The Only Guide That Addresses  Major Problems For Photographing New York City

Have you ever arrived in New York City and all of a sudden you’re stricken with excitement and then intimidation? Or, once you’ve returned home after your shoot and said, “I wish I knew that…..” or I spent all this money and did not know about the Cathedral of Saint John the Devine or the Tudor City Overpass. I found myself jumping from location to location and when it was time leave I didn’t feel good about photographing New York City. Then this is the only guide you’ll need that removes most of the problems that arise while you’re in The Big Apple. 

This article is about having you feel good about yourself when you arrive at the Airport, moving forward with confidence because you did due diligence with your preparation. It’s about you as a photographer having accomplished your photographic fine art skills with near perfect satisfaction and safety. This will be your foundation for other destinations like Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, London, Paris or Rome.

This quick and easy read is targeting your first and second trip to the city, especially if you are by yourself or for those who want to go out on your own away from the group. I’ll be discussing preparation, gear, and suggestions for photographing the iconic locations and not so famous locations.

PREPARATION

Google Earth to gain perspective

Use Google Earth to gain perspective for possible sites to shoot which will show your approximate location to other nearby sites. Additionally, Google Earth provides a terrific 3D view of all your shooting locations providing familiarity of the location upon your arrival.

Make your flight accommodations well in advance. For example flying in on Tuesday and departing on Sunday generally offers the lower prices. This approach affords you some real quality time for photographing your chosen locations. Do not try to photograph everything in the city within your available time. This leads to frustration, poor results and exhaustion.

I find that midtown is a great base for you to find your hotel. For the record, Expedia owns Travelocity, Orbitz, Hotwire, and Trivago, among others. So when your looking for the best price often times the first price is the lowest. The time of the season will also affect the price as well. Accommodations are lower outside of Manhattan. However, you must weigh the pros and cons of photographing efficiency if your are staying further away from the city.

New York is laid out in a grid, avenues run north and south while streets run east and west. Fifth avenue separates the East and West sides. To add to your confusion avenues are numbered 1 to 11 and some have different names. The more common avenues you’ll run into will be 5th Avenue or Central Avenue, 4th Avenue is mostly Lexington, Madison and Park Avenue, and 6th Avenue is Avenue of the Americas. What about Broadway? Broadway is the renegade to New York’s grid running diagonally across almost all the avenues.

If you think you can beat this confusion by taking the cab, Uber, or the train, your going to miss the best part of the city, its people and its sounds. You will also miss the personality and competition between light and shadow for that unique black and white long exposure which excites your emotional creativity. 

Do your google search Images for Manhattan. Here you’ll find hundreds images of the iconic buildings and places to photograph giving you the opportunity to evaluate your shooting Itinerary. There are plenty of Google searches that isolate new locations, and the trendy new towers like Hudson Yards that offer unique creations. Remember there are millions of images taken every day in this great city, so don’t duplicate, rather create your own vision.

Uber versus Cabs. I’m old school remembering the old Cagney and Bogart movies where the cabbies were part of the cacophony in the movies as there are today. Pick your preference and enjoy the journey.

Check the weather and bring layers. Anticipate change, it’s an island and the weather can change in a New York Minute. I’ve photographed from Newport, N.J. in May for a sunset creation and nearly froze. Getting back into the train was as exciting as the shoot itself.

Gear

Midtown East taken from Roosevelt Island. Nikkor 24-120mm lens.

Two Bridges Taken from DUMBO, 2017. Nikkor 24mm tilt shift lens.

There are many articles regarding what gear to bring for photographing New York City. In my opinion there is no correct answer to this question, obviously for personal reasons. My first time photographing the city was in 2014 learning my craft from the Joel Tjintjelaar, Sharon Tenenbaum, Marc Koegeland Mabry Campbell.

I brought four lenses, bad mistake and carried them in my bag! Talk about being tired after shooting ten hours a day. As it turned out I only used two lenses. I’ve since returned several times, and to this day I still bring two lenses. On one occasion I brought a third lens my 28-300mm which is smaller and lighter for photographing on the Hudson and East Rivers rather than lugging my 70-200mm. I bring one camera, the Nikon D850. Use your room’s safe for storing gear that you’ll not be using that day. The secret is to travel light.17 or 19 or 24mm tilt shift lens

Suggested Lenses:

  • 24-70mm fs lens
  • 24-120mm fs lens
  • 50-135mm fs lens
  • 70-200mm fs lens
  • 28-300mm fs lens

Accessories:

  • Cable release
  • ND filters 6,10,16
  • NC or UV filter and polarizer (optional)
  • Knit hat to cover your camera preventing light leak for long exposures
  • Make up brush to remove dust and pollen from your lens before shooting
  • Small microfiber towel or lens tissue
  • Extra batteries
  • Extra memory cards
  • Carbon fiber tripod and ball head
  • Platypod Max and Oben BE 117 ball head
  • Lowepro Slingshot Edge 250 AW bag 9″(23cm) x 5″(12cm) x 8″(21cm) 1.8lbs/0.8kg for the shoot. While traveling this is stored in my suitcase filled with travel necessities
  • Think Tank Retrospective 7 shoulder bag that stores all my gear in the overhead including cell phone and laptop

Tripod Use In New York City:

There is much to do about using a tripod in the Big Apply. The easiest solution is to use the Platypod Max. It is small, light weight, supports full size cameras with large lenses, can be mounted anywhere, and allows you to shoot on the ground. Best of all no one will bother to stop you from shooting anywhere!

Regarding the use of tripods on street level, personally I have never had a problem. The key is to go to the curb next to the newspaper vending machine or the trash container. Here you will not interfere with pedestrian traffic. Additionally, place your bag under the tripod for easier access for those long exposures.

Once an NYPD officer questioned what I was doing while photographing the One World Trade Center pointing the camera up to the front of the tower. Explaining that this image is a long exposure and I was giving honor to those who lost their lives he allowed me to continue with the shot. However, additional images with the tripod were not allowed on the One World Trade Center Grounds. Tripods, generally are not allowed in or on:

  • Roof tops and enclosed observation decks such as the Top of the Rock, Empire State Building, the Oculus, and One World Trade Center 
  • Museums
  • Churches and cathedrals
  • Private property
  • Times Square
  • Grand Central Station with permit

WHERE TO SHOOT

Uptown, Midtown, Downtown Manhattan

Each recommendation where to photograph will be matched with uptown, midtown, downtown (Lower Manhattan) providing you with the most efficient way to photograph The Big Apple.

Uptown Manhattan:

  • The Cathedral of Sant John the Devine known by the locals as the one of the best kept secrets in Manhattan. in my opinion it rivals any cathedral in America and some of the cathedrals of Europe.
  • The Guggenheim Museum
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Columbus Circle
  • Carnegie Hall
  • Roosevelt Island

Cathedral of Saint John the Devine

MIDTOWN MANHATTAN:

  • Rockefeller Center, Top of the Rock, The Statue of Atlas
  • Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
  • Chrysler Building, Tudor City Overpass, Grand Central Terminal,
  • New York Public Library
  • Empire State Building
  • Times Square
  • The High Line an old converted railroad line for walking
  • Flatiron Building
  • Washington Square Park
  • Hudson Yards
  • Fulton Center

 

The Vessel Courtesy by Max Touhey

Empire State Building from Top of the Rock

Downtown Manhattan:

  • World Trade Center 
  • The Oculus
  • Wall Street
  • Brooklyn Bridge Park
  • Olde Pier 1 Brooklyn Bridge Park
  • Down Under Manhattan Bridge (DUMBO)
  • Manhattan Bridge between Washington and Water Streets
  • Fulton Ferry Park and Main Street Park

 

One World Trade Center and wing of the Oculus

ANOTHER THOUGHT ~ SAFETY

Be safe out there! Always be aware of your surroundings and trust your instincts. Harm can come from nowhere and at any  time. Just because it’s daylight and your in a safe area, this will not guarantee your safety. Trust me what I say! I was hit from behind, mid morning, California street in San Francisco’s financial district in June of 2018. Refer to my blog in my website NOT BEING SAFE: A PHOTOGRAPHERS WORST NIGHTMARE . 

  • Carry protein snacks, water, and sunblock
  • Research areas to stay away from. Check with the concierge or hotel desk to reinforce this information
  • Do not flash cash anywhere in the city, use a credit card
  • Avoid ride invitations especially at the airport
  • Familiarize your self with the subway. Purchase a seven day pass and stay away from empty cars
  • Walking the New York streets, stick to the main streets. Always cross at intersections pay attention to cars and cyclists, do not stop in the middle of sidewalks
  • Make a daily plan and do not stray from this plan. This approach allows for a great follow up trip to photograph from new sites and areas. The city is forever changing and your portfolio will keep pace with the changes.
  • At night, be vigilant and stick to popular areas that are well lighted 

It is my hope that this article will provide for you an easy time management approach for planing a successful photography trip to New York City. I look forward to your comments if you have a better way to improve on what I presented herein.

All photographs are by me, richterpolilli.com. A special thanks goes to Mac Touhey, who graciously allowed me to add his creation of The Vessel at 55 Hudson Yards. Max Touhey Photography can be seen at http://www.metouhey.com.