February 13, 2020
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Forget patio pics and rooftop selfies—as one local photographer proves, the best way to capture #SummertimeChi is by taking to the skies.
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Summer in the city stuns from any angle, but it’s particularly flattering from way, way up—and few provide a bird’s-eye view like Evan Brightfield, the aerial Instagrammer capturing sky-high snaps of Chicago, many via drone. “It’s like fishing: You throw your line out and see what you get,” the North Sider explains. “Sometimes you get nothing, sometimes you find something amazing. It’s hard to have an exact formula.”
Undoubtedly, though, the 27-year-old has figured out what works, attracting nearly 35,000 followers to pics rendering the city’s skyline, green spaces and hardscapes into color-blocked, Mondrian-esque motifs. From behind the lens of Brightfield’s DJI Mavic 2 Pro, structures flatten out to a surrealist degree; ordinary scenes, like boats docked in the harbor, entrance with their hypnotic sense of order; and the natural world so seamlessly commingles with the built environment that the urban fabric looks like just that—an alluring, by-design pattern.
“[My work] is usually centered around some architectural elements. That’s where my architecture background fits in— trying to show these structures as part of the earth,” he observes, nodding to his Oak Park roots (he grew up near the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio) and the work he does for his family’s company, an architectural imaging firm, which initially spurred the Tribeca Flashpoint alum to experiment with drones, as he and his brother sought new angles to capture client developments.
The technology is not without its challenges, Brightfield concedes: short battery life, legal and geographical restrictions (drone software will restrict its flight path out of safety concerns), the wider playing field (“I can shoot almost anything, from any view, so what do I focus on?”) and, yes, birds are all variables to account for. The upside: a liberated eye on the city, one that’s particularly toothsome during this sun-soaked, mile-aminute season. “There’s all this cool activity all the time: the waves, the people on the beach,” Brightfield enthuses. “There’s just so much going on in the summer that it’s hard not be inspired by the city itself. It’s basically this living thing.”