Chicago Skyway Canopy Restoration & Toll Bridge Photography

Skyway Concession Company, LLC

Subjects & Project mission:
Photograph the Chicago Skyway Canopy & Toll Bridge restoration. The marketing department from the Skyway requested day, dusk, and night photographs of the historic restoration of the Chicago Skyway plaza, LED toll lane signage, modern signs along the roadway, stainless steel tollbooth canopy, neon letter signage, and scenic pictures of the high-bridge from the roadway for the organization’s press releases, marketing, website, and advertising photo needs.

South Chicago, Illinois


Restoration Architect:
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM).

Chicago Skyway Information:
The Chicago Skyway is a 7.8 mile long toll road built by the city of Chicago in 1958 to connect the Dan Ryan Expressway to the Indiana Toll Road.  In 2005, Chicago’s Skyway became the first U.S. privatization of a toll road in the country.  The Chicago Skyway Tollway is currently operated & maintained by the Skyway Concession Company, LLC and was purchased in 2016 by three Canadian Pension Funds – OMERS Infrastructure, CPP Investment Board, and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

Since 2005, the Skyway Concession Company, LLC has invested over 120 million dollars on transportation industry improvements to the Skyway, including an expansive technology build-out to allow for electronic payment of tolls and ability of E-ZPass / I-PASS payment.  The ability to combine the sixty-year-old architecture of the canopy with the latest tolling technology is “a testament to the progressive and versatile nature of the original toll plaza design,” said Skyway Concession Company CEO in a statement to Curbed Chicago.  The Chicago Skyway canopy restoration project, led by SOM, carefully returns the structure to its original form while modernizing its tolling technology. Old cameras, antennae, and other attachments are replaced by new, streamlined technology for more convenient and efficient toll services, plus LED lighting, and easy-to-read digital signage.  According to SOM, the canopy design incorporates photovoltaic panels to provide 100 percent of the renewable clean energy required to run the toll plaza. As communications and transportation technology evolved, the toll plaza had been continuously retrofitted with new devices and fittings.  This recent modernization no longer was impeding service speed and traffic flow.  

The original 1958 construction design of the Skyway’s toll plaza canopy was described as “ultra-modern”.  Architectural photographs of the renovation not only included highlighting infrastructure, but also architectural structural renovation design which kept the familiar toll plaza eye-catching mid-century design elements from the historic, original construction design. Car drivers along the roadway today are still invited with the 1958-styled, historic, classic red sign mounted neon letters which spell out “Chicago Skyway Toll Bridge” atop the historically modernized piece of elegant midcentury infrastructure.

In addition to photos of the restored toll plaza, the photo shoot included capturing day images and night photos of the 1⁄2-mile-long steel truss bridge, known as the “High Bridge” which crosses the Calumet River and Calumet Harbor.  A major harbor for large-sized industrial ships, the Skyway bridge’s construction is an impressive 650 feet long and provides for 125 feet of vertical clearance. Our focus was on angles of not only the Skyway’s soaring very HIGH overhead steel bridge & roadway, but also artistic road, expressway and infrastructure pictures with shots of the bridge with area views of the Lake Michigan shoreline, the Chicago skyline in the distance, and aerial drone photographs of the roadway transportation system.

About MILLER+MILLER Architectural Photography:
Miller + Miller Architectural Photography is owned and operated by husband & wife team Ryan + Sarah Miller. Located in Chicago, Illinois. In business for over 10 years. 


The E-ZPass LED signs were really giving us a lot of issues with flicker rate & moire patterns. It took a number of different speeds, apertures & lens lengths to get the right material for the final composite.

transportation steel bridges photographyWe waited a bit for a boat to add a little interest & perspective to this image.

restored-chicago-skyway-traffic-nightIn this image, we blended one of Mike Kelley’s Ultimate Sky Library shots into this composite. Thanks Mike!

chicago-skyway-tollThe client wanted an image with cars in motion, so we happily obliged.

transportation construction restorationFor this composition, we had to shut down two lanes during rush hour. And let me tell you the motorists were not impressed with that! They lobbed more insults at us than we’ve had in the entire history of our company. They blared horns. They screamed & swore like drunken sailors with middle fingers flying from all directions. They yelled sexist insults. And they even threw stuff at us. It was comparable to Cersei Lannister’s walk of atonement in Game of Thrones. Shame! Shame!

After retreating from the closed lanes, we had some laughs with the the Skyway maintenance about how the motorists behave if lanes are closed.  Chicago Skyway Required equipment: Hard hats, safety vest, & thick skin.

chicago skyway toll bridgeHoping to not be hit by a car.

chicago-roadway-infrastructure-photographyFocusing on the toll bridge while maintaining a frame of reference in relation to Lake Michigan, the Calumet River & Chicago’s iconic skyline.

toll-booth-chicago-skywayCompressing the cumulus clouds in the background into the Skyway foreground.

chicago-skyway-artistic-road-bridge-infrastructure-picturesThese shots were a major challenge and took forever.  They were taken from a Chicago-style bascule bridge over the Calumet River.  If you’ve ever stood on the middle of a bascule bridge then you know it’s like standing on a diving board with a fat kid dancing at the end of it.  Every time a car or semi would drive down the bridge, it would bounce. Any photographer who uses a tripod knows that even a millimeter of movement will torpedo your image – this bridge was flexing by inches!  So to remedy the situation, I had to wait FOREVER to get a break in traffic for my 25 second exposure.

Standing around, waiting for a break in traffic, so I used my iPhone in portrait mode to grab a quick shot of our set up.

chicago infrastructure photographer

led-red-neon-sign-stainless-steelWe don’t often use our 70-200mm, but for this scene it came in handy to compress the iconic Willis Tower with the Chicago sign. 

roadway-sign-transportationShot combining the new signage, bridge & Illinois native prairie restoration into one image.

skyway-art-deco-transportation-toll-canopy-restorationNew toll booth technology in it’s environment.

chicago-bridge-photographerWe had to use a bucket truck extended horizontally and vertically over the Calumet River and under high voltage power lines for this shot.  It was kinda like playing a Game of Operation, but with the risk of drowning or electrocution.  This is why we love our job!

aerial-pictures-expressway-toll-lanes-trafficPucker factor = 10+ | This image required that I be in a bucket lift truck because flying a drone over Interstates with mass amounts of speeding commuters is a no no.  The bucket lift was fully extended and wobbling back and forth in the winds. Cars were honking, a semi locked it’s breaks and it’s tires screeched and smoked, plus a random psychopath swore at us. I was trying not to let my imagination get the best of me in the moment. Think of the movie “Final Destination”.



chicago-skyway-bridge-nightReal talk. So sometimes in architectural photography you may need to bend the laws a little and trespass on private property to get a money shot. But that can come with risks in South Chicago especially during the night. So with the help of Google maps & two way radios, we plotted our night’s mission. But luckily for us at the last second, we were able to successfully schmooze the security guard into letting us have access to the property!

steel-bridge-night-transportationThe client was hoping to get a few shots of the LED overhead lights with the high bridge in the background.

An action packed shot of Ryan standing around doing nothing.

Ryan & Sarah Miller

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