One World Observatory: Shooting New York from above

 In Architecture + Cityscapes, Travel: Way Out of Chicago

Last year, after a long wait and a lot of anticipation, One World Observatory‎, the observatory at the top of One World Trade Center, finally opened. After 14 years, there is an observatory in Lower Manhattan again. I never had the chance to go up the twin towers, so when I visited New York City last summer, One World Observatory was near the top of my list of locations.

The experience starts when you step in the elevator: the walls are digital screens that display the evolution of New York City through time. It is both amazing and emotional. And then you get to the observatory and the views are breathtaking. One World Trade Center really dominates Lower Manhattan and you have 360 views over Manhattan, Brooklyn, Jersey City and all the way to the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island.

One World Observatory - New York, NY

I particularly love how Midtown Manhattan appears like a wall with the Empire State Building in the middle. The view towards Brooklyn, with the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge, is also beautiful.

One World Observatory - New York, NY

Shooting from One World Observatory

I timed my visit to arrive just before the sunset and I have to say it was perfect. A got a couple of shots during golden hour and then the blue hour was just amazing. It is my favorite time to shoot cityscapes, and I think it’s the best time for OWO.

Overall, it was easy to find spots to shoot, except when shooting straight to the north (towards Midtown). Because of the shape of the building, there is only a corner where you can shoot, so it tends to be busy. I’d recommend setting up early for that shot.

One World Observatory - New York, NY

One thing that has changed compared to the original observatory is that OWO is all indoors. It means that have to shoot through glass and be careful of reflections, especially at night. While you can use your hands or clothes to avoid reflections, my favorite tool is the Lenskirt. It’s a hood that covers your lens and attaches to glass with suction cups, blocking out reflections.

Tripods are not allowed (you can always try to ask their marketing department four weeks in advance), but I had no issues with my GorillaPod, a small and flexible tripod. Alternatives like the Platypod will be great too!

One World Observatory - New York, NY

While it’s hard to take a bad shot with such amazing views, there are a few things to look for. A big city like New York is a paradise for leading lines: streets, bridges and shorelines can help tell a story. Try to find a foreground, like a nearby building to make your image more compelling.

While the wide views are gorgeous, take the time to zoom in on smaller scenes (like the one just above). There is so much to explore!

This is truly a beautiful spot and it offers views like no other places in New York City. I really recommend you check it out when visiting!

Interested in seeing more of New York with Michael? Sign up for the Out of New York Conference, Oct. 14-15, 2016. Michael will be teaching and leading photowalks as well as an all-day workshop. Register now at outofnewyork.com!

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Showing 3 comments
  • Keith French
    Reply

    Great Work Michael,
    Thanks for the tip on the lens skirt, I used to work with a home made version of black cloth tape and velcro. But it was not fast and easy like the lens skirt looks. You probably know this but here in Chicago, The Hancock tower started allowing tripods on Mondays only. I’ve seen some great stuff out of those shoots.
    Best,
    Keith

  • Angie
    Reply

    Love the last shot, Michael! They’re all great but I love speckling of lights in the foreground.

  • Bob Crocker
    Reply

    Very cool point of view. When you don’t have a drone, this is the way too go. 😎

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