17 Great Places to Photograph in New York City
When I first started traveling, I was deeply resistant to any suggestions of visiting a place more than once. My family did camping trips and an occasional trip to Poland to visit our family when I was growing up but we did not venture to foreign countries simply to explore. I constantly wanted to see new places and returning to a place seemed like a waste of an opportunity. Eli did not share in this attitude. He was far more enthusiastic about repeat trips, figuring that we could get to know a place better. His positive outlook ended up being very helpful for our 2018 travel as it turned out to be the year of repeat trips. We visited Japan twice, California three times and New York twice. Plus those were all locations we had already visited extensively in previous years.
I’ve finally learned to appreciate a repeat trip. It’s nice to see more than just the top tourist spots and the best rated restaurants. In the past, I’ve rushed through Central Park, up to the Empire State Building, through Times Square and around the Statue of Liberty and I’ve always felt lukewarm about New York City. This fall, we stayed for a little over a week and explored neighborhoods, meandered into random coffee shops and took our time. It was wonderful.
I’m no longer opposed to repeat trips and have started to think that I should revisit some of the places I haven’t enjoyed, to get a fuller experience. Sometimes you just have an off trip.
Anyway, if you have a stretch of time in New York City, here are some of the spots I’d recommend visiting for photos. Or you can refer to my google map that I used to guide some of my photo walks around the city.
Tourist Destinations to photograph
Personally, I find a lot of tourist destinations overwhelming. Additionally, they’ve been photographed from every angle imaginable. I feel that most tourist spots aren’t worth more than one visit but there are a few I return to repeatedly.
12 years ago, Eli went to Spain and came back with photos of the Calatrava designed museums in Valencia. I’ve been Calatrava obsessed ever since and the Oculus atrium is a stunning example of his work. I try to stop in at least once any time I’m in town.
Empire State Building
I always thought I disliked New York City but really I just disliked a lot of the touristy spots. Times Square is exhausting. The Statue of Liberty is interesting and historical but at times it feels like the security guards are trying to recreate the original experience for you by screaming endlessly at frazzled tourists. I’ve checked off most of the big tourist destinations in New York City and feel little need to ever return but the Empire State Building is one exception. The view is great. If you go on the later end, it’s rarely crowded and entirely pleasant.
Great Vantage Points
There’s a lot of bridges in New York City and I would say that the Manhattan Bridge has the best views. It’s also been endlessly photographed so there’s that but I’d recommend going nonetheless. It’s a decent walk and sometimes it’s a fun challenge to see what you can do with a frequently photographed destination.
Top of the Rock
The observatory at the top of Rockefeller Center is my favorite. I love that there are multiple levels and that you can see Central Park. If you go right when it opens at 8am or on a cold day, you can get bits of the observatory to yourself and it’s wonderful.
Tudor City Place
You’ve probably seen photos from this vantage point. For some reason, it took me a ridiculous amount of googling to figure out what it was called and how to get there. It’s just a street that’s elevated and thus you can get a nice view down the middle of the perpendicular street.
Beautiful Facades of New York City
You could probably spend just an entire month meandering around and photographing beautiful facades in New York City. I tried to pick just a couple in a range of neighborhoods my google map has a lot more.
Russ & Daughters
You should go ogle the facade of Russ & Daughters on Houston St. and then go in to treat yourself to some smoked fish and chocolate babka.
So I need to admit that I’ve never actually ventured into Cupcake Market. It’s on my list but my list is also absurdly long and I already eat about 5 meals per day whenever I’m in New York City. If you stop in, let me know how it is. Even if you don’t stop in, it’s a lovely shop to walk by and photograph.
I will take any excuse to meander around the West Village. It is absurdly picturesque. Little Prince has a lovely facade but honestly you could probably throw a dart at a list of places in the West Village and land on something absurdly picture perfect. The entire neighborhood is worth exploring and visiting.
I’ve done very little restaurant photography in New York City, which is sort of interesting since that compromises such a large component of my work usually. Perhaps some day that will change. For now, I really enjoy having a city where eating out is just that for the most part.
La Mercerie is an exceptionally beautiful restaurant. It also has a home goods store attached to it, which basically makes it my personal kryptonite.
In many ways, I feel like Maison Premiere feels more like a New Orleans bar than a New York one but that’s what I love about it. It reminds me of Cane & Table in many ways. Anyway, it’s worth a visit and a stop in for a drink.
I always feel a bit of pressure to get usable photos on each trip, even if the trip is just for fun. So I almost always have a list of places or things to photograph. Following a list too closely though can feel like doing a paint by numbers. To add some spontaneity to my trip photography, I like to map out walks without specific images in mind.
Broadway, south of houston
I will walk just about anywhere in New York City. In general, I’m the sort of person that finds a 2 hour walk to be a totally reasonable use of time. I walked from the East Village down to the World Trade Center twice during our last trip and completely enjoyed the walk both times. There are a lot of spots to meander off or to catch the train if you decide the walk is too long.
We all know some gal pal group that has done a weekend trip to New York City in an homage to Sex and the City. Later, there’s always some Facebook photo of the group walking in Central Park captioned, “I’m the Samantha!”. Don’t let this or any of the weird SVU episodes ruin Central Park for you. It is worth a visit.
The hipster bit of Williamsburg is fine but I highly recommend going to the Hasidic area of Williamsburg. It’s culturally interesting and all that but you should go because there are bakeries on just about every street and they have chocolate babka! For some reason, Chicago does not understand the wonder of chocolate babka and my attempts at making it at home have been only mildly successful. A neighborhood with chocolate babka on every street is basically a dream come true for me. If you go, make sure to stop by oneg bakery.
Soho is the best for sunsets. All the red and cream colored buildings bounce light around incredibly. Also, you can see more photo shoots in Soho in one evening than you’d see anywhere in Chicago in a month.
During this most recent trip, Eli and I stayed at a friend’s place in the East Village. In the past we’ve stayed in Midtown, Brooklyn, Chelsea and Soho and we’ve always been happy to scamper back home. This time we were reluctant to leave. I’ve read all about how the East Village isn’t what it once was but as a recent visitor, it still feels like a neighborhood.
I always find it fascinating how much architecture ranges from city to city in the United States. When I first left Chicago to live in Portland, it was the change in architecture that left me feeling homesick. I missed the brick Chicago bungalows. When we lived in Los Angeles, I would occasionally venture to Pasadena to walk around some of the side streets because the houses felt reminiscent of the midwest to me. The difference between New York and Chicago architecture isn’t as stark but New York City reminds me more of London than of Chicago and that’s particularly true in the West Village.
Upper West Side
This year, I spent Halloween meandering around Central Park and then around the Upper West Side. I would like to spend every Halloween like this.