The Best and Most Unique Places to Take Pictures in NYC
It can be overwhelming when coming to photograph New York to figure out where to go. And that’s not only if you’re a visitor! As a lifelong local and professional photographer, I sometimes feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. But I’ve explored a lot of it, and I hope to organize this list to help you find what interests you the most.
New York is a massive city that has something to photograph no matter your interests. Whether you like iconic shots, cityscapes, architecture, people, cool and off-the-beaten-path locations, alleyways, old neighborhoods, trendy shopping areas, waterways, bridges, or subways, there is something for you to capture in New York and on this list.
I’ve organized this list into three parts, the most iconic and famous photo spots around the city, the more unique and off-the-beaten-path photo locations, and some photo tour options to choose from.
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Google Map of Every Location in Guide:
Most Iconic Photo Locations
I included Central Park first on this list because it is my favorite place in New York to get lost with a camera. There is a whole day of photography just in the park if you decide to see all of the top sites, but here are my favorites.
The Mall is the grand concourse of Central Park with gorgeous American Elm Trees lining each side. It is gorgeous to photograph in all seasons and incredible at dusk.
The Mall leads to Bethesda Terrace, the grand gathering area of the park with the incredible Bethesda Terrace Fountain and the Arch, where musicians sing and play and people get married. This is the most spectacular spot in Central Park.
Boathouse and Boat Ride on The Lake
Near Bethesda Terrace is the Boathouse where you can have a drink or a meal and an area to rent rowboats to take along the very large Lake. This is my favorite thing to do in the park. Bring a picnic lunch and spend an hour on The Lake.
The most famous structure in Central Park, Bow Bridge is a cast-iron bridge that looks like a gorgeous bow. It is often crowded with people, so go at off-hours or in bad weather for a clear shot. When it is crowded, go to each side of the bridge, which will allow you to get a clean shot.
Once created as a field to hold sheep on it, this giant lawn is now where New Yorkers go to sunbathe, play frisbee, and just create an overall beach feel on summer weekends even though there is no beach or water. Because the field is so large, you get a clear view of the giant buildings on Central Park South. It looks almost like you cut the city like a slice of cake. Dusk is a fantastic time for a photograph here.
The smaller and less famous of the two bridges in Central Park, but certainly not any less beautiful, Gapstow Bridge has a major scene in Home Alone 2 and overlooks the Plaza Hotel.
Yes, there is a castle in the middle of Central Park! The castle gives beautiful high views of the park and is great to bring children to.
On the northern side of Bow Bridge is a place called The Ramble, an area of the park where you can feel like you are getting lost in the woods. This area doesn’t have any grand views, quite the opposite in fact, but it is the most incredible bird watching location in New York and you may come across groups of bird watchers. Because the Park is a huge green oasis in the middle of a gray city, migrating birds will often stop off in the Park.
Grand Central Terminal
Just don’t call it Grand Central Station (it’s a Terminal since it is the last stop), Grand Central is the grandest and most awe-inspiring structure in New York (with the exception of the Brooklyn Bridge). Photograph the arched ceilings, the chandeliers, the central clock, and most importantly, the crowds of people, the tourists staring at the ceiling while the locals rush through them to get to their trains.
Built-in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge is both grand and beautiful – an icon of New York. Just be wary because it can get incredibly crowded with both people and bikers, especially during the holiday season. For shots without many people, go at off-hours or visit during bad weather. The Bridge is at its most beautiful in the rain or snow.
There is no place more fun in New York than Coney Island in the summer. Eat lunch at Nathan’s or Totonno’s, then explore the boardwalk for some of the best people-watching in the city. Make sure to wear some beach-friendly shoes and to walk around the beach and by the water photographing the sunbathers and swimmers. This is a right of passage for any street photographer.
Top of the Rock / Empire State Building
Many people ask whether they should visit The Top of the Rock or the Empire State Building, and the answer is clearly the Top of the Rock, which has the best aerial views in the city, particularly because you can actually photograph the Empire State Building as part of the view. The Empire State Building, unfortunately, does not provide you with this luxury. Make sure to get there early so you can get a good spot on a ledge to photograph as it can get crowded, primarily around the holiday season.
Come for the tree (or whatever sculptures they have year-round) and stay for the people watching. Rockefeller Center is a fantastic spot for both the architecture and the people watching.
Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, quite a name. DUMBO has turned into one of the most visited places in New York over the last 15 years and for good reason. Go to Washington Street for the famous view of the Empire State Building through the legs of the Manhattan Bridge, visit Main Street Park and Pebble Beach a block away for one of the most gorgeous cityscape views in New York, and walk along the water and past the Brooklyn Bridge to Brooklyn Bridge Park, where you will get most beautiful cityscape views, including the famous one with the piers in the water.
Chrysler Building and its Lobby
The Chrysler Building is my vote (and a majority of architects’ votes) for the most beautiful skyscraper in New York. Make sure to visit the Moroccan marble-covered lobby as well, which is open to tourists and photographers and one of the great Art Deco masterpieces in the city.
High Line and Hudson Yards
Another of the most visited places in New York, the High Line may not have stayed true to its original purpose (they gave away too much of the surrounding land to development. So while there are less great views than there used to be, the tracks itself are fascinating and the entire walk feels like some modern, dystopian place, which I find fun to photograph. There is fantastic people watching as well.
This 22-story triangular building is a favorite of New Yorkers and photographers alike. Visit the nearby Fujifilm Photo Wonder Shop a block away to rent a Fuji camera for free for the day. Fuji is my favorite camera company, so give them a try.
You need to photograph it once. While Times Square is always crowded, I think it is best to photograph it when it is at its most crowded to get the full effect. Visit in the evening, right around the time that the theatre begins or ends and capture the crowds of people lit by the giant incredible signs.
Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
While visiting the Statue of Liberty is always a fun thing to do, I find the best photography of the Statue to be done from the boat to Ellis Island. Visit Ellis Island and schedule a tour of the abandoned South Side of the island for some incredible sites and stories.
New York Public Library / Bryant Park
Capture the exterior lions and the interior reading rooms of the New York Public Library, one of the most spectacular buildings in New York. Make sure to visit the Rose Main Reading Room on the top floor with stunning ceiling murals.
Next visit Bryant Park, right behind the library for some wonderful people watching and spectacular skyscraper views, including the American Standard Radiator Company Building (now the Bryant Park Hotel) and the Empire State Building. Photograph the ice skaters in the winter.
Washington Square Park
This Park in Greenwich Village is always packed with people, from NYU students to regular New Yorkers, to skaters and bikers, to musicians, to tourists, all looking to relax in the busy city. It is one of the great street photography meccas in New York. Photograph the Washington Square Arch with the Empire State Building through its legs.
Oculus / 9/11 Memorial / World Trade Center
Capture the sleek, modern, white architectural extravagance that is the Oculus, basically, a giant shopping mall, go pay your respects at the 9/11 Memorial, and then travel to the top of the new World Trade Center Building.
St Patricks Cathedral
One of the grandest and most beautiful churches stands proudly along 5th Avenue. Photograph the exterior, but make sure to take a trip to check out the interior as well,
I find Wall Street best to capture during rush hour with all the workers and business people rushing by. But also worthy of a photograph is the Stock Exchange Building, Federal Hall, and Arturo Di Modica’s Charging Bull statue.
West Village / Greenwich Village
These Village neighborhoods have some of the most gorgeous townhouses and brownstones in New York. Weave throughout the quite streets and imagine what it would be like to live there.
Unique Photo Locations
While I love photographing on the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge is the true star of the city in my opinion. Devoid of people (although watch out for the bike messengers rushing by), the southern pedestrian side of the Bridge has the most spectacular views of the city, from old Lower East Side tenement building cityscapes with the Financial District Skyscrapers behind them, to incredible graffiti, to one of the most beautiful views of the Brooklyn Bridge from the halfway point and beyond. Walk the entire bridge and then head down to the DUMBO waterfront.
SoHo is my favorite neighborhood to get lost photographing in. While it has some of the best street photography in the city, with both fashionable and regular New Yorkers alike, SoHo also has the most beautiful cast-iron architecture in the world, built as giant factory buildings during the garment boom of the late 1800s and now home to some of the highest-end clothing brands in the world and some of the most expensive apartments in the City.
Make sure to take a stroll down the 5-block stretch of Greene Street, which houses the most beautiful collection of these cast-iron buildings, but also get lost and weave through the neighborhood to see what you might come across.
Lower East Side / East Village
Explore both these historic neighborhoods to see some gorgeous old tenement buildings with carved stone details and incredible ornate fire escapes. Visit during warm weekends and evenings for some fantastic and trendy people-watching. Make sure to visit the Tenement Museum as well.
Chinatown is one of the few neighborhoods in Manhattan that still has its history alive on the streets each day, and it is a favorite neighborhood for people to explore and eat in. The buildings are old and colorful and the people are friendly. Visit Columbus Park to watch people play Chinese Chess and Chinese Poker, with bands and karaoke on warm days and weekends, then head to photograph on Pell Street and Doyer’s Street (nicknamed The Bloody Angle for its nefarious past).
Williamsburg / Bushwick
Originally the hipster capitals of New York, these neighborhoods have a mixture of hipster, trendy, old-school, rich, you name it, it’s probably there by now. Start by exploring Williamsburg then take the L train to the Jefferson Ave stop on the L train for the most gorgeous street art in the city (it feels like the entire neighborhood is covered). After exploring the street art, put Roberta’s Pizza into your GPS and walk in that direction for lunch, then take the Morgan Ave L train stop back into Manhattan.
Right off Canal Street and near Broadway is one of the rare alleyways in New York, which is frequently filmed on. This is where you feel like you should be chased by cops. Surrounded by old factories and graffiti, this is a special photography spot. Walk all three blocks and stop to view the MMuseumm, the smallest museum in New York, hidden behind old steel doors.
Prospect Park / Grand Army Plaza
Prospect Park was developed by the creators of Central Park after they finished Central Park and many refer to it as their masterpiece. The Park is so artfully put together with so many surprises and beautiful views.
Enter at Grand Army Plaza, with its stunningly grand arch and sculpture.
Some of the best Brooklyn Brownstones are located in Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn Heights, and Fort Greene. Combine a trip to Prospect Park with a walk around Park Slope exploring the incredible brownstones buildings.
Old City Hall Subway Station
Hidden under City Hall is the stunning but out of use City Hall Subway Station. You can view it briefly through the windows at the 6 train at the Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall subway stop if you stay on the downtown line past the last stop as the train turns around (it’s allowed, view the far window from where the doors open). But this is just a quick view. Better yet, sign up for a tour with the New York Transit Museum to visit it. Make sure to bring a tripod.
The highest point in Brooklyn, Greenwood Cemetery has stunning views of Manhattan near Battle Hill. The Cemetery itself, which predated both Central Park and Prospect Park was built as both a cemetery and a world attraction, once attracting over 500,000 visitors a year, the second biggest tourist attraction in the U.S. behind Niagara Falls. Visit and you will see why – the architecture and views are spectacular.
City Hall District
If you are a fan of Law and Order or any crime or court shows, make sure to visit the City Hall District to pay your respects. Visit the New York Supreme Court steps, then head to the Manhattan Municipal Building, and finally end up in City Hall Park, with views of both City Hall and the Woolworth Building.
Woolworth Building and Lobby
The Woolworth Building is my second favorite skyscraper in New York. And happily, once off-limits to photographers, they have now begun to schedule photography tours of its lobby, which allow you to bring a tripod. The Woolworth Building, once the tallest building in the world, was once nicknamed the Cathedral of Commerce because its lobby looks like an old Byzantine cathedral.
No photography trip to New York is complete without some photos on the subway. My favorite people-watching is on the Shuttle (S) train between Grand Central and Times Square. Hang out in the main area of the Times Square Subway station watching after full shuttle train after full shuttle train empties. Then walk the platforms of the 2-3 and N-R trains people watching.
Roosevelt Island Tram
One of the most unique forms of travel in the city, this tram will give you fantastic views (although through glass windows) and just a really fun adventure in the city.
Rooftop Views and Bars
The landscape of rooftop views bars in New York is massive and ever-changing, so it is hard for me to keep up. However, they do provide some epic skyline views of the city in an enjoyable atmosphere, so I suggest you do your own research besides what I am able to tell you about here. For Museums, The Whitney and the Met have incredible rooftops and some favorites bar views of mine are Top of the Strand at the Strand Hotel, Refinery Hotel Rooftop, La Birreria atop Eataly, Ink48 at the Kimpton Hotel, The Top of the Standard, Jimmy at the James Hotel, the St. Cloud at the Knickerbocker hotel, Rare View at Fashion 26, and The Ides at the Wythe Hotel.
Take a Tour / Trip
Private New York Photography Tours and Street Photography Workshops
Join me for a private photo tour of New York that will be custom to your interests and what you want to see. Tours and Workshops cover a mixture of photography education, incredible sightseeing, both cityscape and street photography, and history of the areas – but this mix will be altered depending on you.
Helicopter photography rides are incredibly popular these days – an incredibly unique and adventurous way to capture the city. Some of the popular helicopter rides are Big Apple Helicopter Tours, New York Helicopter, Liberty Helicopter, HeliNY, and Zip Aviation Heli Tours.
By water is the only way to see New York! Hire a Circle Line cruise around Manhattan, either during the day or at sunset. Take the East River Ferry at the pier at 35th Street and FDR as it makes stops south all the way to Dumbo. Take the Water Taxi from Pier 79 on west 39th Street and the Hudson River and head towards Dumbo, or if you need furniture, stop at the IKEA stop in Red Hook Brooklyn. If you are really ambitious, get a water housing for your camera, and rent some jet skis!
Staten Island Ferry
Take the free Staten Island Ferry back and forth, with views of the Statue of Liberty. The trip is especially nice at sunset. The ferry runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week and travels between the Whitehall Ferry Terminal (also known as South Ferry) in Manhattan and the St. George Ferry Terminal in Staten Island. It is best to skip rush hour times for your trip as the boat will be packed with commuters.