Photo of the One57 building. Red from the reflected sunset.

Will our photos stand out in the crowd?

Double exposure photo of the Empire State Building and the One World Trade Center.
Trying to show your vision among the crowd could mean experimenting. Here I tried double exposures. Click to enlarge.

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.

Tourists watching the buildings below on Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller Center.
Sometimes you have to document the place in a simple way. Here is the Observation Deck and visitors. Click to enlarge.

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.

Double exposure photo of the room with motion activated lights. A tourist takes pictures. Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller Center.
A double exposure photograph of a room with motion activated lights and people having fun. Click to enlarge.

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.

Photo of the One57 building. Red from the reflected sunset.
The red-colored clouds of the sunset are reflected from the windows and metal of the One57 building. Click to enlarge.

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.

Long exposure photo with zooming and panning showing trails of city lights.
A mixture of zooming and panning turns the illuminated buildings into an abstract, dynamic and vibrant image. Click to enlarge.

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!!

9 thoughts on “Will our photos stand out in the crowd?”

  1. I’m not nearly as skilled at photography as yourself, but my goal is to try to give my friends and family a feel for any place we visit. I ask myself, what will tell the story, what will make the place come alive, how can I show the “real” side. I love your pictures, the angles you chose and the creativity. You inspire me to improve!


    1. It all depends on your photographic subjects. In my experience, if you like nature/landscape this lens would be OK, but if you like urban or interior shots I would choose a lens that starts at 24 mm like Canon’s 24-105. I wrote a post about using a Nikon 24-120 as a travel lens: Hope it helps!


      1. Oops! I was answering your comment to the Top of the Rock post and now I see you already saw the travel lenses one! I can only add that big name photographers like Art Wolfe who shoot with 16-35 and 70-200 lenses comment that they seem to be using more and more the 24-105…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Whenever there are just too many tourists, I limit my activity to simply scouting the views with the intention of returning at an ungodly hour when everyone no one in their right mind would be out with a camera gear. Then I really give my subject a thorough treatment. Obviously this will not be possible with the tops of most buildings but for example, Paris during the day is a tourist zoo and traffic zoo and Paris at 3am is sublime…


  3. I don’t cope too well when it’s overly-filled with tourists. Unlike you, I’m not 6’3″ so it’s a struggle. But I suppose if I could have my way, I’d opt to get there early, if possible, before everyone else.

    These photos make me wish I was back in New York… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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