The best places to take photos in New York City! A photography guide to NYC!
Wow, New York – what a freakin’ great city! There is JUST SO MUCH to shoot here, no matter where your interests lie. I find this city fascinating, though I must admit it took me a while to warm up to the place. I never DISliked New York City, it was just that I was sort of “meh” toward the whole thing. It always seemed so big and overwhelming in terms of getting my photographic arms around it. That probably sounds pretty obvious.
I mean, how can you document a place like this??
But, I do love photographing cities and after several visits to New York with the camera, I have come around to the side of being a big fan. There really is no other place quite like it. It’s pretty awesome, actually.
Despite significant odds, you’ve converted me, New York. Well done.
If you have any interest whatsoever in photographing cityscapes, skylines, bridges, architecture, neon signs, churches and much more, then New York is the place for you! Just be sure and wear comfortable shoes - and bring extra batteries! You will walk a LOT and you will have the camera firing away just about the whole time.
One idea/recommendation – if you are there for several days, I highly recommend getting the City Pass. It’s a one-time fee pass and it’s a great value, IF you can make time to get to many of the spots that the City Pass grants access to(several of which are on this list). I got one and definitely got my money’s worth – but be prepared to have to plan ahead, get organized, and keep moving. It will keep you busy, but you will cover a lot of ground, visually and physically.
And guess what? If you tire of the constant on-the-go vibe of New York, there are a million little spots where you can duck out of the hubbub of the big city, and so many little neighborhoods to explore. SoHo, TriBeCa, Chelsea, Little Italy, Chinatown – the list just goes on and on! I often duck into a coffee shop to rest and recharge, and many times that's all I need.
So read on to see what I consider the best places to photograph in this crazy, awesome and awe-inspiring city!
But first, a disclaimer of sorts: everyone will have their own favorite places, especially with a place like New York. I will readily admit that there are likely 37 million OTHER things you could aim the camera towards in New York, and that’s totally fine. This is my list. Yours may differ, and that’s cool. Feel free to add additional spots in the comments. I am open to suggestions, and I would never claim to know it all. Heck, I live in Texas!
Honestly, there is no way to capture everything about NYC that anyone and everyone will want to photograph – it’s just too big of a city. But I’ve been there many times, and have walked, cabbed and subway’d my way around this city a LOT, with a focus (no pun intended) on seeking out what I consider the “best”. I hope it helps serve as a guide for your own Big Apple adventure.
I have put HOURS and HOURS of effort into this list, most of which were spent walking around and exploring countless nooks and crannies of New York. I do it because I love it. Literally, I consider this stuff fun. I really do.
Oh, and one more disclaimer: nearly all of these spots are in Manhattan. It’s what I think most tourists/travelers think of when you say you are going to New York City. I am sure there are many other fabulous spots in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, etc – I just didn’t put them on this list, as I haven’t been out to explore those boroughs in any detail (but maybe someday). And I’m not starting a fight about which borough is better. I don’t have a dog in that fight. I just know that Manhattan has a MASSIVE concentration of amazing spots to photograph, so get out there and photograph them, right?!!
Ok, on to the Top Photo Spots in New York City! (and these are NOT in any particular order – in other words, this is not a ranking – it’s just a list).
1) Central Park - The Mall and Literary Walk
This is one big dang park – acres and acres of parkland, right in the middle of the city! I have walked and walked in Central Park, and feel like I have only covered a portion of it. In fact, I’ve mostly covered the southern portions of it, below 82nd Street or so. I know there is a lot more, but just this part of the park is rich with photo spots. In fact, the first 6 items are all in Central Park. I'm making it easy for you! This section is a beautiful walk under a canopy of imposing trees. It's beautiful any time of year but wow in the Fall the color is really fabulous!
2) Central Park - Bethesda Fountain and Bethesda Terrace
This is at the end (as you are heading North) of The Mall and is a stop worthy of some time. The entire area is full of photo ops. Take your time here and enjoy! It's really lovely.
3) Central Park - Bow Bridge
Finished in 1862 and displaying a rather graceful shape, this bridge is a natural draw for photographers, as well as romantic couples and more.
4) Central Park - Strawberry Fields and the John Lennon "Imagine" tile mosaic
This area is a tribute to John Lennon, who lived (and sadly, was killed) nearby. It's peaceful and beautiful, and you can always find at least one musician quietly singing a song on a nearby bench.
5) Central Park - The Pond (Southeast corner)
This pond is in the Southeast corner of the park (roughly near the Central Park Zoo), and I find it quite lovely. I caught this image during the Fall season and as you can see the leaves were doing their thing. I love this spot and shoot it on nearly every trip there!
6) Central Park - just about any walkway during blue hour!
I'm always in favor of aimlessly wandering around paths in the cities I visit. In Central Park there are many to choose from and frankly, they are all beautiful. I find that during blue hour, with the lights all aglow, they just take on a bit of a magical quality.
7) Top of the Rock
What an amazing view of the city from here! I HIGHLY recommend that in addition to making a reservation for this place, you plan it so you are there WELL BEFORE sunset, since it gets very crowded at that time of day, and the best photo spots are full with photographers all camped out and ready for the action. And in my opinion, the best view is the one facing south towards the Empire State Building. Also note there are three levels. I immediately left the first level and moved up. Generally speaking, the top level offers the best view.
8) Rockefeller Center
Since you are already there, be sure and walk around this monstrosity and get some cool shots. The statue of Atlas out front is always popular, as is the view of the building with the little fountains out front. There’s also the ice rink and the statue of Prometheus. There is the Today Show studio, too.
9) The Empire State Building
I personally thought the tour up to the top of the Empire State Building was well worth it. The views are tremendous and it’s just cool to do. That's the Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan dominating the skyline. I also very much like to shoot the building from the street level, since it’s such an imposing and dominant part of the skyline. You can nearly see it from everywhere.
10) Times Square
I think Times Square is what many think of first when they hear about NYC. It’s iconic. It’s bright and lively. It’s also incredibly crowded, loud, somewhat obnoxious and a little stinky. But hey, play the part of the tourist and get some selfies there! Or just shoot the neon like I did. It’s fun to do at least once. I personally like the look of the NYPD building there, surrounded by the lights and action of the area.
11) Grand Central Station
If you have read any of my other lists, or follow my blog, you know that I LOVE train stations, especially those that I encounter in Europe. I just dig them for some reason. Well, Grand Central is absolutely beautiful and belongs right up there with the best of them. It’s always crowded but it’s certainly worth stopping by. The main central area is quite beautiful, with a ceiling depicting various constellations. It’s also quite fun to wander around other parts and seek out interesting angles.
12) The Brooklyn Bridge
I know there are several bridges that lead into New York, but this one has got to be the coolest one, right?. Bridges are another subject I often find myself aiming the camera at, and for good reason - the architecture can be fabulous. In the case of the Brooklyn Bridge, you just can’t deny the beauty of the arches and the wires. So much possibility here, photographically speaking. Sunset and golden hour are a great time to be here – and were my favorite times to shoot it! I also tried one evening after dark, but didn’t quite feel as inspired. It was probably just me. Either way, be sure and get here at least once.
13) The skyline from Brooklyn Bridge park
Another love of mine when traveling is photographing skylines. In the case of New York, it may be the most famous one in the world. It’s certainly incredibly beautiful. I shot it from the Brooklyn side (from Manhattan, cross the Brooklyn Bridge, then head south along the riverside to find this spot). This place is great for sunset or golden hour, or both! The sun is typically setting BEHIND Manhattan so that pretty much points to being here at that time of day anyways.
14) The New York Public Library
I had seen a few pics of this place online, but had trouble figuring out which location was the right one to go shoot – as you can imagine, there are quite a few branches in a city of this size! Well, here you go: it’s the one at the corner of 5th Avenue and 42nd Street. It’s absolutely beautiful, and a must-see. Be sure and wander the hallways and get to the top floor. There is an amazing reading room there and the ceiling will transport you to Italy (mentally, that is). The beautiful architecture of the façade is impossible to resist as well!
15) The 9/11 Memorial and Freedom Tower
I wasn’t sure that I wanted to visit this museum, but I am glad that I did. It’s very moving, and very well done. But it’s (obviously) a rather somber place. As an American, I have heard about the events of 9/11 a LOT, but I learned quite a bit on this visit. There may be a couple of things you will want to shoot inside the museum (personally, I loved the fire truck that somehow survived the wreckage of the towers – well, sort of survived), but I think for most folks the big draw are the memorial fountains outside - and of course the Freedom Tower looming overhead!
16) The Flatiron Building
It took me 3 trips to New York – with this spot being high on the list of places I wanted to photograph - before I was finally able to bag a photo of this iconic structure. (See what I mean? So much to shoot here – it’s easy to get distracted.) Isn’t this just a great building? I’m a huge fan of architecture anyways, so this stuff just draws me in. And by the way, it’s located at 5th Avenue and 23rd Street, roughly. You can’t miss it when you are near!
17) Little Italy
One of the many distinct neighborhoods in Manhattan (which is full of them, actually), I found Little Italy to be charming and full of life, especially at night. Sure, the restaurants have folks on the street that are trying to draw you in for dinner, but that’s part of the fun. And the pasta was fantastic! I walked around here in the evening and, being a fan of street scenes anyways, was happy to find plenty of stuff to photograph!
18) The Statue of Liberty
Another iconic structure in a town that is full of them, the Statue of Liberty has a bit of an irresistible pull to it. It symbolizes Freedom itself, one of the founding principles of the United States (and thanks to France for the great statue!). I loved seeing it up close (which I did from a boat tour – I did not go to the island). Sure, like a lot of New York it’s been shot SO MUCH, but still, how can you argue with how awesome it is? It seems to me you have to see it, one way or another.
19) Radio City Music Hall
I have absolutely no idea what the interior of this place looks like. There, I said it. But hey you gotta love the awesome neon, right? I love photographing this sort of thing, and since it’s across the street from Rockefeller Center (#3 above), you are basically there anyways. Fire away! And yes, a cab will pass by every couple of seconds, in case you want it in your shot, or if you want to go somewhere.
20) The Metropolitan Museum of Art (aka The Met)
This is a pretty huge museum, and deserves a lot more time exploring the art there than I was able to dedicate to it. I will have to return sometime and get more into that bit of it. But I did find time to take a few photos! This one is from the main entry. Just pop upstairs and enjoy the commanding view of the entrance lobby! The crowds are a constant though. I waited til later in the evening before they closed, and as you can see, it was still really busy.
21) St. Patrick’s Cathedral
I love going to church – when I travel. How can you resist a cathedral as magnificent as this one? I always seek these beauties out when I am in Europe, but it’s pretty rare to find one this incredible in the US. Be sure and stop by when you are in town. It’s right across 5th Avenue from Rockefeller Center so it’s another easy stop! It’s generally pretty busy but I had no problems shooting here, whatsoever (although note that I was shooting handheld). The ceiling is magnificent. Due to crowding I couldn't get the traditional "straight up the aisle" shot without a lot of folks in it, so I opted to concentrate on the architectural details, which I love anyways.
22) St. Thomas Episcopal Church on 5th Avenue
On one of my NYC trips, I made a point to go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, only to find it completely covered with scaffolding as they were cleaning the interior. So, I departed quickly and couldn’t even take a single photo. I vowed to make a return visit, which thankfully worked out much better the next time. Anyways, I located this lesser known church just a short stroll away. MUCH less crowded than St. Pat’s, and quite beautiful in it’s own right!
23) Chelsea Market
While I am not much of a foodie, I sure enjoyed walking through the Chelsea Market. I got up early one day and headed down here first thing, before it was really even open for business. That allowed me to shoot freely, though I must admit I didn’t get to try the food. But hey, worth it to me since I love to get shots of cool spots without people in the way.
24) Along the High Line
The High Line is a fun walk to take and you can see a lot of interesting things - as well as get a new perspective on the city - when wandering on this old elevated railroad line.
25) Museum of Modern Art
I'm a fan of museums, though I can only spend so much time in one before I get a little twitchy and want to move on. But the MOMA wasn't SO big that it's overwhelming, and despite the name I saw a fair bit of Old World type work there, including some Matisse and Monet. An unexpected gift.
26) Wall Street area / NYSE Building
I'm a sucker for classical architecture, and the NYSE has it in spades. The entire area is cool, really. I also recommend the bull sculpture down there, although despite being there on a random weekend morning, it was CROWDED. So, no photo of the bull but worth checking out!
27) The Oculus
This is part transportation hub and part shopping mall, I think. It's next door to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, so check it out when you are there. It's very cool, architecturally speaking.
28) Street scenes at every turn
Yes, this is NYC So you if you like to photograph street scenes like I do, this is a kind of heaven. Literally, you can capture so much it's incredible. It makes it rather hard to get anywhere because there is always a photo to be taken!
29) Doors and entryways everywhere
Yes this is very general, but just wandering some of the random side streets in Manhattan I have come across these beautiful doors leading to someone's beautiful home.
Well there you have it folks – a collection of amazing, awe-inspiring, fantastic, fun and inspirational photo spots in New York City. While there are many more places to go and photograph (and I encourage you to explore all the city has to offer and find your own favorites), this list was built on the idea of sharing the best known spots that I have been fortunate enough to shoot. I plan to return and keep adding to this list as I can, but feel free to leave additional spots in the comments section if you'd like to!