In the next chapter of our photos of New York series I want to share with you our experiences about what it’s like to photograph Downtown Manhattan around the financial district and the One World Trade Centre and Memorial Plaza.
After the tragic events of 9/11 the area of Downtown Manhattan has been rebuilt, reimagined but hasn’t lost any of that New York style and spirit which is great for street photography.
Downtown Manhattan includes the areas of Battery Park, Wall Street, Broadway and One World Trade Centre skyscrapers. It’s a district that’s preserved many of the traditional architectural styles of New York as well as blending in the new, more progressive styles of buildings. It really is a combination of two worlds.
That type of conflict looks great in a photograph which is why I made sure one of our photography workshop routes took in this iconic viewpoint. Our day began in Battery Park, but with a strong morning light and hazy skies, capturing effective shots of the Statue of Liberty proved hard.
Sometimes it’s better to walk away from a shot rather than come home with a half-baked attempt that you aren’t happy with.
A wander through the park gave us a nice foreground to frame shots of the taller buildings in the distance through small gaps in the branches and foliage. It’s always best to expose for the sky in these instances of high contrast, as shadows are more recoverable in editing than blown out highlights – unless they’re too dark. But at least people see shadows naturally – we’re not used to seeing skies that are pure white.
Wall Street was a lot more underwhelming than I thought it would be. I think the level of security and maze of buildings in the area meant that the surface streets were just for the tourists. We didn’t see lots of smart-suited bankers and blacked out saloons – maybe my hopes were set too high!
Either way, it was an opportunity to adapt – and this is what photographers should embrace. It taught me to look for something different that encapsulated the famous Wall Street, and this is the challenge I gave to our workshop photographers.
…take 5 photos of Wall Street in either an abstract style or by filling the frame…
The purpose of this challenge was to focus on the smaller features and elements of the buildings around us. Given the level of security and number of tourists, getting a clean shot of the beautiful buildings was proving tricky to shoot on a wide lens. Filling the frame meant we had to get closer, take time to study the buildings and cut out anything that wasn’t important to the shot.
All these challenges I’d been giving the group are transferable skills to keep in mind and use again wherever they take their camera. One of the biggest problems I see beginner photographers have is being clear about the purpose of their shot. Some might shoot very wide and include everything, but this can confuse an audience as to what the shot is about.
Photographers should use their lens to frame their story exactly; whether you move closer or zoom in, it’s better than heavily cropping the photo after the fact and destroying the resolution.
After we left Wall Street, no richer than when we arrived unfortunately, we zig-zagged across Broadway to our next stop at the Oculus.
The Oculus is a wing-shaped cover to the underground shopping mall, subway terminus and food market on the edge of the World Trade Centre memorial site. It is a beautiful structure from the outside, but much too wide to capture even with a short focal length. Instead of trying, we opted to shoot at creative angles and only including parts of the wings and using its clean leading lines to frame the shot.
Inside the Oculus is just as spectacular and offers a stunningly symmetrical view from the mezzanine. It was crying out to be photographed on a wide lens which encapsulates the grace and scale of the building.
The One World Trade Centre building is a landmark in New York like no other. While it is a marker of what happened in the past, it is also a sign of the future and the city’s determination to persevere and rehabilitate.
The weather was warm, with very few clouds in the sky meaning that the light reflected perfectly off the metallic skeleton and highly polished glass. As much as you couldn’t ignore the building in the skyline it felt like it was designed to blend seamlessly into the area. The skyscraper took on the colours of the day and can look totally different whenever you visit.
Given the scale of the building we tried something creative when photographing One World Trade Centre – vertical panoramas. Typically, panoramic images are taken horizontally but given the scale and proximity to the building we turned our cameras around and did something different.
With a little bit of perspective distortion correction in editing the shot came out great with lots of colour, detail, and strong geometrical shaping. You can use your camera to take multiple images which you stitch together later in Photoshop or Lightroom for example. Alternatively, most phones have a panorama mode built-in to try out too.
While we were at the One World Trade Centre building it gave us an opportunity to take in the last memorial to those people who innocently lost their lives on 9/11. I’ve visited the site previously in 2005, but it was still being excavated so it was fantastic to see it all completed.
There was a respectful hush about the site, people coming to look at the infinity waterfall and reading the names of all who were lost on the plaques around the edge. I think taking photos at places like this are just other ways to keep their memories alive. It’s not disrespectful if you focus the shot on something specific.
I chose to take a few images of the names and flowers left by family and friends. It just shows that even 20+ years later memories haven’t faded and photos help with that.
These images of Downtown New York were part of our USA photography workshop. If you like the idea of joining us on an iPhotography photo walk or workshop keep an eye out on our dedicated booking page to find out when the next event is.
Photo walks are perfect for photographers of all experience levels. They give you the opportunity to meet new photographers, share tips, get help and better understand your camera and what makes great photos.