All About Perspective
When photographer Nick Ulivieri isn’t fighting the g-force in an acrobatic flight demonstration or snapping panoramic views from a helicopter, he may be found perched on Chicago’s tallest buildings, capturing unique birds-eye views for his wildly popular Instragram account and professional photography business.
Here he shares how he turned his passion into his career, his favorite Chicago hang-out spots, and more.
When did you realize you could turn your passion for photography into your career?
After a few years at a PR agency, I took a vacation with my family where I volunteered to play the trip’s photographer – and that’s when it clicked; photography was the creative outlet I’d been craving for so long. Once I got home, teaching myself photography became an addiction.
About a year later, a family friend saw some of my architectural work and hired me document the progress of a downtown construction site. This was it. Two months later, In October of 2010, I left the agency behind and started Nick Ulivieri Photography. It was a huge leap into the unknown – I only had one client at the time. I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing, to be honest. The only thing I did know is that I’d do anything to make photography a successful, full-time career. And I hoped my marketing degree and ad agency experience would help me navigate the business side of photography.
How do you gain access to the the buildings you shoot from?
A lot of networking, persistence, and a most importantly – a willing ‘keeper of the keys’.
Sometimes I’ll email a developer with a sample of my work and a pitch as to why I want to get on their roof. Other times I might connect with an architecture firm on Instagram to see if they can get me access to a rooftop in buildings they’ve designed. I’ve even put calls out on Twitter for tenants or decision makers at buildings I’m trying to summit.
It is nice when I get invited up though. One time the building manager at Lake Point Tower invited me to the roof in an Instagram comment he left on a photo I posted of the building.
Planning these shoots can be a time consuming process. Schedules have to fall into place, photo usage needs to be figured out, and the weather and light conditions to be photogenic so I’ll usually build in a contingency plan in case weather changes, too. It’s very much a partnership between myself and the person making the trip possible.
In short, you really have to work at it. The secret weapon is a commercial insurance policy, tough. They always help move the process along if the roof isn’t typically accessible to resident or guests. Even if the tenant or manager is willing, there are plenty of roofs I wouldn’t have been able to get on if I wasn’t insured for this type of work.
Do you fly in planes to get some of your shots?
I do quite a bit of aerial photography from helicopters. Their maneuverability really allows the pilot to get me into the position I need to capture the shots I want. Plus, the feeling you get looking straight down into the city from 3,000 feet is tough to beat – there’s definitely an adrenaline rush when the doors are off and there’s nothing obstructing the view. I highly suggest a helicopter tour of the city sometime.
What the most exotic/adventurous place you’ve ever shot from?
This summer I had the opportunity to fly with ‘Team Aerodynamix’ ahead of the Chicago Air & Water Show. Team Aerodynamix is a civilian acrobatic flight demonstration team that uses 9-12 planes in their acts. It was a pretty incredible experience to fly in close formation for the first time. We pulled some positive and negative g-force turns which made for a unique shooting environment, too. On a few of the tighter turns, my camera felt like it weighed about 14 pounds – not so easy to hold up to your face then. I took a ton of shots, but paused to enjoy the ride a bit, too.
Where do you live in Chicago and what three places do you love in your hood?
I live in University Village, just south of UIC. I love Simone’s – especially if I’m scarfing down the Chilaquiles on their brunch menu. The southern-inspired cuisine at Moxee on Maxwell Street is so deliciously rich and flavorful, you can’t help but wash it down with one (or many) of the beers they churn out of their on-site brewery. And while it’s not technically in my neighborhood, a bike ride due east to Museum Campus and down the lakefront always puts a smile on my face…and makes me feel a little less guilty about stuffing my face at Simone’s or Moxee.
What’s next creatively for you?
The fun, yet equally frustrating, thing about creativity is that you don’t always know when the next spark will hit you. As soon as it does, I’ll let you know what it is.