Photographing New York City

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New York City.   NYC.  The Big Apple.  The City That Never Sleeps.  The Empire City.  It doesn’t matter what you call it, there is no arguing the fact that New York truly is one of the greatest cities in the world.   It has beautiful architecture, it is rich in the arts, the people are amazing, and it holds a significant place on the world stage.  On a personal note New York holds a special place in my heart because it was where I honeymooned after getting married and, having spent a long time working as a paramedic, I feel a connection to the events of 9/11 and the brethren I lost that day when they were working to save people in the World Trade Center towers.

I know that it has been two weeks since I last posted on this site, but that is because I just returned from another trip to New York where I spent a lot of time shooting, showing the city to family that had never been there before, and visiting friends.  This post is part one of a new five part series featuring photography from New York City:

Every time I go to New York I feel like I just scratch the surface of the city, despite spending hours every day with a camera in my hand.  There is simply so much to see that it would take months to explore everything New York has to offer.  In this first post I want to share a series of images that gives a broad overview of the city, and in the next few posts we’ll talk gear and get more area specific.

Get ready for a lot of photos.  Wordpress doesn’t always render images well in the blog post, so please click any of them to view larger if you are having any problems.   That said, let’s get started and look through the lens of my camera at the beauty that is New York City!

The photo at the top of this post is the quintessential skyline shot of New York City.  Dead centre you can see the iconic Empire State Building.  Viewed large you can see the new Freedom Tower behind it, the Statue of Liberty behind that, the Brooklyn Bridge, etc.  This photo was taken from the Top of the Rock, a viewing platform at the top of Rockefeller Center.  I will have more on shooting from this location in a separate blog post.

When I teach my travel photography workshop I talk often about the need to walk a city, to explore, to get lost.  Here is a perfect example of that:  I was walking down 5th Avenue, looking south, when I saw the view seen in the photo below.  I love the architecture, the flag, and how the Empire State Building is framed with the blue sky behind it:

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Had I not been out walking I never would have seen this view.  You really need to give yourself time to shoot places like New York, and you need to be out walking.  I averaged 10-15km per day and wish I could have done more!

Not far from where the above photo was taken you will find the iconic Grand Central Terminal:

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I spent a lot of time shooting Grand Central this time, and it will have it’s own blog post later in this series.  If you haven’t been before it is hard to fathom how busy this terminal is, with 750,000 people per day passing through its doors.  Somehow, however, there is a calm amongst all of that chaos when you stop and take in the beautiful design of this building.

Keep going south beyond Grand Central Terminal and the Empire State Building and you will find the Flatiron Building, another beautiful example of the New York architecture I love so much:

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Continuing south, the National September 11th Memorial and Museum is incredibly moving to visit.  At street level the Memorial is dominated by two one acre reflecting pools that sit on the former footprint of the north and south towers of the World Trade Center:

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These pools and man made waterfalls reflect the loss of life and the physical void left by the destruction of the Towers.   The names of 2,983 victims are etched around the edges, representing those lost on September 11th and also in the earlier 1993 World Trade Center bombing.  This wide angle photo doesn’t pay respect to the scale of the Memorial.  For perspective though, all of those little dots you see around the edges of the Memorial are people.

The actual Museum is located underground.  I will have a separate blog post on my day visiting this location coming up in this series.

Go all of the way to the southern tip of Manhattan Island and you will find the Statue of Liberty:

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I have taken the typical shot of this iconic landmark before, and wanted to make a photo that was a little more original this time.  A trick to seeing the statue is to take the free Staten Island Ferry, which goes past the Statue of Liberty.  When I saw the rays of light bursting from these clouds I dropped back into black and white, boosted the contrast, and got a photo I was happy with.

Going north from Grand Central instead of south you’ll find Central Park, a place of quiet beauty in the heart of this insanely busy city.  This will sound like a strange analogy, but I equate visiting Central Park to going to Disneyland.  Disney has curated the experience of visiting their theme parks perfectly.   As soon as you enter one of their parks it is like the outside world ceases to exist:  The sounds are different, the sights are different, the feel is different.  I have the same experience when I go into Central Park, I find it quiet and calm despite the bustling city life that is happening all around it.

Here is an image taken in Central Park on a cloudy day, looking west towards the San Remo building on a cloudy and overcast day:

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And, an image on a bright sunny day of the famous Bow Bridge:

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In the park you will also find Strawberry Fields, a memorial dedicated to John Lennon:

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The entrance to the Memorial is at 72nd Street, directly across from the Dakota Hotel where, on December 8th, 1980, John Lennon was murdered.  His ashes were spread in this area of the park, and in 1985 Strawberry Fields was dedicated.

I have never been here when the Memorial was not surrounded by people either paying their respects, or fighting for the space to take a selfie.

Selfies.  Sigh.  Anyway…

Wherever I travel I love visiting old churches.  I feel at peace in them, and I love the architecture.  New York is home to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, located near Rockefeller Centre:

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So beautiful, and well worth a visit.

Near the Rockefeller Center are several other iconic images, including Radio City Music Hall:

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…and the Atlas Statue:

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These last two photos show that the name “The city that never sleeps” is well earned…. Daytime, nighttime, you can always keep shooting in New York and I was out late every night well after my family had returned to the hotel.

I spent an afternoon and evening in Brooklyn this trip, an area that I hadn’t photographed on previous visits.  On this day I spent a few hours on a photowalk through Chinatown, Little Italy, Soho and the Financial District catching up with fellow Official Fuji X Photographer Kale Friesen.  After our visit I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge:

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Funny story:  New York is quite famous for their epic, “appear out of nowhere” thunderstorms.  The Brooklyn bridge is about a mile long, so it is very easy and quick to walk across.  When I started crossing it the weather was about 35 degrees Celsius (about 95 degrees Fahrenheit), and the sky was blue as far as the eye could see.  By the time I reached the half way point, the sky was full of dark clouds that opened up on myself and the other people on the bridge.  We got totally soaked, and by the time we reached the end of the bridge the rainstorm was gone.  It was quite comical.  Moments like this are part of the fun of traveling!

Once across the bridge, you are in an area affectionately know as DUMBO, which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.  This area is a treasure trove of photographic opportunities.  There is one famous spot where the Empire State Building is visible through one of the supports of the Manhattan Bridge:

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From the walkway along the Brooklyn Bridge Park you have wide open views of both the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge.  Here is the latter:

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For my final shot of the evening I settled on a classic shot of the Manhattan skyline, framed with a row of pilings in the foreground.  While I waited for the right blue hour light I put a 10 stop ND filter on my lens and shot black and white long exposures:

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And, when the time was right, I grabbed the same shot with the city lights lit up against the evening sky:

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The photographic opportunities in New York are endless.  All you need are a good pair of shoes, your camera, and an appetite to explore and observe.

This trip really reinforced for me my love of shooting travel and street photography with my Fujifilm cameras.   I hope you enjoyed these photos, and I look forward to showing you more in upcoming blog posts.   If you have any questions or thoughts please feel free to comment!

Next up in this series will be a discussion on my camera gear pack for this trip.

Cheers,

Ian

19 thoughts on “Photographing New York City

  1. John says:

    A beautiful set of photographs Ian. Thank you for sharing. I’ve been to NYC twice (from Australia) and loved it both times! As you say, there are visual opportunities everywhere. I look forward to seeing more of your photos, and as I do, I relive the wonders of New York.

    • Ian says:

      Many thanks John! I’ve been very fortunate to travel a lot over the last few years, but NYC will always hold a special place in my heart.

      I do still need to get to Australia though. 🙂

      Cheers,

      Ian

  2. Hank R says:

    Hi Ian:

    Great photos of a beautiful, energetic city. One quick point, the bridge visible in the top photo is the Varanzano Bridge, not the Brooklyn Bridge. Looking forward to seeing the photos in the rest of this series!

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Ian says:

      Hey Hank!

      In the top left area of the image I think you can see the Brooklyn Bridge in their if you squint really hard. :p

      • Hank R says:

        Hi Ian:

        You’re right, I see the lights outlining it. So, you’ve got two bridges in there. A great shot, indeed!

        All the Best,

        Hank

  3. Andy Lang says:

    I’ve been really looking forward to this, and the rest of this series. As a native NYer, I’ve been getting more jaded and burnt out shooting around the city lately, and badly needed to see it through an outsider’s eyes. I can’t think of much better eyes to see her through than yours!

    • Ian says:

      Wow, such a nice comment! The “grass is greener” phenomena is a funny thing… I can’t think of a better thing than renting an apartment in NYC for a month and shooting 10 hours per day. When it’s your own backyard though it becomes “the norm”.

  4. kyle says:

    “When I teach my travel photography workshop I talk often about the need to walk a city, to explore, to get lost.”

    That note really resonates with me. When I lived in Chicago, I’d take the L to some stop/neighborhood that I had never visited before and get off and wander for hours. There’s nothing wrong with scouting cities ahead of time and going for the iconic shots at well-known locations, but it’s also very important to wander through the side streets and alleys and all the other spaces in between. I think the only way to understand a city — and, consequently, do it justice when you photograph it — is to experience it from all these different angles and construct your understanding bit by bit as you synthesize all these individual experiences.

    • Ian says:

      You nailed it Kyle! There is so much to see just moving between “the sites”, but getting off of the beaten path is where the true magic happens. I love that about being in a new city, and even one I’ve visited many times before.

      Thanks for commenting!

  5. Leon says:

    Great post, im off to new york early next year so have gave me some ideas for photos and where to visit too!
    The photos are excellent too.
    Am not sure want lens to take was thinking of getting the 18mm and leave my 23 1.4 and 35 1.4 and home.
    Any ideas would be great.
    thank you.

    • Ian says:

      Hey Leon!

      Lots of NYC articles here, be sure to grab some ideas for sure. 🙂

      In regard to glass: What do you like to shoot, and are you a “take only one lens” kind of guy?

  6. Jerry Fleetwood says:

    Fantastic series that brings back many memories. Your b & w photos are absolutely stunning. I have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy your blogs. Thank you.
    Jerry F.

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