Photographing New York City
New York, New York! Wow! What an amazing city to visit, let alone photograph. A travel photography paradise. When it came to light that we were going to be heading to the Big Apple, my head was awash with ideas of things I wanted to photograph. New York is a city of icons, movies and has been in our lives for as long as we have been watching TV. We have been to other cities in the U.S. but nothing could have prepared us for the overwhelming might of Manhattan and the Boroughs that surround it. We knew the place was big, but Holy Moly, this city far exceeded any expectations that we had about it. We only scratched the surface and we very much look forward to going back some day.
In this post, I try my best to document what it was like to approach a city like this from a photographic point of view. While you can find a huge amount of images taken while on this trip in the other blog posts that we have from New York - What is it like to visit New York for the first time? & The Big Apple: Buildings, Bridges and Boroughs these, for me, I feel are the ones that I am most happy with.
We start our New York trip here on the mighty Brooklyn Bridge. This colossal structure totally blew our minds. Hand carved stone, iron and the sweat of the many hundreds that helped build it all culminated into one damn fine looking bridge. Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is a very popular thing to do while visiting “The Big Apple” so who are we to break from that tradition? While the wind was blowing a cold (very cold) breeze it didn’t for one minute take away from the experience. If you can manage to get here for the sunrise there is less people, but us being us, we went a bit later in the day. 10 stops of neutral density worked a treat here. Orla’s “please don't move for 1 minute” skills are surely improving with all the practice she has been getting. Needless to say, we had a fantastic time on the bridge and, walking from the Brooklyn side into Manhattan, paid off beautifully as the views of the Manhattan skyline are a sight to behold.
D.U.M.B.O and a classic view of the Manhattan Bridge
Okay, Okay, I know what you are all thinking: “Here is another “DUMBO shot taken from some random person again”…..but, how can you not? It’s the DUMBO shot! It was funny all the same, finding this place. Get off the subway and just follow all the hip, young looking, cool people in their flowery, flowing dresses or fancy fedoras and...Boom! You have found the #Instagram mecca. Needless to say when we got there it was pretty busy. Thankfully visiting New York City in the off season is a little less crowded (I shudder to imagine how crammed it is during the summer months). Orla didn't last too long standing around in the cold waiting for me to take the picture so she left me to my own devices while I waited…..and waited…..and waited for the crowds to thin slightly. The sun was setting fast and the golden light was shining so beautifully on the Manhattan Bridge that I had to push aside my courteousness and blatantly stand in people's shots. I am super delighted how the image turned out and I am glad to have taken the time to wait for the light to be just right. Waiting patiently is the name of the game in a location like this one. I found a clearing with no people and fired away. It turned cold fast so lingering is not an option and sure when you get the shot you might as well move out of the way and let others shoot. Glad I went, it's a great view all the same!
Top of the Rock
The mighty Manhattan skyline stands tall and proud. Such iconic views of a city warrant all the time you can spend, trying to capture them. Like most of the New York images we captured while visiting this colossus, time, patience and care are required to try and replicate what we spent our youth looking at on TV. So we find ourselves on top of the Rockefeller Center (Top of the Rock). This spot is hugely popular for tourists and rightly so. Offering spectacular 360 degree views of the epic New York skyline this really is a must for anyone wanting to capture the Empire State Building and the city beyond. You must bear in mind though, if you want to be there for the sunset, you MUST book early and it costs extra. Also, if you want to get a good spot you MUST arrive early. There were LOOOOADS of people up there when we arrived. So, like the DUMBO shot, there was only so long I could wait before I had to push my way through the people to find a spot I wanted, and where I could put down my little mini tripod (you are not allowed to bring up full size tripods, but the little ones are okay). I am super polite to everyone so I don't mean to sound like I bullied my way to the front, but you know, it has to be done. This particular sunset was one of the nicest ones we had while we visited New York City and we were delighted that we chose this day to go up. Top tip - when you get your shot be sure to explore other compositions as the views all around are magic.
Grand Central Station
Grand Central Station, I mean, how could you not go? It's a fantastic place to visit. There is such a buzz about this location, from movies to people saying, “oh you have to visit Grand Central” and it being one of the biggest tourist attractions in the whole of Manhattan. So here we are. People, people and more people. With a location like this, one must approach it with some idea of the image you want to create, in your mind. Between the tourists and the locals getting from A to B, looking down from the balcony, it’s like the floor is alive. Now armed with some neutral density filters, the only way to shoot this, is with a nice long exposure. This will help slow down the shutter and extend the time while cutting down on the light hitting the sensor. The people essentially walk themselves out of the shot. While you could keep the shutter open for a while and get a shot of an empty hall, there is something very aesthetically pleasing about having the long shadow forms of the people in the frame. Orla, again, using her tremendous skills of standing still while I indulge my passion, did a great job of staying nice and motionless. Centered in the long cast of light in the middle of the room, she grounds the image and creates a fantastic contrast between motion and stillness (well done Orla). You must keep in mind that if you want to use a tripod inside this building, you have to apply for a permit to do so. While I had every intention of doing this, I did not. My little mini tripod came to the rescue again. And like everywhere else in New York, waiting, waiting and more waiting, is the name of the game here. One must be patient and calm to wait for the ideal spot to set up. Absolutely worth a visit and the whispering corner is a good laugh.
The mighty Chrysler Building, catching the golden light as the sun sets on another fantastic day in this spectacular city. For us this building conjures up the most nostalgia, and “Holy Moly I am in New York” feeling. This Art Deco behemoth stands 319 meters tall and dominates the skyline of midtown Manhattan. Our minds will always race to the movie Ghostbusters when we see this building. With its carefully crafted design, finding a good vantage point to photograph it is relatively easy, considering its position. This image was taken from Roosevelt Island at about 200mm. Shooting a nice long focal length gives such beautiful compression and makes the buildings almost stack on top of each other. The light, though! It was this that totally blew us away! Golden light glistening ever so wonderfully on the highlights of the building and using an ND filter to slow the shutter to drag out the clouds (about 20 seconds), this is one of my favorite images taken while visiting New York City. The Chrysler Building is an absolute must to shoot while in New York and if you can spend some time scouting a good location you will be just as happy with your results as I am with mine. Also, I shudder to imagine how much it cost to rent an apartment up there. What an amazing building to live in though.
New York City Skyline, Brooklyn Pier 1
The evening wore on and we found ourselves over on the waterfront of Brooklyn. With the sun getting lower in the sky and the long shadows of the golden hour beginning to cast themselves across the landscape, tonight it felt like was the night to head to one of the main photo locations that I had looked into before traveling to New York. This of course being the incredibly epic viewpoint of “Old Pier 1”. I have seen this picture many times cropping up over the years and it has always stood out as a composition that works on many levels. With fabulous leading lines that dominate the bottom half of the frame to the massive payoff of the Manhattan skyline towering over the top half, this was one I did not want to miss. With the conditions getting as good as they might get, I made my way to the pier. Orla stayed in the warmth of a local bar (it was freezing cold). As I arrived, I noticed only two other tripods set up, those of a Dutch guy and an Australian guy. Needless to say, conversation was sparked immediately and it turned out to be really great fun chatting with them about the exposure time, “will we bracket the images to combine later in post?”, etc. Getting to chat with these two was such a fantastic way of shooting this location. Had I been alone I fear the cold may have gotten to me sooner and I wouldn't have lasted. With such a large dynamic range for a scene like this, in my opinion, I couldn't have shot it any other way than with bracketed exposures, -2/0/+2. By doing this, it gave me the flexibility to get as much as the highlight details as I needed while also getting as much shadow detail. The exposure on the water was captured separately at about 3 minutes and taking all these images into post enabled me to create the image I had in my head, while approaching the scene. All in all, I am super delighted with how this image turned out and how everything looks and feels. I would have asked for some clouds but sure you can't have “perfect” conditions every time. With some creative thinking and some pre-visualisation, capturing the images that you want can be within everyone's reach. Just remember to take your time and don't forget to soak in your surroundings while you are there. Enjoy it!
Unisphere at Flushing Meadows
We always had it in our heads that taking a trip out to Flushing Meadows was going to be a thing while visiting New York City. Known as Unisphere, this huge stainless steel globe is a very iconic landmark. Built for the 1964 World's Fair, we were delighted that we made the journey out, deep into the Borough of Queens. 140 ft high is a lot to cover when wanting to take a nice image so, getting the trusty 18 mm on the case, did the job nicely. The next task was finding a good composition. With this time of year, everything was looking pretty dead but the snow was down and the whole park looked fantastic. It was cool that there was still snow at the top of the globe, conveniently marking out winter in the Arctic Circle. Taking my time and walking around this massive structure a couple of times, I had noticed that these little trees stood out and thought that they would work to help create a natural frame, close to the image edge, and draw the eyes down the leading line, to the Unisphere. Other than that, it's pretty much a standard photograph. While the shutter speed was set high (1/1250) I still used a tripod. Even though the sun was shining, there was still a little breeze and I wanted to make sure that I would get the steadiest image I could. I did play around with longer exposures to draw out the clouds but sometimes keeping things nice and simple works out best. Having the Unisphere dead center of frame, I know, may go against some of the hard core “rule of thirds” fans but I think solid leading lines and natural framing will always outdo convention. The blue and green of the landscape and the white of the snow all work really nicely here and I am delighted with how this image turned out. Taking the time to visit New York’s second largest park is well worth it. The train journey out here is really great. I would say in the summer, some fun times would be had, chilling and hanging out with friends.
New York City
With the flat sky and the afternoon sun blowing out any chance of some texture in the clouds, the only option you may have is to get somewhere really high up and point the camera down. Here we stand atop the Empire State Building. What a fantastic place for panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline, but, for the aforementioned unworkable sky, I decided to focus on the cityscape that was below me. I don't have a tilt-shift lens so I knew some distortion would be introduced by shifting the Field Of View down, but shooting on the wide end and correcting the lines in post, and a little cropping, straightened everything up nicely. I can't remember the name of this building so please, if you know, let me know in the comments, but, I love the way it stands tall in the middle of the frame. I can’t help but think of a circuit board when I look at this. The smaller buildings around really tie the scene together, adding an extra layer of weight to the main focal point of the frame. Being as this is the top of the Empire State, tripods are not allowed to be used, so you must keep this in mind before you go. Shooting everything handheld means you’ll have to compensate with a higher shutter speed and therefore a lower fstop or an increase of your ISO. As this shot was taken in the middle of the day I was able to get by with a shutter speed of 1/250, F Stop 7.1 and an ISO of 100. I had to take some liberties with the editing of this image. I wanted to add an extra punch of contrast and as you can see, the heavy vignette really helps to draw the eye to the fantastic building in the center of the frame.
Brooklyn Bridge at sunset
Here we find ourselves back in the DUMBO area of Brooklyn. First things first, I am super happy with how this image turned out. From the light, to the sky and the composition. One of the most important things to keep in mind about looking to take photographs while on a trip is to prioritise where you would like to be for the golden hour/sunset. I know that not everyone has this luxury, traveling with kids etc but regardless of your time constraints most people enjoy watching the sunset. So with some pre-planning, you can find yourself is some fantastic locations. With all that being said time is fleeting when you are presented with some magic golden light. We had lingered at this little beach and being drawn to these railway sleepers I knew they would make for some nice leading lines into the main subject of the image, the sun setting and of course the left side of the bridge, which in turn draws the eye across and into the city. Getting low down enabled me to fill the bottom left of the frame with the sleepers. Shooting with my 18mm wide angle lens, this foreground is greatly exaggerated thus providing a natural frame and lines drawing you in. The only drawback to this is, as I mentioned before, the distortion is a factor. Now I must be clear here, I shot this image with the intention of processing it to its final form that you see here. The sky was photographed at a longer exposure because I wanted to draw out the clouds while the rest of the scene was shot bracketed. Deciding to leave the water frozen helps to add a more kinetic feel to the overall scene and thus being a nice point of contrast to the sky. I spent some time over this image after returning home. Orla being such a good sport left me to my own devices, as at this stage now, she knows that when I have an idea for an image, my mind shifts to photo mode. The excitement helps keep the cold at bay for me but poor Orla would only have to stand around freezing.
Final thoughts on photographing New York City
Just to finish up, a city like this can hit you with some rapidly changing environments, and in February the cold is bitter. Planning, planning and even more planning is the name of the game here. That being said, there were images I had planned to shoot and for one reason or another they just didn't have the same impact as the above. The Flatiron image I got (which I was very excited to see and photograph) I just couldn't make work. I photographed it a bunch while there but it just didn't turn out how I had it in my head. That is one thing we must all keep in mind when traveling to take photographs. Sometimes they don't work and with time and practice you learn to except that and move on. I really had an amazing time photographing this epic city. I hope the above can give some modicum of insight to the thought process behind my travel photography. Please by all means if you have any question leave them in the comments below. I am also very open to any constructive criticism, so don't be shy :)