DOWNTOWN — Elise Swopes was born in St. Paul, Minn., on Dec. 19, 1989 — when temperatures plummeted to minus-15 degrees.
"I think that's why I've always felt most comfortable in the winter," said the South Loop resident and well-known Instagram mashup photo artist who uses only an iPhone to photograph and edit her work.
Swopes, 27, has more than 270,000 Instagram followers and each of the photos she posts usually receives thousands of likes and comments.
She's turned her social media popularity into a career, selling prints of her artwork and teaching clinics telling people how to make incredible art on just an iPhone. She's also shared her expertise with clients like Nike, Burger King, Amazon and Adidas.
"I didn't wake up one day and think I'd become Instagram famous," Swopes said. "You can't ever guess that's going to happen, but I've always known I wanted to do art."
Learn how Swopes uses an iPhone to make her photography artwork
Swopes loves winter in Chicago, especially when it's snowing, because she usually has the streets to herself to click pics. She'll spend all day walking the city, usually Downtown, photographing at street level and from high-rise spots like the Willis Tower and Hancock Center.
"There's something just so cool about a nice snowfall," Swopes said. "I love it when there's a heavy snowfall and no one is outside, and I'll just throw on a heavy coat and boots. It's gorgeous with the amazing buildings. There's nothing that can replace that."
Editing time can range from 45 minutes to five hours, said Swopes, who will add things like a waterfall to where the Lake Michigan shoreline should be or drop a giraffe inside the Willis Tower skydeck.
"Ever since I was a little girl, I just had an interesting imagination," Swopes said when asked how her brain works. "These ideas are just in my brain."
Swopes has one semester left to earn a degree in graphic design from Columbia College Chicago, but she's been so busy she's put her education on hold while she travels to places like Switzerland and Dubai for work.
"There's a lot of stuff in the works at this moment," she said. "Next year will be a huge reinvention for me in how I visualize myself and my work."
Elise Swopes created this mashup photo of Chicago's Willis Tower with a giraffe inside. [Elise Swopes]
For more information on how Swopes creates her artwork, and the companies she works with, click here.
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