Urban Exploration

August — A Year in Photographs by Adrian Galli

The light of night, captured.

Solo, Chicago, 8/17/2017

Solo, Chicago, 8/17/2017

It is a challenge to head out at night when you've been relaxing on the sofa for an hour or two, after work, after dinner, watching a movie, sipping on tea. But night is a favorite time for me to photography.

Shooting August entirely in black and white, I'm very fond of dark, high contrast, dramatic imagery; the night so easily provides. August is the only other month to be shot entirely in Black and White. January too, was all black and white but there were no other guidelines to my month's theme.

The other challenges to night photography are simply technical. Aperture, ISO, and shutter speed are all very important. If one's shutter is too slow, any minor movement of the camera produces motion blur in the image. If the shutter is too fast, the image is too dark.

With apertures, the wider the more light but also the shallower the depth of field resulting in challenging focus scenarios. Stopping down (smaller apertures) increases depth of field but reduces light.

ISO, on the other hand, boosts the light available but invariably adds noise to one's image. Sometimes noise is acceptable giving a gritty, street photography look. Other times, it simply muddies the image.

All of these are a careful balancing act. They are part of a triad of water buckets. As one fills up, the other two empty. Finding the right mix of volumes is important to get just the image one is looking to achieve.

A tripod is always welcome. This will allow for one to decrease shutter speed and use low ISO while also stopping down the aperture. The result can be very clear and sharp black and white images. The caveat, but possibly the goal, is motion blur of moving object. A favorite from this month is from August 1st where I setup my Olympus E-M5 with a 45mm lens on my tripod. Opening my window, a waited for a train to pass buy and captured the movement.


At an f/8, ISO 200, -1 ev stop compensation, and a 1.6 second shutter, a very clear background of Chicago appears while the Brown Line train streaks through the frame.

A few other nights I used a long exposure but it does take a bit more effort. One must almost always use a tripod or other stabilization. However, occasionally, as with Run and Train, these were both handheld. Run, with an eerie, ghostly appeal, and Train, things moved quickly enough it  didn't matter. But if you look closely, you can see that the subject blur is achieved but also background.

Run, Chicago, 8/30/2017

Run, Chicago, 8/30/2017

Train, Chicago, 8/15/2017

Train, Chicago, 8/15/2017

I did not find this to bean issue but I am one to usually express great concern with how important the background is while other photographers are concerned with blurring the background to the extent it is nearly completely unrecognizable.

Tripods are one of the most valuable pieces of equipment a photographer can have but they are usually big and carrying one around every day for thirty-one days was not something I could pull off. However, the crafty and resourceful photographer finds other ways to stabilize. In Flight Path, I was in a position to just set the camera down on a ledge. And by ledge, I mean, five stories in high with nothing but the air between the camera and certain doom. 

Flight Path, Chicago, 8/21/2017

Flight Path, Chicago, 8/21/2017

Photographers and filmmakers take risks all the time to get their shots. And while I have no real fear of heights, I can safely say I did fear for my camera. I had a death grip on the camera strap that would have squeeze the juice out of an apple. But (!), my camera survived to shoot another day (night)!

I thoroughly enjoyed August for night photography. Perhaps September would have been easier as the days are shorter but I overcame the couch potato in me to head out at night an explore the dark. I'm certain more night photography is in store for the rest of the year as part of other themes but for now, I move onward; a merging of photography with filmmaking with a theme rooted in cinematography.

Up next: SeptemberCinematic

The Thirty-one Nights of August

Guest Photographer: Juan Galindo by Adrian Galli

Guest Photographer: Juan Galindo

Guest Photographer: Juan Galindo

February is normally an absolutely miserable month of bad weather in Chicago. This February was absolutely beautiful; sunny, warm, not a millimeter of snow accumulation. As part of A Year in Photographs, I chose February's theme to be Shapes and Patterns and following up my friend Eric Dirksen as my first Guest Photographer for this project, Jaun Galindo joined me this month.

While Juan is a musician, however, his passion and talent for photography I could clearly see in his Instagram feed. I've worked with Juan for some times but did not know him all that well. The Guest Photography element of A Year in Photographs has given me some time to get to know people who I am around all the time.

I began doing photography out of boredom. It became an avenue to escape from the monotony of tired routines. It’s a perfect way for me to spend quality time with myself and slow down to appreciate the elusive here and now. Through it I’m able to italicize memories and choose how I’ll remember certain segments in life. It gives me a chance to filter out the noise.
— Juan Galindo

We set out in a dark underside of Chicago. While Chicago is a beautiful and friendly city with great food, architecture, museums and art, and great people, there are some grungier parts of the city and the term 'underside' is no metaphor.

Our urban exploration for shapes and patterns began on Lower Wacker Drive; a street that runs below... wait for it... Upper Wacker Drive. Upper Wacker is known for its trek through a heavy business district of Chicago; tall building, bustling business people, etc. But Lower Wacker isn't something you'll find in the AAA Guide Book to Chicago. It is far from pretty; grungy, smelly, dark, many homeless people setting up shanties.

But where there is ugly, a photographer finds beauty.

We stumbled on an intriguing piece of hardware underground; a fan and airshaft. Taking our time to explore a bit further, we tried to find its location but Lower Wacker is a sort of maze at times and one can easily become disoriented. While we believe, we stumbled on the location, a grate on the street leading to what seemed to be the fan, we could not access it.

And getting a better vantage point, we found ourselves on top of a parking garage where Juan, in the best nature of Shapes and Patterns, shot found his photo.

Juan's Photograph of the Day

© 2017 Juan Galindo

© 2017 Juan Galindo

Explore everything. Go with your gut. Spend time understanding your tools, but rely on your eyes to create photographs and less on the camera. Light will make or break you.
— Juan Galindo

I couldn't agree more with this statement. We were out shooting with our iPhones. While some are scheming to get the next and newest camera, we were out actually photographing. Light is your best friend. One need not worry about equipment all the time. 

However, our tour did not end with Lower Wacker. In fact, there is still more for us to explore and I have no doubt we will complete our excursion soon.

We ended up in a strange island of Chicago. Near the Chicago River and some rather upscale shopping, living, and heavily trafficked areas, lays Goose Island. Home of Chicago famous beer, Goose Island, it is an industrial area where, like Lower Wacker, few would ever venture. But, again, where there is unattractive, photographers find attractive.

At this point, however, it was getting dark. We were shooting with only our iPhones and they do some impressive work but perhaps the ever dropping temperature also chased us. We ended out journey. 

Photography does not really have an end to its journey but perhaps just a rest. With February in A Year in Photographs coming to an end and March beginning, a new theme and more exploration is here already.

At the moment I don’t have a favorite subject although I do end up shooting a lot of architecture. Structures are like frozen performances and I’m drawn to them because of that. There seems to be an uncanny synergy between photography and music which often brings me to associate images with songs and musical arrangements. I also take photos of people - mostly strangers. There’s a lot to be learned about individuals just by observing their body language. People watching is amusing, it always has been.
— Juan Galindo

This is just a small sample of what Juan and I shot that day. I invite you to follow him on his Instagram @juanstagramm and enjoy more of his photography.

Guest Photographer is part of my project A Year in Photographs. I will undoubtedly invite many friends and colleagues but I hope to meet new photographers. If you are in Chicago or find yourself nearby me while I travel, I would love to go out photographing. Don't hesitate to reach out.


Chicago Sunrise — DJI Phantom 3 Professional Drone by Adrian Galli

Shot on DJI Phantom 3 Profession. Pilot Adrian Galli. October 5th, 2016. Chicago, Illinois.

B-Roll can be some of my favorite footage to shoot. A great scene, some would argue, is carried by the quality of the details shared. Having shot with dozens of cameras, iPhones, SteadiCams, Ronins, Movis, and more, the most fun is flying a drone capturing views rarely seen.

Project: Access 2016
Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Date: October 6th, 2016

Director - Paul Audia
Ronin/Drone Operator - Adrian Galli

Shot on DJI Phantom 3 Professional
Edited using Final Cut Pro X