Five Steps To Capturing New York City at Sunrise

Jul 11, 2019 · 3 min read
Sunrise in the city that never sleeps is an experience that every photographer should make time for when in New York City. It doesn't matter if you've made NYC your home or like me, just visiting. Seeing the city at a moment of calm and emptiness during a summer sunrise promises to be breathtaking and peaceful.  At 4 am this particular morning, I awoke to bike across the Brooklyn to look North at the skyline, and this was my reward. 

Here are five steps to a great sunrise photo session while you're in New York City. 

1. Pick the Right Day 

On my visit, to New York City, I wasn't going to be able to get up for sunrise on multiple days. I wasn't there only to capture an epic image, so I needed to plan it out. The sunrise forecasts for the week I was visiting weren't promising - there would be no high deck of golden streaked clouds to catch the rising light, but that didn't mean there wouldn't be a great morning. I researched weather, relative humidity, and cloud forecasts to plot the best day during my visit. Determining cloud forecasts was the trickiest of the three elements to identify. Anytime I am planning a shoot I use MyRadar, weather underground, and SunsetWx. The weather, relative humidity, and cloud cover will all dictate the kind of morning you'll experience, it will impact how you choose to photograph the skyline, and what angle you think serves your vision best. 

2. Pick the Right Spot

Google is your best friend. I jumped on the internet and looked for the best views and the proper angle of the rising sun. There are dozens of articles about sunsets in New York City but few on sunrises. Part of what makes a sunrise special is how few people are willing to sacrifice a little sleep to experience a beautiful morning. Regardless, there are multiple factors to consider, as would be the case for any sunrise or sunset photo shoot. I decided my preference was to shoot away from the sun but not between the sun and the subject, allowing the skyline to catch the light from an angle while still creating visible shadows. 

I also wanted to capture an interesting foreground subject and not just a pretty skyline. This put me at Brooklyn Bridge Park facing North across the East River. One of the unique locations I was able to discover from my research. Of course, there are equally great views from places like Roosevelt Island (putting the sun directly behind you and Manhattan), or in New Jersey (with Manhattan between your camera and the sun itself). Depending on what you want from your morning and what you want in your frame will go a long way in determining your location.

3. Figure Out How You're Getting There

Once I knew where I wanted to set up my camera, I had to figure out how to get there. I was staying in midtown Manhattan, putting me about 4.5 miles from Brooklyn Bridge Park. I chose to throw on a helmet and a backpack and travel by Citi Bike. That early in the day, the bike lanes are free from errant cars and in my opinion, it's easier to commute on two wheels then make your way underground for the subway. However, if you're able to plan far in advance, consider staying closer to your photo shoot location, and you'll save yourself a few precious minutes of sleep and be able to walk leisurely. 

4. Plot Your Next Move

Getting Up for Sunrise in New York City means you'll have your camera in hand and ready to shoot during some of the most spectacular light of the day. Take full advantage! Once the sun was up, I made my way back over the Brooklyn Bridge on foot and then down to Battery Park, the 9/11 memorial, and finally the Oculus. All spectacular photography experiences in their own right, it was well worth planning these additional locations to take full advantage of the morning light.

5. Go Back To Bed

If you are lucky enough to have the option, a mid-morning nap is a great way to go. My visit to New York City came at the end of June, just after the longest day of the year, the sun rose early, around 5:30 am early. I'd captured my sunrise image by 6 am and was done walking back across the Brooklyn Bridge by 7 am and in my hotel room by 9 am. That means, while the rest of the city is crawling out of bed to go to work, I was crawling back to find a few hours sleep I'd so casually tossed aside. It is always easier committing to an early wake up if you know there is a nap on the other end! 

Camera Set Up For This Image
1 stop graduated filter
exposure of 1 sec at f22, ISO 100
26mm focal distance

brooklyn acrylic.png 919.43 KB

About Chris Laskey

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