New York City, the Big Apple, the home of the Empire States, the Chrysler Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty and so on. It's a city we all are familiar with even if we never have been there. Television shows such as Taxi, Cagney & Lacey, Seinfeld, NYPD Blue, Friends, Sex and the City, along with films such as Taxi Driver, Saturday Night Fever, Manhattan, Wall Street and Goodfellas to name but a few, have all added to our familiarity of one of the greatest cities in the world. Now finally I got my chance to experience the city in real-time and boy was I not disappointed.
As usual, before the trip I made a shortlist of the landmarks I wanted to photograph. These included the Chrysler Building, the Empire States Building, Grand Central Terminal, the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, and Central Park, Chinatown, SoHo and many more. Along with those landmarks I panned to shoot a lot of street photography, to capture the most important part of the city, its people.
I started my trip with two days in Long Island before heading in to Manhattan where I was based for five days. The two days in Long Island were a nice way to easy myself into American culture before the hustle and bustle of New York City.
Manhattan Day One
Located on east 55th Street, between 2nd and 3rd avenue, we rented a nice apartment on the 5th floor that was a perfect location to explore the city.
On my first night in New York I went to the observation deck at the Rockefeller Centre to photograph the Empire State Building. I got there around 7:30 and didn't get up to the observation deck until an hour later. Luckily it was still in the blue hour and I managed to get off a few good shots of the Empire State and Downtown Manhattan before it got dark. The Top of the Rock is one of the best places to view New York City from above. Looking south you have great views of Midtown and Downtown Manhattan; looking north you have a great view of Central Park and beyond.
Manhattan Day Two
On day two I explored the Midtown area, starting with a walk down 3rd Avenue heading towards Brynt Park. On the way I was afforded a wonderful view of the Chrysler building from the intersection of 42nd and 3rd Avenue. I stopped there for a while and backed myself into a corner, put on my wide-angle lens, framed the shot and waited for some foreground action in the form of human activity. The great thing New York City is that you don’t have to wait long before someone or something of interest comes along for you to shoot.
On reaching Brynt Park, a small park between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and between 40th and 42nd Streets in Midtown Manhattan, I was immediately captured with how beautiful the park is. Nestles under towering buildings, the park with its perfectly manicured law as its centre piece, is a great place to chill-out, have a bite to eat and people-watch. The park is popular with visitors and locals alike and a perfect place to capture all manner of people, from business professionals to people living on the street.
After spending some time there, I wondered over to Grand Central Terminal to photograph the Main Concourse from a central point on the stairs. Following this I made my way over to Time Square to see what all the fuss was about.
Time Square reminded me of when I was in China for National Day in 2013; It was jointed. There was multitudes of Elmo’s, Sponge Bob’s, Spider Mans, Batman’s and all manner of characters there, along with hoards of tourists that made that place a bit too hectic for my liking. I couldn’t make sense of it really, I think that fact that it was sweltering hot day didn’t help either. So my first experience of Time Square wasn’t good and I didn’t get any shots of note apart from catching a bunch of cartoon characters off guard on the intersection of 45th and 7th Avenue.
After spending as little time as possible in Time Square I made my way to the lobby of the Chrysler building for a gander. I have always loved this building for it Art Deco beauty, and getting to see it in reality didn’t disappoint. The lobby is beautifully ornate with marble walls, a sienna-coloured floor and a mural on the ceiling dedicated to the construction process of the building itself. The upper parts of the building are off limits considering that this is a working building, which is a shame considering that when the building was first built opened in 1930, there was an observation deck on the 71st floor.
Manhattan Day Three
Day three started with a visit to MOMA to have a look at their impressive collection of modern art. The collection is well worth the entrance fee of $25, with famous works by artists such as Van Gogh, Matisse, Salvador Dali, Jackson Pollock, William de Kooning, Andy Warhol and many more. There was also had a temporary photographic exhibition on display there when I visited. It was an exhibition of the associated Bauhaus photographers Grete Stern and Horacio Coppola. I knew nothing of these two modernist photographers, but I was glad I got to experience their impressive work especially the work of Grete Stern. Stern photomontages and portraits were truly inspirational and a class above anything I have seen in a while.
The second part of that day was spent Downtown, firstly in Chinatown, then Little Italy, followed by SoHo and finally a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. Downtown has a distinct different feel to it than the rest of Manhattan. Neighbourhoods like Chinatown, Little Italy, SoHo, the Financial District all have their own unique atmosphere and style. I was particularly impressed with SoHo, taking particular interest in the cast-iron building’s there. I even got a history lesson on their construction and restoration of the buildings from a man on the street who saw me photographing them. Who says New Yorkers aren’t friendly!
Next up was the Brooklyn Bridge. I had planned to walk to the other side and take photos under the bridge, but I left it too late and had to settle for what I could photograph on the bridge itself. To be honest you can get some great shots on the bridge itself. There are great views of Lower Manhattan, the Bay area, the Manhattan Bridge and of the skyline in Midtown Manhattan. You can also get good shots of the structure of the bridge and the intricate cable web system that helps support it. Apart from photographing the structure of the bridge, there was a lot of human activity on the bridge as I crossed. All manner of people cross the bridge from commuters, tourists, joggers, cyclists and of course photographers. As I crossed there was a mock wedding shoot by an Asian photographers that I crashed. The bride happily posed for me as I shot of a few frames while the photographer was changing his lens. As I made my past her I thanked her for her cooperation and gave her a nice smile.
On my final full day in New York City, a particularly hot one, I decided to head to Central Park for the day. Central Park is a beautiful park in the central part of the borough of Manhattan. It is a beautiful spot to get away from the rush of city life and has a lot to offer in terms of activities and scenic beauty. Entering the park on the South side at the intersection of 59th Street and 5th Avenue, I meandered my way through the park on my way to Strawberry Fields, an area dedicated the memory of the John Lennon. Located directly across from where Lennon lived for the latter part of his life until his death in 1980 (west 72nd Street), this memorial site has a focal point of a circular mosaic with the words ‘imagine’ inlaid in stone taken from his famous 1971 single release of the same name.
Like all attractions in New York it was busy with tourists. When I was there the mosaic was encircled with hoards of people taking turns to get their photo taken next to the ‘imagine’ inscription. It was near impossible to capture the mosaic without someone standing on it, so I decided to photograph visitors to the site from behind as they stood on the mosaic. As I was standing there with my camera settings dialled in, a beautiful blonde woman entered the circular mosaic and started to twirl around for a film crew. Luckily I was in the right spot at the right time to get off a number of shots of this attractive woman as she span. You know the old phrase that’ good things come to those who wait,' well in this case it rang true.
After that stroke of luck I headed to the lake area of the park where I photographed activities on the lake, people of interest around the area and I gatecrashed another wedding, this time a real one. The couple getting hitched were having their ceremony in the Ladies Pavilion next to the lake, a nice spot for a small ceremony such as this. The pavilion is a popular spot with wedding ceremonies and an ideal location for wedding photography. Having taking a couple of frames with my camera set to silent shooting I headed off again towards the South entrance, finally stopping off at a volleyball match that took my interest for the sheer athleticism of the players.
That evening I headed out with friends for a few drinks and got talking to a local about the phenomenon of ‘Manhattan Henge’. Also ferreted to as the ‘Manhattan Solstice,’ it is a natural event happening around the summer solstice, where the setting sun aligns east-west street grid of Manhattan. After some discussion on the event, my friends and I decided to see it we could experience ‘Manhattan Gate’ for ourselves. From where we were on 3rd Avenue we headed east on 42nd street to the intersection of 1st Avenue. There we met a photographer who told us we missed this natural phenomena by about ten minutes. Naturally we were a bit disappointed but after a few more drinks all was forgotten. It would have been a bonus to capture such an event while I was in town, but I was happy with what I had captured over the few days to not beat myself up too much about missing this opportunity.
New York City left wanting for more, I loved everything about it. The impressive skyline, the hustle and bustle of the streets, the food, the mix of cultures and most of all the opportunity for great photography. I’ll be back in the near future without a doubt. New York City has made such a good impression on me that it will be hard top pop. Until next time, ‘have nice day!’
Equipment used on this Trip
On this trip I travelled light carrying only one camera, my Canon 5D III and three lenses.
Most of the photos I took on the trip were with my Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 walk-around-lens. I also used my Canon 17-40mm lens for shots where I needed a wider angle lens than my Tamron.
For the trip I purposely bought a Lowepro sling bag that I carried my spare lenses in and a gorilla tripod that proved totally inadequate for my hefty DSLR. I highly recommend the sling bag for street photography, even though it was a bit small for my 5D. It would be ideal for a smaller DSLR or a mirrorless camera. Nice zip pouch inside for holding a wallet or other valuables. It also has a handy water bottle pouch that has easy access on the outside.
I also brought my Benro tripod travel tripod with me for longer exposure shots and night photography. I had read before travelling that tripods were prohibited in a lot of areas around the city unless you had a permit for use. From my experience after my first trip there, I know this not to be entirely true. I personally witnessed photographers use tripods in Grand Central Station, the Bottom of the Rockefeller Centre and Brooklyn Bridge without any hassle. That said, I recommend that you still bring a mini tripod with you that can support your camera adequately. The gorfillapod tripod I used proved inadequate at the ‘top of the Rock’ with the wind that we experienced there. These type of tripods will work fine when there is no wind, but when the wind catches a large DSLR on top of one of these flimsy tripods there’s ‘a whole lot of shaking going on!’
Word on Street Photographic Technique
When doing street photography a good starting point for me regrading camera settings would be:
Mode: Aperture Priority
Shutter Speed: Above 1/125 s
As you well know what shutter speed we can shoot with is determined by the aperture setting and the ISO setting, so depending on the light I constantly monitoring what shutter speeds the camera is recorded when I have dialled in my aperture and ISO. If it falls below 1/125 s I will either open the aperture or boost the ISO depending on what type of shot I want.
Most of the street shot I took on this trip were shot between ISO 400 and ISO 800. The aperture varied depending on the subject and distance to subject, and as I said I tried to keep my shutter speed high to avoid blur.