Chicago Architectural and Interior Photographer  | Mike Crews Photography
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A little-known gem for tourists and those seeking a religious experience can be found just a little over two-hour drive from Chicago and just 45 minutes from downtown Milwaukee.  The Holy Hill Basilica is situated atop wooded grounds where Jesuit missionaries first settled in the late 1600s.  Finding the hill somewhat unique to the surrounding landscape. one of the Jesuits described in a diary how he placed a stone altar and cross atop the hill dedicating the area to the Blessed Virgin.

The first formal structure on the site was constructed in 1863 and was formally designated Holy Hill, a colloquial term used by the local Irish settlers of the time.  Further additions were added over the next fifty years with the present basilica completed in 1931.  In 2006 the church was designated one of Americas 85 Basilicas. FYI…a Basilica is a church structure that has been recognized and afforded special privileges by the Pope.

When visiting the site, youll be amazed at not only the isolated environment of the 435 acres of woods and trails surrounding the complex but by the beauty of the neo-Romanesque architecture and the beautiful art and interior designs.

Photographing this beautiful church can be challenging on the weekends with crowds gathering to attend services, hiking along the numerous trails, or just exploring the sheer beauty of this amazing complex.

Holy Hill Basilica is situated on a remote hilltop overlooking rural Wisconsin farm country.

neo-Romanesque architecture of the Basilica.

Main altar of Chapel of St. Therese.

Shrine Chapel view

Stained-glass windows from Germany framed by beautiful stone work.

Although remote, the beauty of this Basilica attracts tourists, mass attendees, weddings, and baptisms.

Several years ago, I was asked by a local garden club if I would make a presentation at a members' meeting.  The presentation was well received with some great discussion among the members attending.  About two weeks later I ran into a woman in a bookstore who recognized me from the meeting and expressed her personal thanks and appreciation.  This week I received an email from her asking if I still had a list of photography tips presented at that presentation and could I email that list to her.  

I thought I would list them again for anyone and everyone who loves  to capture images from a garden. nursery, conservatory, or while just walking  through a beautiful area.  The suggestions are not listed in any priority as  every photograph presents unique opportunities. 

Quick Tips for Garden and Landscape Photography

·       Try to shoot early or late in day  (avoid mid-day when light is harshest and colors muted)

·       Soft sunlight renders the best light

·       With bright sunshine, try to keep sun direction at right angles to composition

·       Level the horizon line

·       If possible, physically clean up area within composition before shooting

·       Use rule of thirds to compose the photo rather than centering

·       Try to provide a path for the viewers eye to follow through the composition

·       Darken (wet) the soil or pavers for better contrast

·       Try selective focus (primary item in focus with background blurred)

·       Eliminate sky unless it is an integral part of composition

·       Move in for close-ups

·       Process captured images for brightness, color saturation, contrast and sharpness

·       Crop images as desired


Please take a few minutes to view my Urban landscape gallery here:

Last Thursday my wife, Deb, informed me of a solar storm that would most likely trigger the northern lights in the next 48 hours.  The storm was predicted to be strong enough to generate a KP-6 to KP-7 auroral display possibly strong enough to be seen as far south as Chicago.

Deb and I have been fortunate enough to live and travel overseas often fulfilling our bucket list goals such as seeing the pyramids of Egypt (you could see them from my upper patio during our four years living just outside of Cairo), the Himalayas, and a Kenyan safari. Viewing the northern lights has been on our list but has eluded us for years.  We've made several trips to Wisconsin in attempts to achieve that goal each time finding nothing but dark, cloudy skies for our efforts.  We were confident this third try would be a charm relying on several factors that should make this a successful trip.  The solar storm was predicted to be strong, great weather for our chosen location to photograph the event, and an empty calendar for the Labor Day weekend. If the aurora failed to appear yet again at least the seven-hour drive to Houghton, Michigan would give us a break from work and our ongoing home remodeling project.

The drive to Houghton, Michigan was lovely giving us another chance to appreciate the beauty of Wisconsin with its changing eco-regions and geology between Chicago and Lake Superior.  We arrived about 6 PM in Houghton and immediately began our search for a vantage where we could view and photograph the northern lights show.  I wanted not just a view of the sky, but being an annoying photographer, wanted a great northern view plus an interesting foreground to help frame my compositions.  After a little research, we selected to set up at the McLain lighthouse on the northern coast about 15 minutes north of Houghton.  We hoped this location would give us an uninterrupted northern view with nothing but Lake Superior and the lighthouse in view.

Upon entering the park office to gain entry, we were informed that a day pass would cost $5.00 but we would have to leave by 10 PM. 

Frustrated, we drove back into Houghton, crossed the bridge back to west side of the river followed the west side road to the same beach, same lighthouse but on the other side of the Sturgeon River outflow. The detour delayed us by 45 minutes and found ourselves in the midst of 500+ students and observers.  It was a remarkable scene as the crowds were gathering into small groups and building fires in anticipation of the aurora.  

With the beautiful Lake Superior as far as the eye could see we scrambled to find the perfect spot that would minimize the view of the social gathering but still provide us a great composition for our photography. 

Upon selecting an isolated spot and quickly unpacking a beach towel, two folding chairs, a cooler with Jimmy John sandwiches, we quickly reviewed the optimum camera settings for capturing astronomical photography.  Cameras were set to manual focus (and set on the light house across the river), manual exposure, an ISO setting of 1600, and use of a wide-angle lens about 16mm - 20mm and aperture of f/2.8.

As the light dimmed, we worried over a bank of clouds that so rudely parked itself on the northern horizon staging area and questioned whether we would be disappointed yet again.  

After waiting another fifteen minutes our eyes adjusted to the increasingly dark sky and noticed a faint glow peeking over and through that stubborn cloud bank.  There wasn't much color to delineate but it was noticeably brighter than the surrounding sky.  Surely this light was not coming from primitive Isle Royale, Mi., over 60 miles to the north. 

It was time to photograph.  The sky continued to darken and emphasizing a now green cast to the horizon.  Like excited kids, we began to capture images ever adjusting the exposures to optimum settings.  To our amazement, the camera was much better at discerning the true colors of the event unfolding before us.  I later learned that our eyes rely on rods and cones to aid our vision.  The rods interpret most of the color renditions and the cones work mostly on blacks and whites or brightness.  When the brightness dims, the rods can no longer interpret color as they can in the daytime rendering us somewhat color impaired in dim light.  However, we were astonished to find that our cameras were not so handicapped by the low light and the faint hues now spreading across the horizon.  We discovered beautiful colors on our display screens after each capture and were further astonished to see how quickly the colors of the aurora were changing in density, color, and shape.  

With a sense of accomplishment, we photographed for about four hours often pausing as the aurora waxed and waned.  In the end, our spontaneous trip to the north proved to be great success.  We had succeeded in accomplishing a life-long goal. The science behind the making of the aurora is quite complex but the sheer beauty is all you need to be humbled reminded of the wonderful gifts accessible to us here on earth.

If you love art but cant visit the Art Institute of Chicago, the museum has taken a step to assist you in your taste for art appreciation with the aid of high resolution photography.  The museum has photographed over 52,000 works of art in hi-res and can be viewed in their Collection section of their website  Viewing these masterpieces from afar is one thing but this collection can now be viewed in such detail that individual brush strokes and color blending techniques of some of the greatest artists in history are clearly visible providing the viewer and new level of appreciation.  Further, the works can be downloaded for public usage using the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license.  

Below  is an example of one of my favorite paintings (and with detail)   Claude Monet's Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare, 1877.

A very nice gesture by the Art Institute of Chicago (and whoever produced those high-resolution images).

No more excuses for avoiding your monthly dose of art appreciation!


It's been a very long time since I've taken a day off and it was starting to affect my moods and demeanor.  Between my architectural photography business and ongoing home renovations, my lovely wife Deb pulled me back to life yesterday insisting that I accompany her to the Chicago lakefront to watch (i.e. photograph) the Annual Chicago Air Show. 

I guess I wasn't quite far enough down the hole to recognize that a day out of the office would be good for me.  Besides, I always loved the air shows as it reminded me of my four and half years serving in the U.S. Air Force.

As I gathered my equipment while prepping to leave the house, I realized how different this day would be without the use of a tripod to capture the action in the skies above the lakefront.  Hand holding a 70-200 mm lens with a 1.4 converter would honestly be challenging for me.  I am so accustomed to aperture settings of f/10 - f/16 and shutter speeds from .5 sec. to 30 sec. or more with multiple exposures, almost always requiring the use of a sturdy tripod.

Upon arrival at our selected beach spot, I took out the camera and was immediately confronted with an array of embarrassing choices I rarely face.  How to capture these fast moving aircraft? After all, I'm accustomed to capturing rooms, buildings, and landscapes that always held perfectly still and fully cooperated with my photography method?

Auto focus or Manual focus?

Auto exposure or manual exposure settings?

Image stabilizer mode 1 or 2?

Aperture priority or shutter priority?

These choices may sound obvious to many professional photographers but shooting so often with a proven set of camera and lens parameters over the last seventeen years actually made some of these questions significant.  I sorely realized that I'd fallen into a professional rut and some of my photography skills had atrophied since opening my business so many years ago.  As always, it was a matter of carefully thinking it thorough albeit much slower than I was accustomed.

I found this realization to be a great lesson in personal development.  It was actually humbling to realize that there can be wake-up calls to even the most seasoned photographers.  And better to realize this now than on the job with a client present.

However, lesson learned, here are a few shots captured at the Air Show.  BTW, I'm not showing a few shots taken before I completely figured out the best parameters for shooting! 

See more at

Post-processing… Whaaaaa?

I recently had a new client request 80 -100 images of his new retail store…and to capture all these shots within a two-hour window just before the store would open its doors for the first time.  I dreamed of walking around this store, camera firmly in hand, bending down, stretching high snapping shots to the rhythm of Maroon Fives Move Like Jagger.  Oh, wouldn't that be nice!

You cant blame the client for expecting that. Many first-time clients only exposure to professional photography has been watching a wedding or event photographer float through a crowd in search of candid or opportunistic moments.  After all, professionals create professional images from their camera…right?

When I explain to potential clients that I can capture 15-30 shots in a day using existing lighting Im often met with a look of puzzlement.  Few realize the need for optimum camera settings, tripod set-ups, compositional arrangement, thinking through the number of exposures required for each shot, measuring and selecting the best color temperature, all critical in gathering data enough data to produce a predetermined look as a final product.

Unprocessed image of altar in Cathedral Basilica St. Louis

Post-processing each image may require anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours or more utilizing a number of software products...all critical (and costly) tools in professional photography.  The software allows a photographer to extend his technical and creative talents to each image.  The entire process consumes a lot of in office time but is critical in distinguishing professional images from amateur photography. 

In summary, post-processing is critical in the creation of every professional image.

·       Post-processing creates images that are not possible straight from the camera through blending of light color brightness, editing,  cropping, etc. (see below) 

·       Post-processing raises the quality of the final product to professional standards.

·       This is where the professional photographer develops a recognizable style or look to his professional images.

·       It reminds the clients that this level of photography is worth paying the professional.

Post-processed image from above  using Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop 

Whether you are a seasoned photographer, a new photographer or just love to capture moments with your I-phone, everyone loves to view mankinds efforts to document our curious world.  I continue to marvel at the stunning images created each year. 

Several years ago I made the effort to submit several images to the Black and White Spider Awards out of London.  I was fortunate to win an Honorable mention for the image at the bottom of this blog post.  I'd love to dedicate more of my time to fine art photography but can't seem to find the time as my architectural photography business takes all of my time.  Maybe when I retire in a few years.

None-the-less, here is a sampled list of websites showcasing some of the best photography.  Enjoy these amazing photos:

National Geographic Best Photos of the Year (so far)

Travel Photography of the Year

Black and White Spider Awards (one of my favorites)

British Wildlife Photographs of the Year

International Photography Award Winners

Sony World Photography Awards

Annual IPP  Awards

National Geographic Travel Photos

Forbes Wildlife Photography of the Year

Mike Crews  -  'Steppin Outta Time' -2013

Good businesses are always looking for ways to minimize their expenses.  Hey, isnt everyone?  So, I sometimes get questions about sharing the costs of a professional photography project with the most frequent question being Can we share the cost of this project with another company?

The answer is yes!  Sharing the costs of a project with other businesses can result in substantial savings for each client.  The more partners involved in the project the greater the savings.

Here is an example how adding a partner to a photo project reduced costs for several businesses wanting to use a set of project images for marketing. 

Client A, an architect firm contacted me with a significant project to capture and document their designs of corporate offices in Chicago.  The total costs for Client A was $X.  This included my creative fee, time and skills to capture the images on location, the processing of the images to professional standards back in my office, custom formatting and sizing of the images to clients request, archiving of the images, in-perpetuity licensing of the images for their marketing purposes, and delivery of those images to the client.

Client A then asked about the cost of the same project if another partner Client B (a lighting contractor who worked with Client A on the same project) could partner with Client A.  The project cost for both Client A and Client B was reduced by 29%.

If yet another client partner (a flooring contractor) joined as an additional partner the costs per client was reduced by 37%.

The bottom line is sharing the costs of a project will result in significant savings for the same set of images.  Please ask for more details on how your business can save significant costs by partnering with other parties on a photography project.

A recent photography project in Chicago presented the opportunity to capture beautiful, state of the art office designs by Ted Moudis and Associates.  Several employees of Ted Moudis & Assoc "teamed" up as my models for the two locations on Wacker Drive.  The team expedited the setups for each view with military precision allowing this project to be a great experience.  

The use of models within design images are a growing trend within architectural and interior photography emphasizing the utilization of "space" in design.

You can see more examples of interior work at

I was recently asked to photograph a beautiful home in historic Woodstock, Vermont.  This home is privately owned and was decorated by a wonderful interior designer from Dallas, Texas.  My wife, Deb, accompanied me on this trip often assisting in the room setups along with the designer and myself.   Here are some finished images of this lovely home after three days of shooting.

This development is significant in the world of photography.  If this act becomes law, there will finally be recourse for smaller creative types to pursue copyright violations on a smaller scale.  Too often, the average photographer can't afford to pursue legal remedies to willful infringement against the deep pockets of a business or corporation.  With the help of the ASMP, APA, The Copyright Alliance and others, The named "Case Act" was introduced to the U. S. House and Senate on May 1, 2019.  The proposed bill currently has 30 sponsors in the House of Representatives.

Mike was selected to photograph the Kellogg School of Management's new Global Hub Building on the Northwestern University campus.  This was a very large project including over 130 images of this modern design.  
Gordon Segal 60, chair of the educational properties committee for Northwesterns Board of Trustees, describes the new facility this way  The Global Hub epitomizes the legacy, spirit, ambition and vision of Kellogg, said Segal. This is truly a global hub as it blends design elements from 17 countries  from German ceilings to Japanese tiles  and will help Kellogg continue to attract the best students, faculty and administration from around the world.

Chicago, IL.   January 12, 2016  Mike Crews Photography of Chicago has won Best Of Customer Service on Houzz®, the leading platform for home remodeling and design.  The fifteen-year company specializing in architecture, interior design, and commercial landscape photography was chosen by the more than 35 million monthly unique users that comprise the Houzz community from among more than one million active home building, remodeling and design industry professionals. 

Design award winners work was the most popular among the more than 35 million monthly users on Houzz. Customer Service honors are based on several factors, including the number and quality of client reviews a professional received in 2015. A Best Of Houzz 2016 badge will appear on winners profiles, as a sign of  their commitment to excellence. These badges help homeowners identify popular and top-rated home professionals in every metro area on Houzz. 

I really appreciate providing photographers and other service providers such a professional platform to work within the design community here in Chicago and across the country.- Mike Crews, Owner/Photographer, Mike Crews Photography.

Anyone building, remodeling or decorating looks to Houzz for the most talented and service-oriented professionals said Liza Hausman, vice president of Industry Marketing for Houzz. Were so pleased to recognize Mike Crews Photography, voted one of our Best Of Houzz professionals by our enormous community of homeowners and design enthusiasts actively remodeling and decorating their homes. 

Follow Mike Crews Photography on Houzz 

About Mike Crews Photography

For the past 15 years Mike Crews has specialized in creating beautiful imagery of architecture, interiors, and professional landscaping.  His award winning images are a combination of artistic vision, technical skill, and lighting techniques.   Mike utilizes 25 years of project management and the latest technologies to provide his clients a great collaborative experience and superior imagery.  

Client satisfaction is the biggest reward in this business, and collaborating with a client to put the finishing touches on a project is a very special commitment.  I value that my clients invest their time and money on my expertise and have dedicated my business to providing them a great return on that investment.  Nothing pleases me more than to receive news that a clients project has received an award or recognition for their designs after using my photography. You just cant beat that kind of thank you.

Mike received his photographic education at the prestigious Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, CA.  Since 2001he has photographed for architects, interior designers, landscaping designers, pool designers, golf courses, retailers, restaurants, engineering firms and, home designers.

About Houzz

Houzz is the leading platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish  online or from a mobile device. From decorating a small room to building a custom home and everything in between, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals across the country and around the world. With the largest residential design database in the world and a vibrant community empowered by technology, Houzz is the easiest way for people to find inspiration, get advice, buy products and hire the professionals they need to help turn their ideas into reality. Headquartered in Palo Alto, CA, Houzz also has international offices in London, Berlin, Sydney, Moscow and Tokyo. Houzz and the Houzz logo are registered trademarks of Houzz Inc. worldwide. For more information, visit

I want to thank my client The William Carter's Company for the opportunity to photograph their new retail stores in Miami, Beach, Fla., Newnan, Georgia, Cedar Falls, Iowa, Henderson, Nevada, and their showroom in New York City,   Beautiful stores and wonderful people.    

An interesting project to close out 2015 involved capturing a large glass terrarium designed by Sentech Architectural Systems in Austin, Texas.  The terrarium was designed for the Rush University Medical Brennan Entry Pavillion and consists of a conical shaped glass portal reaching from the inside floor (1 and 2) and extends beyond the ceiling into an outside courtyard area (3). 

The concept was to allow the outside light to flow into an enclosed area within the Pavillion.  The bottom of the terrarium features a plant environment similar to a forest setting where outside light illuminates the forest floor albeit in a limited amount.  Accordingly, the plant life selected for the terrariums floor is similar to that found in a typical forest environment, trees, moss, ferns,, etc.

I was asked to capture the integration of the terrarium concept with the medical environment and how it interacts with both the interior and exterior spaces of the Pavillion.

There are obvious issues to overcome when photographing within a very busy medical facility. 

1.      Obtaining clearance for photography from administrative and security personnel.

2.      Gaining access to areas not normally allowed to the public.

3.      Capturing usable images around the constant flow of patients, visitors, and medical staff.

The most challenging shots for this project involved capturing the inside and outside light in one image (4) . 

Had I attempted to try this at noon, there might have been up to 10 stops of light difference in brightness between the sunny outside and the light levels found inside.  This would have rendered either the outside being blown-out or the inside as too dark.  I chose to capture this shot near sundown to allow a smaller four stop difference of brightness at that time.  The difference in light color temperature between the outside 5000K and the insides 2800K is clearly visible.  Still, I think the shot works for contrasting the outside and indoor environments.


After 10 years of faithful service, my reliable, go-to camera the Canon 1Ds Mark III has been put to rest and relegated to a backup role. Im very happy to announce the purchase of a Canon 5D Mark III. Although, there are more recent, pixel stuffed-sensors available, I elected to buy the 5D Mark III due to its outstanding track record for producing phenomenal images, increased dynamic range, and superior performance in low-light situations …which I am often presented with on many architectural projects.

Along with the Mark III, Im assisted by my new Camranger allowing me to work remotely from my Ipad. By generating its own Wi-Fi signal, the Camranger links to my 5D Mark III via a free downloaded app. Camranger provides live viewing, selective focus (only on auto-focus lenses), and complete control of aperture settings, color temperature, exposure compensation, and shutter release.

This wonderful combination will allow me to work with my clients in real time to view and adjust compositions with the live view function, in real time before the shutter is released. After capturing, the image can be downloaded from the camera to the Ipad for final viewing and approval before moving on to the next setup. Sweet.

Next month I will be photographing the #2 rated golf course in Iowa over a three day period. I cant tell you how useful all of this new technology will be in capturing the needed course shots. The Mark III and Camranger will sit atop my Manfrotto 24 foot tripod (affectionately named Helga) with a pan and tilt motor drive between the two. By utilizing the Live Cam feature on the Mark III, I can view the composition from my Ipad, tilt and turn the camera angles until the desired composition in achieved, select my focus point and depth of field, and release the shutter while sitting comfortably in the golf cart. The Camranger Wi-Fi signal is effective up to 50 meters.
Buying new technologies is an integral part of being successful in this highly competitive business. Photographers…..charge accordingly.

On July 9, Mike was one of several Chicago photographers interviewed by WGN-TV.  Mike was profiled as a notable architectural photographer and was asked why Chicago presents outstanding photographic opportunities.  The photograph Urban Oasis (above) was discussed in detail with emphasis on what it means to Mike and how it represented Chicago. "To me, this photograph represents Chicago at its best.  Among the noise, excitement, and the high energy so characteristic of Chicago, there are pockets of quiet and solitude to be found and enjoyed...a little something for everyone."
More of Mike's fine art can be seen by clicking on the fine art gallery of this website.

October, 2013

The awards international Jury included captains of the industry from The Royal Photographic Society, FoMu Fotomuseum, Aeroplastics Contemporary, Torch Gallery, Stockholm City Museum to Fratelli Alinari in Florence who honored Spider Fellows with 298 coveted title awards and 957 nominees in 14 categories.
"It is an incredible achievement to be selected among the best from the 8,508 entries from 73 countries that we received this year," said Basil O'Brien, the awards Creative Director. "Mike Crews' "Steppin Out of Time" is an exceptional image entered in the Abstract category and represents black and white photography at its finest.  We're pleased to present Mike with the title of Honorable Mention."