A Landscape Photographer in New York

In January 2024 we visited an extraordinary landscape, New York City, or more specifically Manhattan Island, a place as far removed from our base in the Yorkshire Dales as you can get. 

To put the difference into perspective, Manhattan’s population of 1.6m people live in an area of just 23 square miles, a number that swells to 3.9m with weekday commuters when the population density reaches 170,000 per square mile. In contrast Muker Parish has a population of  260 people in an area of of 47 square miles, or a density of 5.5 people per square mile. 

If Manhattan’s tallest building, One World Trade Centre, had instead been built in the village of Muker, it would tower 250 metres above Kisdon Hill and would overlook Great Shunner, the third highest fell in the Yorkshire Dales. 

Perhaps most importantly NYC is home to ~1,600 pizza restaurants whilst Muker Parish, in fact the whole of Upper Swaledale, is home to none! Now surely there’s a business opportunity there!  

One thing the two places did have in common was the weather. When we visited it was remarkably similar, sub zero temperatures, snow and a chill wind, or to put it another way, cold! That said, for me the weather conditions were pretty perfect (though more snow would have been good). 

Now we’re back it’s a good opportunity to reflect on some of the things I learned trying to photograph a cityscape, and the first thing to say is that the greats of photography are greats for a reason. My respect for Ernst Haas and Saul Leiter, who I admired immensely before the trip, only grew. Their eye for a shot, attention to detail and ability to capture a moment, is way beyond normal human capability. 

A second thing was dealing with people. As the population figures suggest,  people are everywhere in Manhattan and try as you might they just can’t be avoided. Most irritatingly they don’t stop moving accept when you don’t want them to stop! I now understand the appeal of range finder cameras for street photography, the ability to see around the edges of the frame is invaluable!

A third thing was to go both high and low. Views from Top of the Rock and The Edge, especially at sunset aren’t to be missed, but perhaps street level is the place to capture the essence of Manhattan. Somewhere in between can be pretty decent too. Our room on the 39th floor of the Hilton Millennium UN Plaza had perhaps the best view of all. 

A fourth thing is the advantage of having a camera with a good IBIS system and fast lenses. Lose the tripod and to go light weight! Tripods are simply a trip hazard on the streets and typically aren’t allowed up on the viewing platforms. My kit for the trip consisted of a Nikon Z7 paired with a Nikon 24-120mm F4, a Nikon 24mm F1.8 and a Voigtlander 40mm f1.2.  I also took a Nikon 100-400mm and light weight tripod, but both stayed in the hotel room for most of the trip. 

Perhaps the most important lesson I brought back home was the importance of contrast. Contrast in colour, contrast in shade, contrast in subject matter, contrast in scale, contrast in age, contrast in wealth, Manhattan is full of contrast! Making use of contrast greatly increases a photograph’s impact and visual appeal. 

Do I think I grabbed any original photographs? No. Am I happy with what I got in six days? Yes. Would I go again? In an instant! Would I go again in winter? Yes, but my wife says no! 

If or when I do go again I’ll want a take a few weeks or perhaps a couple of months to soak in the city. I’d like to find the places to just sit and watch and have time to wait for just the right time to press the button, and while I wait I’d like to grow fat on NYC pizza and American cheesecake! 

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