I am at Top of the Rock in Rockefeller Center and every single person crowding the rooftop seems to be clicking away the breathtaking view with a camera or a smartphone. Gigabytes of pictures will soon be uploaded and posted in Social Media. Will I get one better picture, or at least a different one?
We are not a million monkeys typing on a million typewriters: We all have smart typewriters thanks to modern camera engineers. There will be many nice photos taken today. If not new, at least the pictures I take will be my own!
My wife and I got up there more than an hour before sunset. Nice warm afternoon and fairly clear skies promised good light. We started shooting towards Central Park before the shadows of the buildings darkened the early fall colors of the trees. Any shots of the Empire State looked as old photos from the 60’s because of the strong back light.
We were getting a bit bored and started walking around. Then we entered a room equipped with motion-activated led lights and all of a sudden we were having fun taking photos… but so were the other tourists that came in and saw what we were doing.
I had tried double exposures at the Grand Central Station and liked the result. I started to make pictures of my wife while she made her own smartphone pics when two men came into the room. One of them posed laughing against a wall and I got a quick shot of him while my wife was shooting towards the ceiling and the blue lights activated. For the second exposure I pointed my camera to the ceiling lights and activated them by opening the door. Good luck: I got red lights now: a keeper.
Back at the terrace, the sun started to set and distant clouds turned deep red. Like all the other people I started to take photos towards downtown and got somewhat better views of the Empire State and the One World Trade Center. It was not dark enough and the building lights did not look shiny in the photos. I tried double exposures again while I waited for the blue hour and then I remembered one of my rules: Whenever you see great light, always look to your back… and I saw the sunset reflected on the shiny metal and glass of the One57 building near Central Park.
The north side of the deck was empty and had no trouble finding a place to rest my camera. I composed a picture with the red-glowing One57 building on the left of the frame and the George Washington bridge on the right and I was rewarded with another reflection of the sunset on a building on the New Jersey side of the river. I took some more frames working the subject and returned to the crowded south face.
I had lost my first row view and tried my best to get pictures above people’s heads. Luckily I am 6′ 3″ and I have live view on my camera’s LCD. I eventually elbowed my way to the balcony border and was able to rest my camera on the wall. It was much darker now. I heard a camera next to my ear clicking in continuous mode: it was a man hoping to get a sharp frame out of a series of shots taken at “please sweetie do your best” shutter speed. I was thankful to have the support of the wall.
After fighting the low light levels for a while I thought: How about using movement to get the many lights into an abstract, full of motion design? Inspired by Pollock and all the paint throwing works I had seen at MoMA I started panning, zooming and shaking the camera for a great finale. No more suffering trying to get sharp, detailed shots. Pure fun. This is, after all, what vacation and picture taking have to be about.
I would love to hear how you cope with photography in touristy places!!