The Best Spot for Photographing New York City from Above

It was the middle of August and probably the hottest weekend of the year in New York. With temperatures way above 30 degrees and the humidity close to 100%, it felt like walking on a frying pan. Of course, that was the week we picked for our first non-work related visit to New York.

It was afternoon, and we were slowly navigating our way from Greenwich Village to Midtown, with our final destination being the Empire State Building. We stopped at a coffee shop to cool down and rest.

The Best Spot for Photographing New York City from Above 1
New York. Manhattan. View From Rockefeller Center
Loc: 40.75905, -73.97841

This is when we started a conversation with an older gentleman who overheard us speaking in a foreign language (Russian) and asked us where we came from. I said that we were from eastern Canada (Quebec), but our language was not French. As a result, more questions followed.

After chatting for 10 minutes or so, our new friend Harry asked me where we were heading after the coffee break. The answer was the Empire State Building, which was when Harry surprised us with his NYC insights.

He said that if we were planning to visit the Empire State Building, we should expect the following:

  • Waiting in line will take hours.
  • It will be expensive.
  • The observation deck will be crowded.
  • The observation platform is small and caged in.
  • And most importantly, there is no way to take pictures of the iconic New York City skyline with the Empire State Building in them.

When Harry saw our confusion, he laughed and offered us an alternate solution; he recommended we go to Rockefeller Center’s Observation Deck instead.

After a short hesitation, we took Harry’s advice since he seemed like a sincere and trustworthy local guy. We were glad we took it.

Long story short, we spent a maximum of 10 minutes in line at Rockefeller Center, it was relatively inexpensive, and the modern 2-level observation deck was spacious and beautiful.

Travel Photography Blog: New York Manhattan

Instead of a metal cage to prevent exiting tourists from jumping off the 69th floor, it has wide glass panels with enough clearance between them to fit a DSLR lens to take unobstructed shots.

The deck’s upper level is smaller than the lower one, and it does not have any protective glass panels at all. If you jump from the upper deck, you can only land on the lower-level floor with minor injuries. No luck for jumpers there.

And the 360° panoramic view from the upper level is spectacular, especially the iconic view of lower Manhattan and the Hudson River with the Empire State Building as the focal point.

Harry was right on every point.

After that visit, the “Top of the Rock” became one of my favorite locations, which I always include in my New York itinerary.

Photography Tip

The regulation about tripods is kind of loose. You can use a tripod, like a monopod, without extending its legs. This allows you to bend the rules and use them when nobody is around.

The Best Spot for Photographing New York City from Above 2
New York. Manhattan. View From Rockefeller Center
Loc: 40.75905, -73.97841
Travel Photography Blog: New York Manhattan
New York. Manhattan. View From Rockefeller Center
Loc: 40.75905, -73.97841
Travel Photography Blog: New York Manhattan
New York. Manhattan. View From Rockefeller Center
Loc: 40.75905, -73.97841
Travel Photography Blog: New York Manhattan
New York. Manhattan. From Rockefeller Center from Street Level
Loc: 40.75905, -73.97841
by Viktor Elizarov
I am a travel photographer and educator from Montreal, Canada, and a founder of PhotoTraces. I travel around the world and share my experiences here. Feel free to check my Travel Portfolio and download Free Lightroom Presets.