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The ultimate New York City photography guide - The Photography Express

The ultimate New York City photography guide

The Ultimate New York City photography guide

Hello photographers! I hope you’re having a great week so far. I recently came back from New York City (NYC) for my post-wedding family trip and I’ve got tons of photography information for you today. In this post, you are about to learn the step-by-step instruction of how to get the ultimate New York City photography. I’ll show you what was in my mind in order to compose the shots and the post processing edits that I did to create the pictures I’m about to show you.

Furthermore, You will learn how to take 6 of the most amazing shots I took in NYC. I’ll tell you exactly the location where I took the picture, the aperture, the shutter speed, and the ISO that I used to achieve those shots. I truly believe once you know how these steps you won’t even need to buy postcards again because you can take those pictures yourself!

To make this post more interesting, I want you to think of one common technique that I used in those 6 photographs. It doesn’t have to be a photography savvy term, but if you can guess it right before end of the 4th picture, send me an email and I’ll feature you on the next The Knowledge Express (TKE) post where you can ask me any photography related questions. No one is monitoring whether you guessed it right before the 4th pictures so it’s totally up to your truthfulness.

I don’t want to waste you another second in reading my introduction so let’s dive straight into today’s content!

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Below is the list of equipment I brought to NYC:

Canon 5D MKII

Canon 24-105mm f4L

Canon 16-35mm f2.8L (I rented this at a local camera store)

Yongnuo flash YN-560III X 2

Canon Speedlite 580EXII

Yongnuo flash triggers x 2

16 x 2A Sanyo batteries

Flash diffusers

Equipment that I actually used in NYC

Canon 5D MKII

Canon 16-35mm

As you can see I didn’t use much gears. Not even the flashes. I thought I’d be doing some night photography so I brought 3 flashes. I also thought I was going to get my camera on a tripod for some long exposure photography however my tripod is too tall to fit the luggage so I didn’t bring it.

Luckily I rented a Canon 16-35mm from a local camera store and it just had everything that I need. It has the wide-angle view of 16mm so on a full frame sensor the zoom range is really 16mm, not 24mm on a crop sensor.  It also has f-stop of 2.8, which I love. That means I can take pictures in lower light situation. Below are the 6 ultimate shots that I’m going to guide you through step-by-step of how I took them.

NYC Photography #1 Brooklyn Bridge

If I have to pick 1 photo out of the 1200+ that I took during my NYC trip, this is the one! In this city, a photograph of Brooklyn Bridge with New York City cityscape is probably the most logical combination. However, since so many people had done it before and this is not my first time to NYC, I really don’t want to use the same style again. So as my family members were walking towards the middle section of the Brooklyn Bridge I told myself I’d only focus on taking pictures of what’s going on the bridge and not the city behind it.

There are many things that I can do. I can either capture the flow of pedestrians walking on the bridge or I can do this one thing that came to my mind immediately.

Leading lines.

If you read my step 9 of starting photography, I mentioned about this technique just like every other photography instructor. I figured this technique is going to be so useful in this situation so I began looking for lines that can make the photo composition better. I kept walking until I reached near the first tower of the Brooklyn Bridge then this was it. I took the below picture.

Brooklyn Bridge

In this picture I only used one technique (leading lines). The total time that I spent walking to this spot was about 10 minutes but the actual time that took me to think of the composition was less than 2 seconds.

Where I stood: Near the first tower of the Brooklyn bridge.

Camera setting: 35mm, f2.8, ISO100, 1/60 second

Post processing: Made this picture from color to black and white in Adobe Lightroom.

As you can see, I made the tower the center of my focus and lines leading from all 4 corners of the photograph meet towards the middle top section of the tower. I also avoid the distraction of having people in the picture by making this photo black and white. Because if you look carefully in the center of the photograph, there were actually a lot of people walking! In blank and white they are hardly noticeable.

NYC Photography # 2 St Patrick’s Cathedral

As soon as I walked into the St Pat Cathedral, I start hugging my Canon 16-35mm f2.8L like a baby because I knew I made a good decision renting this lens. It was a rainy day with overcast sky all day long, which means photography is going to be very hard indoors. To make things even worse the cathedral was under renovation that day. So that means the already darken indoor environment was even darker.

If I had only brought my 24-105 f4L, the f4 aperture is not going to be wide enough to take pictures with the dim lights inside the cathedral. Also, with the 24mm range it is just a bit too zoomed in to take pictures inside the cathedral. Further, even if I crank up the ISO, which I suspect it’d be around 3200, the noise is going to be noticeable even with the full frame camera.

Luckily, I got the 16-35mm f2.8L with me. With this lens I can shoot with f2.8 at 16mm. Which is enough for the lighting condition that I was seeing inside St Patrick’s Cathedral.

St Patricks Cathedral

Where I stood: The middle section of the cathedral. Facing to the right.

Camera setting: 16mm, f2.8, ISO500, 1/20

Post Processing: Made it black and white. Decrease shadows to -30, add contrast to +11 and clarity +20 in Adobe Lightroom.

If you haven’t noticed, this is the side of the cathedral not the front. I purposely avoided the front section of the cathedral because it was under renovation. To my surprise, it worked out really well and this is my 2nd most favorite picture during the trip!

You may ask how could I handheld the camera with only 1/20 shutter speed? Wasn’t this a slow shutter speed that would cause blurriness in my photo? Great question! The trick is that I was shooting at the 16mm end of the lens so shutter speed of 1/16 is going to be ok to handheld. So as a quick tip for those of you who is still confused. If you put 1 over the zoom range that you are using (in this example 1/16mm), generally you picture is going to be just fine. This is the reason why I used 1/20 of shutter speed. Of course there are expectations but generally it will work.

NYC Photography #3 Time Square

If you go to NYC you HAVE to visit Time Square. Basically all subway trains stop at the 42th street station (which is the Time Square exit) so there is absolutely no reason you will miss this tourist spot.

When I got to Time Square I first assess the challenges I’ll most likely face. And depending on what time I go the challenge varies. For this trip I arrived Time Square after dinner at 9pm, which was a perfect time for night photography.

However, I immediately realized the challenges I am about to face:

1)   It’s about to rain so I need to take the shots as soon as possible

2)   It’s super crowded. Which is expected but I didn’t expect not being able to find a good spot to stand still to take pictures.

3)   There are constructions going on in the middle of Time Square. So it blocked off most of the view of one Time square (the TV screen building where the New Year’s Eve ball drops)

Luckily, the Canon 16-35mm f2.8L should be able to solve most of the problem. It’s a wide-angle lens so if I stand far back enough the construction going on in the middle isn’t going to be as distractive on the picture. Also, if I am able to find higher ground, I should be able to focus more on the billboards around Time Square instead of pedestrians walking on the street.

As I am thinking where I can get higher ground something immediately caught my attention.

There are big giant red steps in the middle of Time Square! That means I can go to the top of the stairs to take the epic shot. So I walked all the way up immediately and took the picture below.

Times Square

Where I stood: Top of the giant red stairs in the middle.

Camera setting: 16mm, f8, ISO 400, 1/15 second

Post processing: Lower the highlight to -73 in Adobe Lightroom and increase the clarity to +35.

NYC Photography #4 Grand Central Station

Similar to Time Square, if you haven’t visited the Grand Central station you haven’t been to NYC. I’d say the following shot has the greatest effect out of all photographs I’m going to show you but it was also the easiest shot to make. Here is the picture:

Grand Central Station

Where I stood: Above the dining concourse / Tracks 100-117 stairs. Center section.

Camera setting: 21mm, f22, ISO 100, 30 seconds

Post Processing: Contrast +16, Clarity +40

The trick in taking this to set your camera to shutter priority mode (TV for Canon, S for Nikon). You can also use manual mode but using the shutter priority mode is going to do just fine. The reason to use a slower shutter speed is to capture movement so it shows movement in the picture but also lessen the amount of people in the photograph.

To explain this a bit more, since the exposure occurred for 30 seconds, from the time the shutter curtain opened to closure, people were walking around Grand Central Station and my camera captured all their movements. So when the shutter curtain finally closed it produced ghosting effect for everyone that’s walking around.

At first I was using a 10 seconds shutter speed but it was too short. I still saw lot of people in my picture. So then I used 15 seconds but it was still not enough. At last I used 30 seconds then it was just right with the perfect amount of exposure.

NYC Photography # 5 Rockefeller Center

If you want to capture a busy street full of people walking around, or you want to take pictures of NYC high-rise building from street level, the Rockefeller center is the place to be.

I had many plans in mind before I arrived. First, I want to get to the top of the Rockefeller (which is called top of the Rock, pretty cool name) by paying $30 US dollars.  It has the best view of Manhattan however I only had 30 minutes to shoot before going to a dinner with I planned with my good friend in town. I didn’t want to rush myself and pay so much for getting up there to shoot for half hour so I decided not to go. Secondly, I was planned to take pictures of the ice skating ring in front of the building. Unfortunately, it was close for 30 minutes for cleaning so I didn’t have the chance to take the picture. At the end, I decided to capture only buildings instead with no people in it. I left out the ground on purpose because there were many people walking around.

Rockefeller Center

Where I stood: Middle section of the Rockefeller center, standing on the second garden of flowers behind the Lego store.

Camera setting: 16mm f2.8 ISO 640 1/20 seconds

Post Processing: None

As you can see, only the Rockefeller and the buildings surrounding it are visible in the shots. I purposely leave out everything on ground level to avoid distractions. I also waited a little after sunset to take this shot so the building lights are on and that’s why the building is in purple color.

NYC Photography #6 Wall Street

Since NYC is the financial center of the USA, I had got to visit Wall Street to take some photos. The challenge of taking a good picture at Wall Street was there is nothing special you can find to shoot. Every inch of this streets had been photograph by other photographers before and posted somewhere in the online space. What could I have done to make it more different?

Whenever I had this situation, I tried to evaluate my unfair advantage (something that I have that others don’t). I look at the camera gears I’m currently holding now and try to think of the best and easiest way to make the most out of what I have.

Ok, I have my 5D Mark II, which is a full frame camera. So I told myself I have to take a wide-angle shot on this narrow street. I also looked at my Canon 16-35mm and told myself I need a 16mm wide-angle view of something somewhere on wall street. I looked around; at first I saw the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) building and planned to take a shot at it. But then the building has fences all over it to avoid potential threats to the building so I couldn’t even get close to take a wide-angle shot.

No stress, then I looked back and saw the George Washington state. It looks like a perfect place to shoot. I got through the flood of tourists, waited for people’s turn to take pictures before I had the chance to get close to the statue. I took a deep breath and finally took this shot. The deep breath was more than finally it’s my turn instead of I’m going to take an awesome picture.

Wall Street

Where I stood: right in front of George Washington statue

Camera settings: 16mm, f2.8, ISO 100, 1/30 second

Post Processing: Made it black and white.

As you can see, it was a very simple shot. Only I did to this photo was making it black and white. For some reason I fell in love with black and white after my NYC trip.

I truly enjoyed typing this post for your photography needs and I hope you learned a lot in this post. If you haven’t done so, don’t forget to subscribe to my FREE newsletter below and like my Facebook page HERE. Also follow me on Pinterest and chat with me on Twitter!

Oh by the way, the common technique I used was to frame everything in the center. Again thanks for reading cheers!

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About Gary

A passionate photographer with goals to fulfill your photography passion and motivate you to take pictures even when life is busy!


  1. great shots and info

  2. Really nice looking guide here, great work!

  3. Love all of the locations you picked here =)

  4. Beautiful pictures! Love your website, that’s so generous of you to share your knowledge with others. Looking forward in reading your next article.

    • Mandy thank you so much for your support and for your compliment! People like yourself keep me going everyday with writing more great contents in this blog. I hope more people will benefit from this website learning photography. This is something I wish I have when I first started. More great photography information coming out next week so stay tune!

  5. Always a pleasure to check out your writings and tips. Thanks!!

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