Remembering how it felt back when I first visited Chicago, nearly 3 decades ago now, it’s weird to think of the huge changes that have happened to the Windy City over all those years of my own life to date.

There are the obvious differences – to the skyline – although from a distance not much has moved around since I last captured that view above, back in 2016.

It was during that trip that I had the opportunity to shoot from the rooftop of the Hard Rock Hotel (at the time) – while it called the Carbide & Carbon Building its home. I remember noticing the shift in the riverfront’s feel back then – as the rather, well, unmissable “Trump Tower” stood in place of the construction site I’d seen 10 years prior.

Carbide Carbon Building Chicago 2016 2006 Rooftop Trump Tower City Paul Reiffer Old History Hard Rock Hotel Downtown BTS Memories

But when I look at a city, I often get a feel for the hues and tones that remind me of it again after I’ve stepped away.

For New York at night, it’s the cool blues, dark steels and silvers (interrupted by the odd red and blue light, of course) that take me back. When thinking about Los Angeles, it’s the warmer tones of a hazy low sun and dense smog (yes, it is…) that diffuse all those city lights and add softness to the reflections in the buildings themselves.

Chicago’s always felt different though, and even back in 2016 I was struggling a little to place its visual mood with the mish-mash of building materials, styles, lighting and views all around.

Magnificent Mile Chicago Streets Lights Long Exposure Car Trails Bridge Wide CNBC MSNBC Wrigley Building Pioneer Court Dusable Paul Reiffer Phase One

So what is Chicago’s “tone”, now, to my eyes?

Well, having edited quite a few shots now, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the blues, greens and oranges of a more gritty downtown vibe that stick in my head. It’s a real “blockbuster” feel, and that’s actually what inspired that particular style when I built it into our Capture One Elevation Styles Pack.

So, having already shot Chicago from one rooftop quite some time ago – with a warmer, pinker, tone than I’m feeling these days – it was time to revisit the city for another view of that famous riverfront from above.

With the Hard Rock Hotel closing its doors in 2017, and having changed hands twice now to eventually fall as the “Pendry Chicago” instead – I was keen to look for another option and explore a different angle that I’d noticed in a previous shot from the river: LondonHouse.

N La Salle Drive Chicago Bridge View Westin Wyndham 2016 LondonHouse Marina Towers Clark Night Lights Riverside River Paul Reiffer

Just one block along from the famous “Champagne Bottle” C&C building, LondonHouse offers stunning rooms and a fantastic rooftop bar with views straight down the river, flanked by historic buildings on all sides.

Google Maps Aerial View LondonHouse Chicago Rooftop Bar River Paul Reiffer BTS Night City Cityscapes Location

No, you can’t just pop up there with a tripod and set up your cityscape studio, so please don’t be that person – but thanks to some wonderful connections both David Grover from Capture One and I were lucky enough to spend a particularly pleasant evening taking photographs from a handily situated open-air bar.

LondonHouse Chicago Rooftop Downtown River Cityscape City View Night Lights Paul Reiffer Phase One Trump Tower XT Wide London House

And what a view it is – breathtaking.

Over the years, I’ve come to find being “in amongst” the buildings more interesting than the pure “over and above” view from the very tallest spaces.

Chicago BTS LondonHouse David Grover Fuji Phase One Camera Rooftop Photography City Cityscape Night Lights Frame Averaging Paul Reiffer

With tall glass barriers in place (for the protection of Darwinian fools), I saw David’s nerves light up when that central column came out – but with hardly any wind, ironically, this was exactly the type of situation where it comes into its own.

Add that to the Phase One XT‘s shift capabilities and I had the perfect head-on view straight down the river with amazing architecture all around.

LondonHouse Tall Chicago Rooftop Downtown River Cityscape City View Night Lights Paul Reiffer Phase One Blockbuster Blue Wide London House

Looking down that river, the network of huge lifting bridges is as impressive as the first day I set eyes on them – each carrying thousands of cars each day from one side of the city to the other. As the heartbeat of the city rumbling along West Wacker Drive, the traffic delivered light trails that were just long enough when the stops and starts behaved.

As a sign, perhaps, of the times that our cities are faced with – I do remember seeing a lot more lights on and cars parked in the famous Marina Towers complex on previous trips, but maybe they were all out at the same party on this crazy Tuesday night?

Hopefully they’re due back soon…

LondonHouse Chicago Rooftop Downtown River Cityscape City View Night Lights Paul Reiffer Phase One Blockbuster Blue Wide London House

But regardless – that view takes a lot to beat, and applying the Blockbuster style to the city lights when I got to my computer just brought me right back to how this city makes me feel.

It’s urban, it’s gritty, it’s a crossroads of warm streets and cool air – it’s “Chicago” in a photographic mood.

Marina Towers Crop Bridges City Chicago Night Lights River La Salle Drive Water Long Exposure Blockbuster LondonHouse Rooftop Paul Reiffer

Of course, it’d be rude to visit the city and not take David to the location that inspired that style pack in the first place – the Wabash Ave section of the L (Elevated subway – if those are two words that can be put together…)

Chicago Cityscape Wabash Elevated Train Station Subway David Grover Capture One Shooting Paul Reiffer Daytime Downtown Contrast

In a city so full of brickwork, as well as steel, the textures and tones just pick up all that light – during the day, or at night – and deliver true movie-set images on camera.

Capture One Elevation Styles Paul Reiffer Blockbuster Wabash L Elevated Subway Night Lights Long Exposure Example Cityscape

It’s just a bit of a shame that someone had to go and ruin the view by stamping their name in bright lights right at the end of the street!

So, other than LondonHouse being a fantastic place to meet, drink and soak up the view of downtown Chicago (I’m guessing watching the St Patrick’s Day river is amazing from there) – what else did we learn on this trip?

In Flight Messaging American Airlines David Grover Nandos Capture One Crayons Wendys Bacon Garnished Baconator Burger Paul Reiffer BTS Chicago


  1. “Blocking” someone on a plane is a fun sport when they try to message you.
  2. David cannot be cheered up by free crayons when he’s just had to pay nearly $40 for a single bit of Nando’s chicken.
  3. America has a bacon issue. Nobody needs to garnish a “baconator” burger with even more bacon-fried-bacon.

That’s all.