Photographing New York from the River

In my previous Photo Location Guide articles on the exploration of New York as a travel photographer, I have shared my favorite ways to photograph the stunning panoramic views of Manhattan from Hamilton Park, New Jersey, and unveiled my hack on how to photograph the city from a very unconventional perspective; the top deck of the tour bus.

Photographing New York from the River

New York is a very rewarding location for any photographer, and by walking along the streets of the city or riding on top of the bus you have an opportunity to photograph the city from the inside, resulting in up-close and personal photos of New York.

Today I continue to share my New York experiences and how to get another unique perspective of the city, this time by positioning yourself outside of the island but still staying close by. Manhattan is surrounded by rivers, and photographing it from water level provides us with wide, unobstructed views, but still close enough for using standard lenses.

Travel Photography Blog: New York Manhattan
New York. Manhattan. East River
Loc: 40.7037, -74.0006

Here is another popular tourist attraction that you can hack and use as a launching pad for your photography: the Circle Line Boat Cruise. The Circle Line has a wide variety of cruises, but from a travel photography standpoint, I believe that the Semi-Circle Harbor Light Cruise provides the best value.

The cruise is relatively short at 1.5 hours but covers pretty much all of the landmarks of Manhattan along the Hudson and East Rivers. Since it is a semi-circle cruise you get to pass all the landmarks twice.

The cruise starts on the West Side in Midtown then moves toward Ellis Island and Liberty Island along the Hudson River, enters the East River cruising under iconic bridges, makes a U-turn just before Roosevelt Island, then returns to port.

Travel Photography Blog: New York Manhattan
New York. Liberty Island
Loc: 40.69191, -74.04067

What makes this cruise unique is its late departure (7:00pm), approximately 1 hour before sunset in summertime. This means that as a passenger you get to experience the pre-sunset golden hour, then 20-30 minutes after the sunset, the best time for travel and landscape photography.

And, since you are always on the move, you take tons of pictures of different parts of Manhattan during the same sunset. The ratio of keeper photos per sunset is through the roof.

Tips on photographing New York from Circle Line Boat

  • Arrive at Pier 83 in advance so you can choose the seat you want.
  • Try to get a seat on the left side of the boat. I find that the light is more favorable in the first hour of the cruise, then it gets too dark in the last 30 minutes.
  • Choose a seat on the open upper-deck; otherwise, the view will be obstructed when you want to shoot upwards.
  • Have a lens cloth handy, as you will get your lens splashed on many occasions.
  • It can be shaky during the cruise, so make sure you use fast shutter speed to avoid blurry photos.
  • Be ready while passing under the bridges as it provides a unique perspective on the iconic arches.
  • Watch for the sun. It will be setting behind the skyline of Manhattan, and as it is shielded by the high-rises you can capture a beautiful glowing effect around the buildings of the island.
  • Pay attention to the rivers as well. It might surprise you how busy it gets during the summertime with a serious amount of water traffic. Photo opportunities will present themselves.
Travel Photography Blog: New York Manhattan
New York. Manhattan. Hudson River
Loc: 40.7230, -74.0209
Travel Photography Blog: New York Manhattan
New York. Manhattan. East River
Loc: 40.7037, -74.0006
Travel Photography Blog: New York Manhattan Bridge
New York. Manhattan
Loc: 40.7073, -73.9892
Photographing New York from the River 1
New York. Manhattan. East River. Brooklyn Bridge
Loc: 40.7045, -73.9974
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.

Leave a Comment