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How Chicago Photographer Barry Butler Shoots “The Greatest City in America”

It all started with a collarbone shattered in a thousand pieces. After suffering the fateful injury from a brutal check while playing hockey 25 years ago, Barry Butler decided to teach himself photography while he recovered.

Butler never planned on becoming one of Chicago’s most sought-after photographers, known for consistently producing some of the most beautiful images of the city ever seen. In the beginning, he was a hobbyist like any of us, posting photos of Windy City landmarks on social media alongside shots of national parks and international destinations. 

Despite the overwhelmingly positive (and organic) response to his work, though, Butler has never published a book — until now. Fresh on the heels of the release of Chicago: A City Above All, we caught up with Butler to discuss his latest project, his thoughts on the city that inspires him, and why you should never take photos for “likes” alone. 

Millennium Park

InsideHook: You have said that Chicago is the “greatest city in America.” What is it about the city that you find so inspiring, particularly when it comes to photography?

Barry Butler: There’s so many different views of the city. I love the lakefront, but I kind of changed my mindset, to be truthful. I turned the skyline into my mountains … Instead of being excited about the fact that I’m gonna be out at the Grand Tetons along the Snake River, here I am along the Chicago River and there’s these “mountains” called the Hancock and the Sears Tower. And the nice thing about this “mountain range” is it changes, lately, almost every year … It presents different challenges.

And that’s the thing I probably enjoy most about photography, is that every day brings a new challenge. Which is, where would be the best spot to be based on the weather conditions and also what possibly could be topical that day? I just enjoy putting that puzzle together every day. And I typically start the puzzle-making about 24 hours ahead of time, so all the shots are planned. I don’t just show up somewhere and say, “God, lets hope its gonna be really nice in this spot.”

"Chicago" book cover

What are some misconceptions people might have about photography? And what are some things people might not know about working as a photographer and some character traits or habits of a successful photographer?

What’s probably the biggest misconception is that you have to have a really nice camera to take a good photo. That’s probably the biggest mistake that most people make. I often get people who ask me, “Hey listen, I want to get into photography. What would be the best camera that I can get?” I usually say, “You probably have it in your hand right now, which is your smartphone.” It’s not from the standpoint of the quality of the photo. Whether it’s a smartphone or a camera, the quality is there … The thing that is the challenge with photography is the composition. Is it something where someone looks at it and says, “Wow, I wish I was there” or “Oh, what a moment.” Often it’s the composition that creates that.

The biggest mistake that people make in the social media world is that they take photos because they’re worried about getting “likes.” I can tell you that every photograph I take is because I enjoyed it. There’s nothing in my mind that says, “Boy, I wonder if they’re really gonna like this today.” That doesn’t enter my mind. If I’m gonna get up 90 minutes before sunrise, it’s because I’m gonna get a kick out of it. I’m just very fortunate that people like it. But if I start saying, “I’m worried about my follower accounts, so I better start doing these type of photographs,” I can tell you that my photographs won’t be that good — because I’ll be taking photographs of things that are really not that interesting to me. 

When you have a passion for something — no matter what it is — you take tremendous care and put a lot of thought into what you do. And that’s really what makes up what I do on a day-to-day basis. I’m shooting the things that I enjoy and because I enjoy it, I put a lot of work into it … I probably put five hours into a photograph that might only last one thirtieth of a second. And I think all of those hours are worthwhile. That’s the passion. That’s what makes you get up early and allows you to stand there for a half hour and wait for that thing that you’re hoping will happen to happen. 

What are some of your favorite places to shoot in the city or locations that inspire you the most, or maybe spots that people wouldn’t be aware of or think of?

I like situations … and it’s usually bad things. I like the Polar Vortex. That’s awesome. When it’s minus 50 degrees, that’s Christmas. I love a good lightning storm. Basically anything that’s bad is good for photography. And it’s really what I try to do every day, which is to take a negative and turn it into a positive. That’s really the foundation of photography, anyway. 

Why did you choose now to release your first book after all these years?

Because I finally found a way to do it myself … I’m very blown away by the response and the reaction from people. It just makes me really happy when someone says, “Oh, I love it — on my cocktail table now,” or, “It’s in my family room and I’m picking it up and I love the views of the city.” Knowing that I might have made someone’s day or moment or allowed them to escape from whatever is their challenge that day — and the book is kind of creating that — that’s worth more than anything I could ever make on the book.


Why do you think your photos resonate with so many people? Why do you think people identify with them so strongly?

I think because it’s authentic … In this day of constant manipulation of photographs, I think for people, they’re like, “You know what, this is real. This is what the city looked like and that’s what the sky looked like.” It’s not manipulated … There’s definitely tons of warts in my photographs. There’s warts in every one of them. But I think that’s what people like. What they’re seeing is real. They know Chicago looked like that in the winter, it looked that way in a storm … And I think people do feel that I love the city and they just see the passion in the shots that I take.


It’s no secret that 2020 has been a tough year for Chicago. Do you think your photos help people feel more positive about their city by enabling them to look at their environment in a new way?

Well, I hope it does. Every city has challenges. There are bad spots; there are real bad days. But I try to look at this city as a whole and the 365 days a year that it’s here. And we have a lot of great days, and we have a lot of beauty in this city all over the place. Doesn’t matter if you’re on the South Side, the West Side, out on the lake, the North Side — everywhere there’s something interesting to view. It’s never-ending how pretty it is. I’m looking at it right now. I’m looking at the Sears Tower … How could you get bored by looking at the Sears Tower? The Hancock, too. That’s another cool building … that is my favorite. It’s just another building that’s so cool from all different angles. You never get tired of it.

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You may not know Barry Butler’s name, but you’ve likely seen his work. His high-definition photos often capture cotton candy sunsets, city lights sparkling on Lake Michigan’s surface or frozen, deserted beaches.

His cityscapes have been featured on virtually every local TV station and news site, and on national websites like The Huffington Post and Thrillist. On Instagram, he has 27.2K followers. On Facebook, he has nearly 64,000.

The Chicago-based photographer, originally from Ireland, has become famous over the years for capturing the city’s beauty in every season — even winter.

“When the polar vortex came, I was one of the happiest people in this city,” Butler said. “I love winter because the landscape changes hourly thanks to the snow, the ice. There are so many elements that make it exciting to me.

In November, he’ll release a 2020 calendar, his fourth project compiling 12 stunning skylines and city scenes. The calendar can be ordered on his website now at

His prolific photography career started 20 years ago when Butler broke his collarbone playing hockey and started searching for something to keep him busy during his 8 months of recovery.

“I bought myself a tripod because I only had one arm to work with and I just taught myself,” he said.

Ever since then, he was hooked. He now wakes up every day an hour and a half before sunrise and shoots for six hours, sometimes from drones or helicopters. That’s on top of his other full-time job in sales for iHeartMedia.

Each page of the calendar will feature a photo taken during that month. January through October were taken this year and November and December were taken in 2018, he said. The calendar, which sold out last year, will be shipping in November and costs $20.

His annual calendar project used to be something he did just for family and friends, but when he had extras one year, he asked his Facebook friends if anyone wanted a copy. They were gone in three minutes.

For Butler, the perfect shot comes from patience and diligent planning. He knows about 24 hours ahead of time where he’s going to shoot depending on what’s topical, the weather and which way the wind is blowing.

The rest he credits to Chicago’s natural camera-readiness.

“We do without a doubt have the prettiest city in the nation,” he said.

Here’s an exclusive sneak peek at some of the photographs Butler plans to feature in the 2020 calendar:

Barry Butler Photography
Barry Butler Photography
Barry Butler Photography
Barry Butler Photography
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2021 WGN Radio Chicago calendar featuring Barry Butler photography

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

**All calendars are Buy One, Get One Free. **

WGN Radio has partnered with Barry Butler, Chicago’s internationally published photographer for a 2021 calendar!

Enjoy new, stunning, and exclusive photos captured by Barry Butler. Each month of the calendar features the beauty of Chicago through the seasons.

These calendars make a great gift for family, friends, coworkers or yourself! Calendars are only $20 and are currently on offer for buy one, get one free! That’s two calendars for $20.

Click here to purchase yours.

Calendars will start shipping November 20 and will arrive via FedEx 2Day shipping anywhere in the United States.

Sponsored by your local Chevy Dealers and

About Barry Butler
Barry Butler is a Chicago-based, Ireland-born, internationally published landscape and cityscape photographer. Butler, a self-taught photographer, has captured images from locales around the world, but he is legendary for his Chicago imagery. WGN-TV reporter Mike Lowe nicknamed him “Chicago’s Picture Poet.” Butler’s work has appeared in a variety of media, including television, books, advertising, and music album covers. In 2020, Butler released his first photography portfolio book, “Chicago, A City Above All” containing over 100 images of the city. Visit

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Chicago Photographer Barry Butler Releases New Book, 'Chicago, A City Above All'

A Chicago River Gallery, by Barry Butler

Nicknamed "Chicago's picture poet", Chicago-base/Ireland-born photographer Barry Butler is renowned for his Chicago imagery.

Tranquil Cruise
A tranquil cruise down the river aboard the official Chicago Architecture Foundation Center River Cruise with Chicago's iconic towers, Bertrand Goldberg's Marina City, in the background.

Chicago's iconic towers, Bertrand Goldberg's Marina City


A Sunday Morning Yoga Cruise on the Chicago River
A Sunday morning yoga cruise on the Chicago River is a delightfully zen way to start your day before the city awakes.

Incredible views seen from the Cruise
The Chicago River cuts through the heart of the city creating an urban canyon with incredible views best seen by boat.

Wolf Point
Wolf Point is the confluence of the North, South and Main Branches of the Chicago River and home to several magnificent steel and glass towers, including the gravity-defying 150 North Riverside. 

Network of Subways and Elevated Trains
Chicago's 125-year old transit network of subways and elevated trains is an iconic symbol of Chicago and a daily essential for Chicagoans.

Yoga on Cruise
There's yoga. And then there's boat yoga. Enough said. 

River Cruise
Eight years and 8,500 years later, the Chicago River was reversed in 1900, making it one of the greatest engineering feats in history.

90-minute summer CAFC Twilight River Cruise
The buildings start to twinkle and glow as the day transitions to night on our 90-minute summer CAFC Twilight River Cruise.

CAFC River Cruise

Chicago Harbor Lock
Our CAFC River Cruise doesn't go on the lake, but that doesn't mean you don't get skyline views! Our tour travels the main branch to the Chicago Harbor Lock that leads to Lake Michigan. Cruisers get a close-up skyline view without needing to go on the lake.

Sunset from Lake Michigan
A bucket list item for anyone visiting or living in Chicago: seeing Chicago's famous skyline at sunset from Lake Michigan. Better yet, charter a party aboard the boat and see this sunset with all your favorite people. This picture says it all, doesn't it?


Want to see more? Check out our 2018 feature on Barry!


Chicago got a piece of your heart?

Take Barry's photos from your 'gram to your wall with his online store and enjoy the beauty of Chicago year-round.


Butler photos barry

Meet The Photographer Behind Some of Chicago's Most Amazing Pics

Barry Butler has been taking photographs of Chicago for the last 20 years. [Photos courtesy of Barry Butler]

CHICAGO — Chicagoans can thank a broken collarbone for some of the city's most captivating photos.

About 20 years ago, Barry Butler was checked hard and broke his collarbone playing a game of hockey. Doctors didn't allow him to play sports for eight months, and Butler only could use one arm.

"Out of boredom, I taught myself photography," said Butler, 52. "I had one arm to work with, and I was able to put a camera on a tripod."

In the two decades since, Butler, a Notre Dame College Prep and Columbia College Chicago graduate, has taken thousands of shots of the city's iconic skyline. His passion turned into a part-time job about four years ago as owner of Barry Butler Photography, where the former Irving Park resident sells his work.

Many of his photos are captured at sunrise from the rooftop of the 16-floor River West abode where he lives. His favorite place from which to shoot is the currently-under-construction spot at Lake Shore Drive and Fullerton Avenue; Butler said he wants his ashes spread there.

Justin Breen says Butler has long appreciated Chicago's skyline:

Butler has photographed locales around the world, including Tibet, Iceland, Africa, China, Ireland and the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. He said very few places are as "pretty" as Chicago, especially at sunrise.

"I think Chicago represents itself as the best sunrise city in America, whether shooting from the north, west, south or east," he said. "You have all these different options."

Butler's full-time gig is as vice president of sales for the Total Traffic and Weather Network. He began to appreciate the city's beauty when working as a traffic reporter from the 94th floor of the Hancock building after he graduated from Columbia. He said many of his photos include the Hancock because "it has a soft spot in my heart."

Butler said he's surprised people want to buy his photos. He usually likes his pics for a bit and then they lose favor with him a few days later.

"I don't see it, but other people do," Butler said of why people buy his work. "Really, ultimately I love the city. It's just nice going around taking shots."

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This housekeeper didn't know there was a camera this is what she did

Renowned photographer Barry Butler shares breathtaking photos of Chicago in new book

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

Tomorrow morning at 945am on the WGN-TV Morning News, I’ll reveal some of the images you’ll find in my first book. Be sure to tune-in! “Chicago – A City Above All”. On sale at

— Barry Butler (@barrybutler9) April 22, 2020

Chicago photographer Barry Butler shares his amazing snapshots of our beloved city

Butler’s photo book, “Chicago: A City Above All” is now for sale online and will be released late June, featuring over 100 photos of Chicago.

“If you love Chicago, you’ll love this in your home or office,” Butler announced on Twitter. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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