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Exterior Lighting at Old Post Office in Chicago

Architectural photography constantly presents unusual assignments. Several weeks ago, I was asked to provide photography for the Milwaukee distributor of an Australian architectural lighting company. They had installed walkway and stairway lighting in exterior handrails of the Old Chicago Post Office.

Old Post Office Chicago (Courtesy of Crains Business Daily)

The Old Post Office is located on the western side on downtown Chicago and is 2.5 million square feet and is large enough to allow the Eisenhower Expressway to pass underneath the structure. Originally built in 1921, the post office expanded in 1932 to accommodate the massive postal needs of business Montgomery Ward and Sears.  The building was sold in 2016 and recent renovations now allow the building to host such companies as Walgreens, Ferrara Candies, and Uber. Here is a file photo of the building.

After reviewing the clients website and the location of this project, I thought it best to capture these images on a weekend evening.  The Old Post Office sits in a very busy section of downtown and the upcoming Sunday evening would offer me great weather and freedom from employee traffic.  Late October meant that sunset (my preferred shooting window for this project) would arrive at 6:15 PM just when employees would be flooding out of the building during the week-days.  The goal of this project was to show the application of walkway lighting in a practical and aesthetically pleasing way.

Upon arrival, conditions were better than I expected.  Pedestrians were scarce and car traffic was very light which really helped expedite the project.  And… as always, this project presented unique issues to manage.  1. Capturing the images within a small window of time that would showcase the both the lighting coming from the clients lighting inserts while there was still enough ambient light to show detail in the surrounding area and 2.  selecting the best color temperature setting in the camera to properly capture the images under changing lighting conditions.


The sun was still bright as it lowered in the western sky adding a warm glow to the façade of the Old Post Office.  I elected to begin the shoot using a color balance of 6950K allowing the warm hues of early evening to exhibit in the composition.  As the sun began to reach the horizon, I adjusted the color temperature downward to 4500K which rendered the walkways a natural grey yet still provide warm-tones where the clients inset lights illuminated the walkways and steps.  


As the sun disappeared under the horizon, I pushed the color temperature down to 2900K, a color temp that would allow the blue sky to dominate while the light offered a soft warm color.  After a mere thirty minutes, the detail in the buildings were lost to darkness but I had captured what I came for.  The clients were very pleased with the results.