The Big Apple beckons and you are ready, armed with your camera you set out to capture the iconic NYC skyline. But the options seem endless and especially when you are new in town, are overwhelming. Should you go on a skyscraper? On a boat? Walk across the bridge? Are there hidden spots? What time is best? Will it be crowded with tourists and their armada of selfie sticks? Here are my five cents and the photos you could take.
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NYC photography on the water
For a full on shot of Manhattan’s skyline from an eye level perspective, water is your best choice. Basically, there are two alternatives for you. You could catch the free Staten Island ferry during sunset, which will also pass the Statue of Liberty with some distance. Or hop on a guided city tour with Circle Lines that will ship you all around the Manhattan shores and give you some background information.
On my last visit, I used my CityPASS to do the short night cruise (and saw lightning strike the Empire State Building!). This time around, however, I wanted the big tour all the way up to the Bronx and during the day. The ferry sets off from the western end of 42nd street, pier 8 and circles the Manhattan isle in an anti-clockwise direction. Try to take a tour in the late afternoon so the light is softer but the sun is still high enough for you to take photos without the entire scene being covered by long shadows.
Travel tip: The Staten Island ferry takes about an hour to get to Staten Island. Check the return times before you set off otherwise you might have to wait for another hour for it to return.
The NYC skyline from a skyscraper
Seeing Manhattan from above is easiest achieved from either the Empire State Building or the Rockefeller Center. If you want, opt for the night AND day visit at the Empire State Building. In either case, you simply exchange your ticket at a machine for a specific entrance time and then can march past the queues like a VIP. (That’s what I love best about this pass: you can save 42% or more on New York’s 6 best attractions with CityPASS)
I recommend going up both buildings as the views are different. (There’s a reason why both rank among the top things to do in NYC). For one, you can take a photo of the Empire State Building when you’re up on Rockefeller as well as see Central Park.
Times Square and the One World Center are closer from Empire State. Visit both just before sunset to catch day and night. Just be aware that half of NYC’s tourists will have the same idea but never stick around too long. The balconies were pretty much empty again after 9 PM when I went in September.
Budget tip: If you are broke but still want to go up, take the lift to the Rockefeller restaurant and get a drink. It’s way cheaper than paying the price to go on the top floor. Plus, you still have a grand view AND a drink.
Did you know? You can buy my NYC photos as prints
Just a little bit high in NYC
If you haven’t been on the Highline, then you have missed out on one of the coolest spots in town. The Highline in NYC used to be a railway system but has now been transformed into a garden landscape. When you look closely, you can still see the rusty rails underneath the lush green foliage. Walking here, you get glimpses of the water around lower Manhattan (even New Jersey in the distance).
But most importantly, you are elevated enough to look down on the buy streets and still see NYC’s houses from an eye level. Coming here in the middle of the day will get you the best sunlight as you can avoid the shadows. However, if you can, return during dusk for long exposure shots of yellow cabs swooshing by and neon lights glowing in the dark.
Foodie tip: Treat yourself to a delicious snack at the Chelsea Market down below and then dine out in the Meatpacking District. (Also, check out my foodie video on the most epic desserts in NYC.)
Admiring the NYC skyline from Brooklyn Bridge
A classic photography hotspot and well deserved. The view from Brooklyn Bridge really is stunning. But it can also be really crowded because everyone else will think that as well. Your best bet is to get here just before sunrise and catch the soft pastel glow. This way, you will avoid the crowds AND get a unique photo. Of sunset photos of the Brooklyn Bridge there are plenty.
For a shot with both the Brooklyn Bridge AND Manhattan, head down to DUMBO. This is the park around the bridge and is super popular with locals. The views are great, there are seating options everywhere to rest and enjoy the view.
Public transport tip: If you are staying for a couple of days in NYC, a multi day pass is a valuable option even though it might seem a bit pricy. Trust me, you don’t want to walk everywhere. I tried. It’s just too big.
It’s a matter of perspective in NYC
As always, you can have the best photo opportunities and still screw it up by trying to do what everyone else does. Or not even bothering to do much with it in the first place. Taking a good photo comes down to many different factors, such as lighting, composition and how use your camera settings to your advantage. Try to come up with new perspectives and make your travel photography stand out.
Don’t just take a quick snap. Or prop your arms on a ledge and hold the camera in your hands to get as many night shots as possible, thinking one of them might not be so shaky. Or take up plenty of space with a massive tripod or fully extended selfie stick. Take your time but don’t fret over it too much either. It can be tricky, and oh do I know it. I had to wait patiently for 20 minutes on top of the Rockefeller so I could prop my camera on the wall and take my stable night shot. Worth it, though!
Thoughts on using drones in NYC
With drones being the latest craze and skyscrapers sprouting up everywhere, begging to be caught from above, you might wanna pack adequately. But hold your horses! The state of New York has pretty strict laws when it comes to flying drones anywhere but model aircraft fields. Better inform yourself on the current state of drone laws in NYC as so far the situation was not as strict regarding drones. Around the State of Liberty, drones are expressly forbidden.
Bonus points for capturing Manhattanhenge
For a very special sunset in NYC that few visitors ever get to see, check the dates for the Manhattan Solstice. The streetgrid of NYC is not aligned perfectly from West to East, which means that only twice a year, the setting and rising sun respectively aligns with the streets. For sunrise that is around December 5 and around January 8 and for sunset it is around May 28 and around July 13.
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