Photographing New York: 

Central Park Photography Tours and Routes

Bow_Bridge_at_Night, Central Park, New York Photography
All Central Park photos shown here are available as fine art prints for sale.

(This guide is part of The New York Photographer’s Travel Book, which is available as a free digital download.) 

For anyone looking for a guided (day or night) photography tour of Central Park, I offer highly rated tours that you can read more about here.

No trip to New York is complete without a trip to the most famous park in the world. Central Park was designed by landscape architect and writer Frederick Law Olmsted and by English architect Calvert Vaux, or as they are commonly called Olmsted and Vaux. Opened to the public in 1858, the park has functioned as both a respite from the daily grind for New Yorkers, and as a tourist destination for tens of millions from around the world.

Unless it is overcast, for the best light (and fewer people) the best times to visit the park are in the early morning and an hour before sunset and into dusk. It is great to visit the park during a light rain when the ground shimmers and the colors pop. If you visit on a weekend, there will be many more people out and about, particularly in the warmer months.

Bow Bridge in Fall, Central Park, New York Photography

Central Park is wonderful in all seasons. In winter, the leaves fall off the trees and you can see through them to the lights of the buildings surrounding the park. If you are lucky to visit in the middle of a snowstorm, the park turns into a Disney-like fairytale. In spring, the trees sprout, the park smells amazing, and people flock from all over in celebration. In summer, the trees provide shade and the surrounding buildings disappear, making you feel like you are lost in the woods. Thousands of people sunbathe and play Frisbee in Sheep Meadow. And you know what happens in fall. The trees turn all types of gorgeous colors, and every inch of the park is photogenic.

“[Central Park] is the most important work of American art of the 19th century,” Sara Cedar Miller said. Everywhere you look, it feels like you are staring at a painting, and it is shocking to realize that you actually are. Central Park is a real life painting with every vista planned and created. The original map of what was called the Greensward Plan is located in the Central Park Arsenal, and it is 3-feet by 8-feet and made in pen and ink.

The Lake, Central Park, New York Photography

My suggested photography walk through the park will take you a couple hours, depending on your pace. You can go at any time, but I suggest starting an hour before sunset and bringing a tripod for when it gets darker. Bring a map of the park, and GPS on your phone will be very helpful. Enter at the entrance to the park on the corner of 67th Street and 5th Avenue. As you walk in, the Treehouse will appear on your right, which is built on a huge piece of Manhattan Schist, the hard bedrock that makes it much easier to construct tall skyscrapers. Walk onto the rocks to the side of the structure, and be careful of your step. You will have a grand view of the park and Central Park south. The tall skinny building in the middle is named One57, whose penthouse sold for over $100 million to an unnamed person or company.

Head down from the Treehouse the way you came, and walk west to the Mall, the southern end of which is called Literary Walk. Surrounded by rows of American Elm trees, which form a canopy, this is the most important horticultural feature in the park. It is also one of the last remaining stretches of American Elm trees in North America.

The Lake at Dusk, Central Park, New York Photography
Walk north through the Mall until you reach Bethesda Terrace. Do not go down the middle steps; instead, enter from the top on either side to see it from above. This is the heart of Central Park, where everything leads. Go under the terrace and photograph the arch, then photograph Bethesda Fountain, which depicts a winged angel with four four-foot cherubs representing temperance, purity, health, and peace. Go to the water and see the Loeb Boathouse in the distance, then walk on the path to your right. Halfway along the path and to your left you will see a gorgeous view of the Lake. If you are visiting during the warmer months and during the day, you can walk the rest of this path to the Boathouse to rent a rowboat for an hour to explore the Lake. This is my favorite thing to do in all of New York.

Otherwise, walk back the way you came to Bethesda Terrace and take the path on the opposite side that goes to the northwest. This will lead you to the cast-iron Bow Bridge, the most famous structure in the Park. Hop over the fence on the left to photograph it, then cross the bridge and take the path to your right to capture the bridge from the other side.

Bethesda Terrace, Central Park, New York Photography
From here, walk back south the way you came, through Bethesda Terrace and to the Mall. When you come to the Mall head to your right towards Sheep Meadow. During the day, you can walk into the middle of Sheep Meadow to get a grand view of the buildings on Central Park south. It looks almost as if the city was cut like a slice of cake. If it is evening and Sheep Meadow is closed, walk halfway along the northern end of the fence until you can see the lights peering at you from above 42nd Street. This view is very special at dusk and night, and it is one of my favorite photographs of the city. A tripod that reaches fairly high is necessary as the fence is tall. From here, walk back the way you came to the Mall, and then walk south on your way out of the park. On your way out, you will pass Gapstow Bridge and the Pond, and occasionally at night you will see groups of people playing Pokémon Go.

Sheep Meadow View, Central Park, New York Photography

Gapstow Bridge, Central Park, New York Photography

(This guide is part of The New York Photographer’s Travel Book, which is available as a free digital download.)