for photographic perfection.

If you do take photos at any of these Chicago locations, I’d love to see what you captured. Feel free to share @maggierifeponce on Instagram. Happy photographing!