Discover the eight best photo-ops in New York City
Bbc/Kate Schoenbach: From its famous skyline to its bustling streets, New York City is a visual medley that has captivated photographers for decades. Continually ranked as the most photographed city on the planet, you could spend a lifetime documenting the cultural capital of the US’ endlessly inspiring sights.
Exploring New York with a camera gives us agency to frame the city in a unique way that makes us feel as though we are experiencing it for the first time. Whether you are exploring New York with a DSLR, mirrorless camera or your iPhone, capturing meaningful photographs is about presence rather than equipment. As photography teacher, Charlie Naebeck, once told me, “the best camera is the one you have on you.”
Sharing insight from my eight years as a professional New York City photographer, I’ve narrowed down the city’s myriad photo-ops to eight locations and am sharing tips on how to capture unique images in well-trodden places. So, whether you are a born-and-bred New Yorker or a first-time visitor, follow this guide to capture the city in a fresh way. Unquestionably one of New York City’s most iconic landmarks, the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most filmed bridges in the world and has inspired countless artists, from Georgia O’Keefe to The Strokes. Completed in 1883 to connect Lower Manhattan with Brooklyn (which until 1898 was its own city), the bridge spans New York’s East River and is the subject of enchanting photographs from both near and far.To capture the striking contrast between the bridge’s neo-Gothic towers and Lower Manhattan’s luminous skyline, head to the centre of the bridge’s walkway and face Manhattan. Get low to the ground and tilt your camera up to fill the frame with the bridge’s cables – and the occasional pedestrian, which adds intrigue to your image. To avoid the crowds, shoot at dawn or at night (my favourite), and don’t let the elements stop you. I find some of the best images are taken after sundown in the rain and fog, a combination which texturises mages with a hazy glow, setting your photographs apart from the rest.
For an unobstructed view of the bridge spanning the East River, head to the nearby Pebble Beach. To create a dynamic photograph, add detail to the foreground by standing behind one of the waterfront’s bushes. If you’re shooting at night and have a tripod, hold steady and increase your camera’s exposure time (shutter speed) to a few seconds to capture the movement of the bushes against the stillness of the city (this same trick can be done on your iPhone by converting a live photo to a long exposure photo in the Photos App).
Tip: If you’re in town on 11 September, join the crowds of photographers who gather along the Brooklyn waterfront with their tripods to capture the 9/11 Memorial lights soaring into the night-time sky.Built in 1909 to relieve traffic on the neighbouring Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge is the youngest of three East River bridges connecting Lower Manhattan with Brooklyn. The westbound entrance is located in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighbourhood – a district whose acronymic name comes from bridge itself: “Down Under the Brooklyn Bridge Overpass” – and offers a plethora of photo ops.A quintessential New York shot – and Instagram favourite – can be made at the end of Washington Street facing the bridge (watch out for cars!). Focusing on the bridge, use a deep depth of field and, on a clear day, you can see the Empire State Building between the bridge’s base. To set your image apart, get here at dawn to avoid the crowds and catch a dreamy shot of the sun illuminating the bridge’s steel blue beams, which provides a striking contrast against Dumbo’s red-brick buildings and cobblestone streets.
For an abstract perspective, head over to Brooklyn Bridge Park (a waterfront park that spans the bases of both the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges). One of my favourite perspectives is from the waterfront facing east, as the bridge appears to rise out of the industrial landscape. Get low enough to the ground to capture the park’s rolling hill and tilt your camera slightly upwards. If you are shooting at night, make sure to hold the camera steady as the lack of light requires longer exposure time. If you have a DSLR or mirrorless camera, bring a tripod, close the aperture, and lengthen the exposure time to get the starburst effect, and – voila! What New York lacks in star cover it makes up for in its vibrant display of twinkling lights.Rising out of Lower Manhattan like a winged dinosaur, The Oculus at World Trade Center’s bleached steel frame is a striking contrast against the rectangular buildings of its environs. Conceptualised by architect Santiago Calatrava in remembrance of the 9/11 victims, the Oculus opened as a major transportation hub in February 2016 and has since been an Instagram favourite.
To capture the essence of this otherworldly building, I recommend leaning into the crowds and making them part of your photograph. As Brooklyn-based photographer Brit Worgan says, “let the scene unravel in front of you”.One way to create a unique image is to use one of my favourite techniques – long exposure, which, if there is sufficient movement, allows you to capture both the dynamism of the ground floor and the stillness of the cathedral-like ceilings. From the mezzanine, rest your camera (or iPhone) along the banister to simultaneously frame and steady your device (while cameras are permitted in the Oculus, tripods are not). If you have an iPhone, take a live photo, and change your live photo to a long exposure photograph in the Photos App. For those with DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, close the aperture and lengthen the exposure time to a few seconds. (To do this, you may need to throw on a neutral density (ND) filter, which allows you to extend your exposure time in bright conditions).To capture the Manhattan skyline from an unusually open perspective, hop on a ferry from Battery Park and in 10 minutes you will be transported to this maritime gem. Situated between Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, Governors Island is a 172-acre leafy oasis and artistic hub offering year-round activities, sprawling fields and unobstructed views of New York Harbor. Serving as a military base for more than 200 years, the island opened to the public in 2005 and (save for a brief time during the pandemic) has served as a cultural centre offering photographers the chance to capture Manhattan from a unique angle ever since.The best views of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty are found along the western edge of the 2.2-mile promenade that loops the island. For an expansive shot, climb the Hills at the edge of Picnic Point. Facing Manhattan, position yourself atop the second crest, behind the grass, to capture an unusual juxtaposition of one of the world’s most famous skylines set against blue waters and verdant fields.
The park abounds with an array of open spaces, historic buildings and quirky features, including Hammock Grove, Outlook Hill and New York City’s longest slide. Head to Nolan Park in the north to check out 19th-Century military homes that, in the summertime, are converted to art exhibition spaces.As you enter the Bronx’s New York Botanical Garden, the din of the bustling streets gives way to the mellifluous sound of chirping robins and fragrant smells of abundant flora, betraying the notion that you’re in America’s largest city. Extending 250 acres, this urban oasis is home to more than 12,000 species of plants and countless photo-ops.
Rising elegantly amidst the garden’s myriad foliage, the Enid A Haupt Conservatory houses a year-round array of tropical plants and is famous for its annual springtime orchid show. In the summer, its courtyard pools give birth to aquatic plants, whose beauty is worth capturing. Make a water lily your focal point by getting close with your camera and adding a bokeh .