New York City is a fascinating but tricky place to photograph.
As a city that is so rich and diverse in culture, history, and people, it makes for some of the most awe-inspiring photo opportunities in the world. There is just no other city quite like New York. On the other hand, however, New York City is one of the most photographed places in the world.
Photographers and videographers alike travel thousands of miles just to capture New York City in all of her glory – or shame, depending on the type of photos they’re looking to capture.
No matter what your intentions are for photographing NYC, you will see that one of the grandest benefits of the trip is the fact that you will never see the exact same scene on the streets of New York twice. NYC is a living, breathing city that never sleeps and waits for no one. Photographing the streets of NYC is an adventure waiting to happen.
This photographer’s guide to the streets of NYC is going to be focused solely on Manhattan. Manhattan is split up into three areas:
Here are some popular places to capture photos in each area of the city. The locations in this section of the guide are a bit “touristy,” but that doesn’t mean that you can’t capture exquisite photos just the same. After all, these spots are world-renowned for a reason! You just might be able to capture some of your favorite photos to date.
Locations to Photograph in Uptown Manhattan
- Central Park
- The Plaza Hotel
- The Metropolitan Museum of Natural History
- Park Avenue
- Radio City Music Hall
- The Viaduct
- Highbridge Park
- The Billings Arcade
Locations to Photograph in Midtown Manhattan
- The Empire State Building
- The Chrysler Building
- Grand Central Station
- New York Public Library
- Bryant Park
- Times Square
- Rockefeller Center
- Top of the Rock
- The Flatiron Building
- The High Line
- Union Square
Locations to Photograph in Downtown Manhattan
- Greenwich Village
- Washington Square
- Little Italy
- One World Trade Center
- 9/11 Memorial
- Battery Park
The locations above will give you an excellent place to start your photography journey through New York City. If you’re new to the city, you’ll surely want to see these popular sights and capture them with your camera. Once you’re finished at these locations, you can start to explore around and get off the beaten path a bit to capture the “real” New York, as beautiful as she is gritty.
Now let’s quickly go over the basics of planning a photography trip to New York City
Planning a Photography Trip to New York City
Whether you live in Upstate New York or you’re flying in from another country, traveling to New York City feels very much the same. No matter where you’re coming from, it usually takes a good amount of effort to get into the city, through the city, and out of the city. So, you need to be prepared.
Pack comfortable shoes. New York City is a very walkable place and walking is the cheapest way to get around. It’s also the best way to capture street photography. You’ll probably be walking dozens of miles a day so make sure you have shoes that are broken in and have good support.
Pack as lightly as possible. It’s very likely that you’ll have to carry your luggage through the city, on subways, and into crowded shops while you make your way to and from your hotel. You don’t want to make things difficult for yourself by overpacking.
Pack for all weather conditions. They say in New York that if you don’t like the weather, just wait about 5-minutes. The weather could change from a chilly wind, to a light rain, to warm sunny weather all within a single day. Unless you’re traveling in the winter (in which case you should bring a winter coat), you should have a waterproof jacket and shoes, a light jacket, a t-shirt, a sweater, and a pair of pants. If you stick to these basics, you should be just fine.
Take advantage of natural lighting. Since you’re aiming to pack light for your photography trip to NYC, leave your lighting equipment at home. Since you’re photographing the streets of New York, you’re better off taking advantage of the natural lighting from the sun and the bright city lights at night.
Protect yourself. There are millions of people milling about the streets of Manhattan every day. It’s easy to get distracted and let your guard down, especially if you are exhausted from a long day of walking or checking out some shots on your camera. However, you must always stay alert when you are around others that you don’t know. Keep your equipment where you can see it at all times, carry as little cash on you as possible, keep your credit cards and passport safely zipped away, and hold your backpack in front of you when you are in a crowded space like the subway.
These are just some general tips for traveling to New York City to capture photos. Here are some tips that are more specific to photography.
Tips for Photographing the Streets of New York
Know your rights. Before you hit the streets of Manhattan, ready to take photos of the glorious buildings, people, and scenarios that the city has to offer, it’s important that you know what you are and are not allowed to do as a street photographer.
First, it’s important to know the difference between public and private property in New York City.
Public Property — As a street photographer, most of your photos will be taken on public property. “Public property” refers to any area that is easily accessed by the public – streets, sidewalks, benches on the sidewalks, parks, etc. Even the subway is considered public property!” However, it’s very important to note that, unless you are a member of the press and are shooting on location for a story, you are not allowed to use tripods, reflectors, lights, or other photography equipment (besides a camera) in subway stations or on trains.
As a street photographer in New York City, you are always welcome to take photos of anyone that is in view of the public eye, even if they are situated on public property. This means that you are allowed to take photos of people sitting on their stoop, at a restaurant, or sitting in their apartment window. That being said, you do want to be respectful of people’s privacy.
Private Property – Photographing private property in New York City can be tricky because some places that seem public are actually private. For example, museums, shopping malls, and government buildings are all examples of private property. If you aren’t sure if a location you want to shoot is private or public, you can do some research ahead of time or ask a security guard what the protocol is when you get there. If you start taking photos and are asked to stop mid shoot, it would be in your best interest to pack up and go.
Release Forms for Commercial Purposes – If you’re planning on using the photos you take on the NYC streets for commercial purposes (advertisements, stock photography, and promotional materials), you’ll need to have a release form signed by anyone that’s in the photo you’re planning on using. It’s a good idea to have release forms typed up and ready, a handful of pens, and a clipboard. This way you can get the release form signed then and there and not have to worry about it again.
New York Street Photography Inspiration
If you are looking for some inspiration for your New York City street photography, check out some of the photos in our archive. The wonderful thing about New York City is that – while it is one of the most photographed places in the world – it is always changing. No two days are alike in NYC which means there are infinite possibilities for photographs and infinite uses for the photographs you capture.
To check out what New York City looks like and gather a little bit of inspiration, check out some of our photo productions with different focus.
New York City Night Lights