View Full Version : Large Format in New York

Steven Dusk
9-Jan-2005, 13:21
Very soon I'll be spending five days in New York for the first time, and I don't know what to expect when it comes to a tripod mounted camera. I have taken photos in London, Paris and Sydney and usually manage to find out-of-the-way spots to set up the tripod. I can work quickly with a reflex viewer and rollfilm on my baby Arca, and I have most things in pockets so that there is no need for constant access to a backpack. Am I ready? Is it safe? How much hassle will I get from officials when taking photos of the Chrysler and Flatiron buildings etc at sunrise or just after sunset? Where is the best island to go for an evening view of the city skyline? Any hints, tips and not to be missed photo locations would be greatly appreciated!

Steven (www.duskart.com)

John Sarsgard
9-Jan-2005, 14:15
I have never had a problem on the sidewalk in NYC with my 4x5. I try hard to make sure I'm not blocking any kind of traffic. I have asked the police about it in Times Square, and they said fine as long as I was not creating an obstacle. New York is now the safest city in its size class, but one should still be wary. Stay self contained. The only buildings I know that would create a hassle are Federal buildings. Sooner or later some kind of officer will come up and tell you you can't photograph them. In parks, you are supposed to get a permit to do commercial photography. Just be ready to point out that your work is non-commercial if someone asks. They're just trying to limit the number of model/fashion/movie shoots going on at one time, and keep tons of gear off the grass. By myself with a 4x5, I've never been asked in Central Park. For a view of the skyline, I would take the ferry to Staten Island or shoot back at Manhattan from the promenade in Brooklyn. You can't work on a tripod in the subway system unless you have a NYPD press pass, and a tripod requires a permit obtained in advance for Grand Central Terminal. I shoot all the time in New York, and love it. If you are coming soon, be prepared for the cold! It's been warm a lot lately, but this can not last! Enjoy.

Bob Salomon
9-Jan-2005, 15:12
You can also get fantastic sunrise shots of NYC from the promenade on the New Jersey side of the Hudson river.

David A. Goldfarb
9-Jan-2005, 15:36
Good tips above. I particularly like the skyline view from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade in the evening.

You'll want to avoid using a tripod where there are crowded sidwalks, and you will very likely be asked a few questions if you use a tripod along the waterfront in downtown Manhattan from, say the Seaport down to Battery Park, and up from Wagner Park to around Chelsea Piers. Other than that, you're usually okay. It is good to be able to set up and close up quickly, keep all your equipment close to you and under your immediate control. A reflex viewer is good, particularly if you're alone.

Jason Greenberg Motamedi
9-Jan-2005, 16:59
As mentioned, the promenade in Brooklyn Heights has a good unobstructed view of Manhattan. There are better views in along the waterfront in Hoboken and Jersey City, but getting there can be a pain (maybe take the NY waterway ferry to Hoboken and use the pier for photography?) If you are feeling adventurous, there are great places to find shots of Manhattan between the two bridges in Brooklyn, often called DUMBO.

Note however that according to NYC law, you are required to have a permit to use a tripod; no matter if you are shooting for yourself or commercially. The permit is free, and obtained through the Mayors office of Film and Television. I have never gotten one, and have shot in NYC for years. In any case, most cops won't bug you, unless you are near a "strategic" building, in a busy place, or if they are feeling belligerent.

New York is pretty safe, I worry more about being hit by an SUV than I do about being robbed. That said, don't leave your bags anywhere out of direct sight (including when you are under the cloth) and never leave anything photographic in the trunk of your car. Have fun...

10-Jan-2005, 00:33
"Note however that according to NYC law, you are required to have a permit to use a tripod; no matter if you are shooting for yourself or commercially. The permit is free, and obtained through the Mayors office of Film and Television. I have never gotten one, and have shot in NYC for years. In any case, most cops won't bug you, unless you are near a "strategic" building, in a busy place, or if they are feeling belligerent."

Could that possibly be true? I've been photographing with a large format camera here for ten years and never heard that one. I know it's true in Empire Fulton Park, which is the state park next to the bkln bridge on the brooklyn side ... they have it posted on big signs. But I've shot there too without getting hassled. This, however, is a state park, and their rationalle is that they get revenue from the postcards and posters that they sell.

What kinds of things are you hoping to photograph? I hope you're open to opportunities beyond making the ten millionth skyline/sunrise picture from the promenade. There is so much here to discover.

Steven Dusk
10-Jan-2005, 03:49
John, Bob, David, Jason & Paulr, thank you your replies!

It seems that NY is like Paris when it comes to tripods - you aren't supposed to use one, but you get away with it 95% of the time as long as you are not causing a nuisance. Jason, you are correct regarding the threat of SUVs, I have once been saved by a friend who pulled me back after I looked the wrong way when crossing a one-way street... Paulr, I will be photographing anything that does or doesn't move! I have the digital for when I am doing the usual sightseeing trips and street candids, but I have some pre-orders for some of the more famous landmarks - and I want to provide the best quality possible. Five days isn't much time I know, especially if the weather doesn't assist, but I'll give it a shot!


http://www.duskart.com (http://www.duskart.com)

Terence McDonagh
10-Jan-2005, 05:26
The Brooklyn Heights promenade is good for downtown views. Take the 2/3/4/5/M/R trains to Borough Hall in Brooklyn and head west towards the river to get to the promenade.

Hoboken has great views of Lower Midtown (Empire State Bldg, etc). Take the PATH train to Hoboken from the stations at 9th, 14th, 23rd or 33rd Streets and 6th Avenue. Trains run 24 hours and are quite safe. PATH station in Hoboken is right next to a recreational pier, but for the best view walk upriver and uphill to Stevens Institute of Technology, and head for Castle Point (look for a very tall flag pole and an old canon. The view of Midtown is great with an extra +/- 125' of elevation. An alternative for the PATH is to take the New Jersey Transit #126 bus from the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 42nd Street and Eight Avenue. It takes about 15 minutes to get to Hoboken and runs down Washington Street. Ask the bus driver to let you off at the 8th Street stop and walk straight up 8th to Castle Point.

For good downtown shots, take the PATH train from the World Trade Center one stop to Exchange Place in Jersey Cityand you'll be right at the water. Used to be a beautiful view of the Trade Center from here.

For East Midtown views head for Long Island City (part of Queens). Take the 7 Subway train from 42nd Street to the Vernon/Jackson stop, which is the first stop in Queens. Again, head west to the river. There's a waterfront park right in front of the tall residential building (you can't miss it, as there's only one).

David A. Goldfarb
10-Jan-2005, 05:56
I also have just worked on the fly without a tripod permit, but I'm usually photographing in less trafficked places where I'm not likely to be bothered. When I've looked into it, it seems to be mainly a liability issue--they want to be sure you have liability insurance before setting up an obstruction on a public sidewalk. It's mainly addressed to film crews and fashion shooters with lots of lighting and equipment, but technically, it applies to anyone with a tripod, so there's always the risk of encountering the tripod police in the City.

Frank Petronio
10-Jan-2005, 06:19
Wouldn't getting hit by a bicycle messsenger or a Subaru make you just as dead as getting hit by an SUV?

Opps, getting political... dang!

David A. Goldfarb
10-Jan-2005, 09:08
Been hit by a cyclist. Broken wrist, a couple of chipped teeth, nothing I'd want to repeat, but still alive.

John C Murphy
10-Jan-2005, 17:58
I didn't realize there were so many of us LF guys in this area (I live in Jersey City).

Jason Greenberg Motamedi
10-Jan-2005, 18:43
Indeed Frank, you are correct, being hit by a SUV, Taxi, Mini, or even (!) an hybrid car could have the same death-dealing potential. In fact, like David, I have been whacked by both bicyclists and, just last week, by jogger with a baby buggy.

Steven Dusk
11-Jan-2005, 03:49
What would be the best way to get from Mid Town to across the Hudson in the early morning? To opposite North Park perhaps...


Terence McDonagh
11-Jan-2005, 06:07
I would say NJ Transit buses out of the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Preferably Weehawken, either at water-level on River Road, or up on the Heights (I think it's Palisades Ave), or Hoboken as mentioned above (I live there, so I'm biased).

Most of the buses start up around 6:00am-6:30am. A few start earlier. Check out:
http://www.njtransit.com/sf_bu_schedules.shtml (http://www.njtransit.com/sf_bu_schedules.shtml)

Steven Dusk
11-Jan-2005, 07:52
Cheers Terence, I am getting your suggestions marked on the map, and they look like good vantage points indeed!


Terence McDonagh
11-Jan-2005, 11:36
No sweat. As for the tripod permit, it's no big deal, and it is free. See:

http://www.nyc.gov/html/film/html/permits/still_prcedure.shtml (http://www.nyc.gov/html/film/html/permits/still_prcedure.shtml)

You could probably have the permit faxed to your hotel. When filling it out I always use a fairly vague description of location and time to give me leeway for angles, lighting, etc. I'll say "between 34th and 37th streets, between 1st and 3rd avenues", etc. I've only had them complain once about this when I was REALLY vague. Of course, I've never had anyone give me trouble when I bother to get the permit, only when I don't (which is most of the time). Most of the grief I've gotten is on the rare times when I'm shooting in a congested pedestrian area. And don't bother trying to use a tripod in Grand Central Station. They swooped on you like hawks even before 9/11. Granted, it's normally choked with pedestrians even during "off" hours. The same is true in subways (I haven't tried it, but have seen enough people try). Usually no problem taking pictures there, but a tripod could be a tripping hazard on the platforms as stupid people abound here (no knock on New Yorkers as I am one, but we do seem to have a slightly higher than average rate of folks with no common sense and who don't pay attention).

I tend to shoot in out of the way, rundown areas (industrial parts of Brooklyn, Bayonne, Newark, etc), so if anyone is ever up for an adventurous photo outing I'm always looking for someone to shoot with.

tim atherton
11-Jan-2005, 11:43
"The same is true in subways (I haven't tried it, but have seen enough people try)."

the Transit Authority is trying to introduce (actually trying to re-introduce) restrictions on almsot any photography on the NY transit system (exception would be NY Press. You may also be able to apply for a permit?).

And by many accoutns, the Transit Police are acting as if the ban is already in place.

see www.photopermit.org among others

tim atherton
11-Jan-2005, 11:45
actually, here is another message I was forwarded about it:

"New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority is proposing rules that would
ban photography on the city's subways. As a street photographer and admirer
of the heritage of subway photography produced by Walker Evans
(http://www.getty.edu/art/collections/presentation/p42_114321-1.html) and
others, I am concerned about this.

The proposed rules are here:
http://www.mta.nyc.ny.us/nyct/rules/proposed.htm (http://www.mta.nyc.ny.us/nyct/rules/proposed.htm)
If you share my concern, please send the MTA your comments on this issue by
January 10.

Syracuse, NY

Following is the e-mail I received alerting me to this issue:

I am Todd Maisel, a staff photographer for the NY Daily News, and also the
associate director of the National Press Photographers Region 2 and
Secretary for the NY Press Photographers Association.

We are seeking your support against the proposed ban on photography in the
subways. While the new rule would supposedly spare media, we know this is a
slippery slope. Your members, visiting our city, would become criminals if
they take out their cameras on the trains.

This is an op ed piece I did in the NY DailyNews recently. We invite you to
join us and comment on the MTA website at give at the end of this article.
Please read, and then, let me know your organization's position.

Thank you.
Todd Maisel

Last May, the MTA introduced a new "rule of conduct" barring photography on
the transit system except by "accredited New York City media," claiming the
rule deters would-be terrorists. After a firestorm of criticism from groups
who recognized this as censorship, the MTA retreated, but vowed to
re-introduce a less stringent version.

Instead, they re-introduced the same rule under the cover of Thanksgiving
weekend, allowing public comment until January 10. Even Mayor Michael
Bloomberg's opposed the rule believing it unfairly penalizes tourists.

The MTA claims the rule, which can result in arrest and fine, is NYPD
advised. However, Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, a former newsman himself,
said the NYPD did not advise the camera ban. Instead, police officials
advised the MTA to ban photography in tunnels and control rooms - areas
already off-limits. Without having justifying this rule, they continue to
insist it is part of security initiatives.

But does a terrorist require a picture to know that Grand Central Station is
crowded at rush hour? Did the terrorists in Spain need a photo to know that
their bomb on a crowded train would kill numerous people?

So if terrorists don't require a photo to kill people, who then will be

Tourists from around the world marvel at our transit system, but they will
risk arrest if they photograph it. Chrystine Nicholas, executive director of
New York City Inc., our tourist bureau, opposes the ban as damaging to

Young photojournalism students would be arrested for photographing the
trains. Transit enthusiasts who have long documented the growth of our
system would become criminals. Straphangers using a cell phone with a camera
would be subject to arrest.

While the rule exempts New York City media, it makes it illegal for
out-of-town journalists, from as close as New Jersey and Westchester County,
to take photos of our trains. And just because the local media will have
this exemption doesn't mean that every cop out of the academy will know the
rule. Many still don't understand that their own regulations restrict them
from censoring photographers, but some officers still believe they must
dictate what the media sees at a crime scene or disaster.

The rule is a slippery slope that will result in further censorship. There
are already far too many people who believe that anyone with a camera is a
potential terrorist.

There has yet to be any convincing evidence demonstrating that terrorists
are taking photos of our trains. A few months ago, an Iranian national was
deported after he was observed photographing city landmarks. If he was
providing photos for terrorists, does that mean we should now prevent
photography of all landmarks? That would be ludicrous and unconstitutional.

The MTA board must recognize that this rule erodes our freedoms and runs
counter to the First Amendment. It surrenders to terrorist goals by
curtailing our freedom. To comment, visit the MTA website:
http://www.mta.nyc.ny.us/nyct/rules/proposed.htm (http://www.mta.nyc.ny.us/nyct/rules/proposed.htm)."

(and no - it is not my intention to start the usual flood of pro/con homeland security posts...)

Terence McDonagh
11-Jan-2005, 12:01
I normally lean towards paranoia, but I agree with Tim that the MTA is definitely trying to limit our freedoms for a ridiculous purpose, especially given that there is a website that has photos of every single station, switch, interlocking, etc, and the fact that half the new cell phones seem have cameras in them. I won't even mention the "Photography in the Subways" exhibit in Grand Central SPONSORED by the MTA.

That said, it's a fight for us locals (even though it impacts visitors) as it is a regional transit system who will probably dismiss anything said by "outside agitators". I figured I'd avoid the topic as it shouldn't effect Steven's visit. I photograph in the subway all the time and have had more issues with paranoid passengers than Transit Cops.

Steven Dusk
13-Jan-2005, 09:03
"I tend to shoot in out of the way, rundown areas (industrial parts of Brooklyn, Bayonne, Newark, etc), so if anyone is ever up for an adventurous photo outing I'm always looking for someone to shoot with."

Terence, this type of subject matter interests me as well. But I don't think I will have time on this trip unfortunately...


15-Jan-2005, 20:20
I live in Guttenberg in north Hudson County, NJ, which is 15 minutes from midtown Manhattan on the #158 bus from The Port Authority Bus Terminal. Views of NYC from the public walkway right by my house can be seen at http://www.vmilin.com (http://www.vmilin.com) (they're 35mm at the moment, my apologies).
This time of year, the sunset views are best at about 4:45 PM
I'd be happy to answer any questions about how to get here, just email me


Steven Dusk
15-Mar-2005, 15:02
Just to finish the story... The photos from the trip are now on my website http://www.duskart.com (http://www.duskart.com)

I picked the coldest possible week of the year to go as the temperature crept down to zero fahrenheit - but I was not put off even though my water bottle frequently froze solid... I even learnt valuable new skills like how to load rollfilm holders without taking my gloves off!

Many thanks for all of the suggestions - I hope to follow more of them on future trips