How to Photograph the Empire State Building

This Saturday evening from 8pm-midnight, the Empire State Building will be illuminated with gigantic photos of endangered species. It should be an amazing display and a great chance for any photographer to capture something unique and beautiful. But the question is, “What’s the best way to do this?”
First you will need to find a clear shot of the building. It is reported that the projections will be on the south facing side of the building, and the best angles of the south facing side of the Empire State Building are along 5th avenue north of Madison Square Park. If it is possible to find a rooftop even better.
Taking photos at night always presents problems due to lack of light. Here are the potential problems and solutions while photographing this event:

Problem: Lack of steadiness due to slow shutter speed.
Solution:  A sturdy tripod. Be sure to turn off Image Stabilization or Vibration Reduction if you plan to use a tripod.

Problem: Focus – it is often difficult to manual focus when it’s dark out. The camera may also have problems with focus as well.
Solution: Try using the magnifying function in live view. Stop your aperture down to f/11 or f/16

Problem: Camera shake due to shutter release.
Solution: Use Live View or Mirror Lock UP along with a cable release or use a timed release.

Problem: Empire State Building and the images projected are blown out, due to the fact that the background is very dark relative to the building and projection.
Solution: Under expose the image by about 1-2 stops or until you get the right exposure on the building w/ the projection.

Problem: Even after following the suggestions above, the images are still not sharp due to camera shake.
Solution: If you have turned off IS/VR and you are using a remote/cable shutter release the problem likely lies below your feet. In Manhattan, there are numerous subway lines and tons of traffic moving by every road and this may add vibration to your image. If you are on a rooftop you may have problems with the wind or even the building. Buildings move and sway – the taller they are the more likely they are to move. If you are on a balcony there is a greater likelihood of movement. The best you can do is to speed up your shutter speed. This will make it difficult to shoot f/16. You will need to either bring your ISO up or you will need to open up your f/stop. If you are sure that you have good focus there should be no reason why you wouldn’t want to simply open up your f/stop.

Problem: What mode to shoot in?
Solution: If you are having focusing problems, you would probably want to use Aperture priority and set the system to f/16 or there abouts. If you are having problems with shake you will want to use Shutter Priority and set the fastest shutter speed you can get to without having to compromise your ISO too much. If the projected images are fairly consistent in tone and contrast and there are not a lot of clouds moving in and out of the sky, then you can use Manual mode.  

That’s it. Have fun everyone.

Please note that the images in the NY Times article of the ESB is a computer generated mock up of what they would like it to look like. Whether or not it will look this dramatic is yet to be seen. Further more the image is taken from the west facing east. It is reported that the images will be projected on the south side of the building which means you will be facing north.



How to use your tripod--NYC Photo Safari

Even if you have properly set up your tripod as we explained in our previous post and correctly mounted your camera, you aren't quite done. We have one more important tip to help you extend the life of your equipment. When making an adjustment to your camera position, don't just twist the camera. Instead, release the appropriate knob or handle. If you only twist your camera, you are likely to loosen up the lock or strip the thread on your camera.

Photography tips by NYC Photo Safari

Although using a tripod is a lot less complicated than a camera, we see people out on our night time photo safaris all the time doing it badly. Their technique isn't wrong per se, but it could be better.

1. Extending the legs of your tripod. Leave all of the legs collapsed towards the center column and not spread out. Extend one leg starting at the bottom section and then locking it tight. Extend the next one and then the next one until you reach the desired height. This leg should be a little bit shorter than the final height you think you will need your tripod to be. Now extend the other two legs to match. Use the ground to help make sure all the legs are the same length.

2. Now spread each leg away from the center column until it is out and fully locked.

3. Position your tripod so that one leg is pointing at the subject. This gives you a place to stand. This way it won't be in your way and you won't inadvertently knock over your tripod.

4. Give your tripod a firm push down to make sure that all your legs are tightly/properly locked.

5. Attach your camera to the tripod head. If you have a quick release plate be sure to remove it from the head and attach it first. Make sure it's FIRMLY attached.

6. If you are using a pan tilt head, be sure to have the handles close to you. If you are using a ball head, position the head so that the knobs/releases are located conveniently and the vertical slot is on the left or the right (certainly to the opposite side of any walls).

7. Ready to pack up your tripod? Simply bring all the legs together first. Then turn the entire unit upside down. Release all of the leg locks and let gravity help you collapse the legs. Lock them all up and off you go.

Want to learn to use your tripod better join us for a night photography workshop NYC After Dark or Central Park at Night

NYC Photo Safari Info

NYC Photo Tours - Iconic Manhattan Tours New York City Photo Safari, LLC is owned and operated by local New Yorkers! For more information about our photographers click here.

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