I found myself in Manhattan one Sunday morning in September and decided to join a Photographing New York Tour with NYC Photosafari. I had my trusty Canon EOS 1300D with me and had packed my regular 24 X 70mm lens suitable for pretty much any shot – or so I figured. The meeting point was at Pershing Square and our party of three soon set off to start shooting the iconic New York land marks. Zim our tour lead and tutor was an expert professional photographer, a straight talking alley cat if ever there was one, adept at crouching, craning and angling to take full advantage of how to take excellent abstract shots of the urban metropolis. Zim wisecracked with steely intent that her only tour rule for photographing New York was that we weren’t allowed to shoot pigeons or squirrels. The way she said it, you kind of knew that she meant it.
And with that in mind we quickly pointed skywards at the Chrysler Building, adjusting cameras to shoot diagonally which suddenly turned a regular picture into something edgy and abstract. Zim knew all the best tips and as she was shooting with a Canon, was able to fix my muddled camera settings in, as she said “lickety-spit” time. We covered a lot of the basics including depth of field and the law of one-third. We also discussed light settings and filters. Zim was quite happy to shoot in Automatic or Program and considered it unnecessary to fiddle around with Manual settings, when the camera was quite able to determine optimum exposure. Needless to say that suited me just fine, I was happy to point and click and work on getting better compositions, rather than getting lost in my camera settings.
On we went into the Grand Central Terminal, with Zim the urban warrior zig-zagging through the traffic like a ninja. Inside, the gothic interior gave way to a huge marbled concourse, throbbing with New York ancestry while wrapping itself around a priceless four faced brass clock which stood majestically under an astronomy themed ceiling.
Zim elbowed a few dawdling tourists out of the way and soon we were photographing New York street life itself – with their reluctant permission of course. The station thronged with day trippers ambling through the historic building, booking tickets to romantic sounding places like Poughkeepsie, or dining out in its wonderful food halls. Zim spoiled us with her historical knowledge about the building, a legendary New York landmark which Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis once famously stepped in to save from redevelopment.
From there we cut across 42nd and Madison to head up to the New York Public Library – famous among other things for its Carrie Bradshaw and Mr Big wedding showdown. By this stage, our little tour group was hitting its stride and getting well acquainted. Our trio also included an equally enthusiastic photographer Relly from Israel, who as well as being an accomplished pastry chef had an excellent eye for architecture and composition. As we completed a few practice shoots outside the library our chatter slipped into discussing macarons and meringues as Zim quizzed Riley over her favourite New York bakeries. For an Israeli, Riley was surprisingly refined in her carefully chosen comments about American cuisine, but Zim was no fool and continued her interrogation on lobster rolls as we stepped it out down 42nd and 7th street.
Soon we were at Time Square ready to capture the epi-centre of New York street life. Leaving pastries aside for one dizzying moment, Zim coached us on how to truly capture the intensity of our surroundings. Her advice was not to be too greedy, to try and zone in on the essence of New York and focus on something truly iconic like the NYPD police cars or the yellow taxi’s. Up we perched on a small pavement wall as we tried to shoot the oncoming three lanes of snarling traffic. Eventually Zim kindly exchanged her wide angle lens with mine so I could capture the neon background as well as the speeding foreground. I wondered about my balance as I hung out into the street shooting image after image with the hurtling traffic unprepared to stop for no one, least of all a tourist photographing New York.
A final skyscraper shoot and we were done – asides of course from a few last pastry remarks. It was a truly enjoyable and enlightening morning and I would recommend it to anyone as a great way to experience the city that never sleeps. Not only did I learn a whole lot more about architectural photography – as Zim liked to call it – but I also got to see a side of New York that perhaps I would have only glanced at – if instead I had spent the morning wafting around Bergdorf Goodman. A reminder once again, that photography broadens the mind and gladdens the heart!