leisure 04.14.15

A Photographer's Favorite
Locations to Capture the City

Every Person in New York

We asked photographer James Maher if he would share some of his favorite locations in the city and he gives a lot of great advice below. James also gives private street photography workshops that will, we promise, up your game. All the images in the article are his work. His prints are for sale here.

Brooklyn Bridge from the center
of the Manhattan Bridge

By James Maher
It is the best time of the year to be outside. The memory of this brutal February is behind us and if you are a photography enthusiast, it is the most enjoyable time to explore and capture the city.

I'm a lifelong New Yorker, not that it means much, but growing up I used to explore the city on rollerblades and sneak away from my parents into Central Park at night. As I got older, I transitioned to walking and exploring with a camera. I've been photographing New York on a near daily basis since the early 2000's and I want to share with you my favorite locations to capture the city, both from an urban landscape and from a people watching perspective.

Best Locations for Street Photography:

Taken on Broadway in SoHo

Since it's spring, we're going to start with some fantastic locations for street photography. The buildings will still be there in the winter when everyone is hiding indoors. If you are a people watcher, there's no better time to do street photography. On those first warm weekends, the city seems to wake up suddenly and people emerge from their black jacket hibernation. This makes it so much easier to take beautiful and colorful photographs on the streets.

If you want to learn more about how to do street photography you can read this article and if you work in New York, try taking your camera or camera phone and do ten minutes during your lunch hour or commute. There have been a few photographers that have done entire street photography series during these times.

Here are my favorite areas:

Prince and Broadway, SoHo

SoHo: Start on the chaotic corner of Prince and Broadway as you almost get knocked down by hundreds of people. Particularly on weekends, this corner turns into a sea of frenetic walkers. Capture images with many faces and outfits in the same frame. Then veer off onto the side streets, which can be much more manageable but still full of life. SoHo is where you can capture the colorful, the trendy, the fashionable, and the occasional disgruntled old-timer, pissed that he has to walk through this madness.

East Village and Lower East Side: These neighborhoods still hold a ton of character and characters and are vibrant with interesting people, buildings, backgrounds, and history to capture. Here you can capture both the eclectic long-timers and the younger trendy crowd.

Loisaida Festival, Alphabet City (Weekend of May 23rd, 2015)

5th Avenue below Central Park: This is a main haunt of the great street fashion photographer, Bill Cunningham, master of the New York Times Sunday Styles page. The corners from 58th to 56th are ideal to capture busy street shots.

Columbus Park, Chinatown: Grab dollar dumplings to go, visit this park, and listen to Chinese music and karaoke (if you're lucky, you'll hear someone singing Britney Spears' Hit Me Baby One More Time). Watch the Chinese chess players and card players and be respectful and mindful if anyone asks you not to photograph. The larger, most crowded card tables generally do not like photos taken but many of the rest are fine with it. Get close, watch them play, and take a couple photos in a respectful manner.

Columbus Park, Chinatown

Diamond District, 47th between 5th and 6th: Many people here are a little wary of being photographed, but the mix of people on this block is so interesting and makes for some fantastic people watching. Some of the windows are full of $150,000 watches.

Nightlife Street Photography: Whether or not you like or agree with the crazy nightlife areas, they are a fascinating subject to capture if you are adventurous. Go out in the worst of it, right smack to the 'Hell Square' corner of the Lower East Side (Stanton & Ludlow), or to Avenue A in the East Village. Be careful though, the drunken bros can be just as aggressive as the crackheads of old. Also, the meatpacking might not be a fun place to go out in, and it might be all tourists these days, but it's a very interesting place to photograph the hoards of tourists. Then, bring your camera out to the brunch scene, which these days is New York nightlife 2.0.

Hell Square, Lower East Side, 1am

Other favorite Street Photography areas: The main room of Grand Central, Bryant Park, the New York Public Library Steps, outside of Penn Station, the area around the Port Authority, and in the Times Square subway station.

My favorite street photography camera is the Fuji X100 line. It's expensive ($1,299) and has a fixed 35mm lens that you can't change, but it is one of the most well-made cameras available, takes incredible images, is light and beautiful, fun to use, and most importantly, it has a silent mode for street photography. You can get last year's version (which I use) for $900.

Urban Landscapes:

Greene Street between Grand and Canal

The Cast Iron Buildings on Greene Street, SoHo: All throughout SoHo you can see gorgeous architecture, and this is particularly true on Greene Street. Once a hub for garment making, these pristinely touched-up buildings are now prime real estate for selling them, but that doesn't change the historically preserved building facades. Stop on the corner of Greene and Broome for a view of the Silk Exchange Building, my favorite in the neighborhood.

The Silk Exchange Building, SoHo

Central Park: Central Park is the most beautiful right at dusk. Use a sunset checker, start 30 to 45 minutes before, and make sure to bring a tripod. Enter the park at the 67th street and 5th Avenue entrance. Start with the view from the treehouse (The Dene Shelter), head west to Literary Walk (The Mall), then head north to explore Bethesda Terrace, The Lake, and Bow Bridge. Turn back south and head to my favorite park view, which is right outside the fence on the northern edge of Sheep Meadow. Sheep Meadow is such a large and open field that the view looks like you cut out a slice of the city skyline. Make sure to capture this image after the sun has gone down so you can see the Times Square lights illuminate the sky. This effect is enhanced on a foggy night.

I personally feel safe doing this route alone, but it can't hurt to be safe and share this experience with a friend, particularly if you are not sure where you are going.

Bow Bridge, Central Park

The Lake, Central Park

The north side of Sheep Meadow, Central Park

Fire Escapes: Summer is the peak fire escape season. The sun is so high in the sky that it creates harsh shadows and beautiful designs off of the escapes. Explore the Lower East Side near the Tenement Museum, SoHo, Tribeca, Chinatown, and Little Italy for their gorgeous Fire Escapes.

Pell and Doyers Street, Chinatown: Once a very dangerous intersection of old New York, these streets are now rows of restaurants and haircut businesses. The charm and beauty of old is still there. Photograph the colorful walls and beautiful signs. Capture the view and water tower on Doyers Street, a curved alley nicknamed 'The Bloody Angle' for its nefarious past.

Pell and Doyers Street

Cortlandt Alley: Why does every New York crime tv episode have people being murdered in alleyways? New York does not have many alleyways! That is, except for Cortlandt Alley, which is smack in the middle of Tribeca and Chinatown, south of Canal Street. There is even a little hidden museum seen through the window holes in the doors of an old elevator shaft.

Cortlandt Alley

The Manhattan Municipal and Woolworth Buildings: The Manhattan Municipal building is one of my favorite unsung New York structures and it has one of the most gorgeous subway entrances in the city. If you have some extra time, get on the downtown 6 train (not the 4 or the 5) as it changes directions. If you look out of the outer window you will see the beautiful, lit but out-of-use City Hall Subway Station. Nearby is the Woolworth building, the 'Law & Order' courthouses, and the City Clerk's office, where you can see people from all over the city getting married in wedding dresses of every length and style. Around the corner is Columbus Park and dumplings!

Manhattan Municipal Building

Manhattan Municipal Building

Woolworth Building from the Manhattan Municipal Building

Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Waterfront at Dusk:
While I think the Brooklyn Bridge is the most awe-inspiring piece of architecture that the city has to offer, for taking pictures, I prefer to walk across the southern walkway of the Manhattan Bridge instead. I think the views are the best in the city and you can photograph both the Brooklyn Bridge and city skyline from the middle of the Manhattan Bridge. The middle is my favorite place to be in the city.

Chinatown from the Manhattan Bridge (midday light)

Chinatown from the Manhattan Bridge

Best of all, it is usually devoid of people - a quiet place to reflect. Just watch out for the rogue bike messengers. If you visit at sunset, bring a tripod and shoot through the holes in the fences (that I did not make) or through the holes in the grates below. It's safe but I'd suggest bringing a friend if you go at night.

Continue over the bridge to Brooklyn, head down to the street, and walk towards the water to the corner of Washington and Water. Here you can take the famous shot of the Empire State Building through the base of the Manhattan Bridge. Then walk to the water and through the little park and you will find a tiny beach to capture the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan skyline at night.

If you are tired here then there are always many yellow cabs here to take you home. But if you want to keep going, now is the time to walk over to the Brooklyn Bridge and head back into Manhattan. I don't want to sell it short - the views on the Brooklyn Bridge are still spectacular, particularly at night, and there will be less of a crowd at this time. Just be extremely careful if you decide to bring a tripod. With the many bikes that speed over the bridge it can be dangerous. Be very careful or you can seriously injure someone.

Main Street Park, next to the Manhattan Bridge

View from Washington and Water Streets

Rooftop Bars: Rooftop bars offer a spectacular opportunity to get up high, have a drink, and take some photos. There are too many for me to possibly keep up with, but two of my favorites are from the Ink48 and James hotels.

Best Times to Photograph: Nobody likes to wake up early or to shoot through dinnertime, so midday is the best time to photograph, since that's all that's left! That was a joke of course, but seriously, do a sunset/sunrise checker and set up early. Try not to cut it close. I prefer sunset to sunrise because I can then continue to shoot into the night.

Dusk and dawn will give you the most even and flattering light, but midday can be great as well. At midday you just have to pay more attention to where the sun is in the sky, where the shadows are, and how this will affect your shot.

Also, photograph in the rain! I usually preach that the more uncomfortable you are in the weather, the better the photograph will be. The rain is the most beautiful time to capture the city because the water reflects the light and saturates color. Everything looks stunning in the rain and even more so in the rain at dusk.

Go out in light rain with an umbrella and bring a couple small hand towels. Or you can purchase a camera housing and go out in the thick of it. I prefer to cut a small hole in a Duane Reade bag and use some Gaffer's tape to adhere it to the lens. This makes a flexible rain guard, but you have to be careful this way and I also use an umbrella. Most cameras can handle a little water, but don't let them get very wet.

Literary Walk (The Mall) at dusk in the rain

James Maher Photography

Jason Polan started Every Person in New York in March of 2008. He plans on working on the project until it is finished. Look for Every Person in New York on Tuesdays in MUG and daily at Jason's site.

Mercer Street (from 2013)

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