Travel photography 101: The best places to take photos in New York City

New York is the most photographed city in the world…

so find a unique angle!

There is no shortage of cameras in New York City; Flickr has even recognized the Big Apple as the ‘most photographed city in the world’. But many visitors go for the obvious shot, focusing their lens on iconic landmarks like the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center memorial or the Statue of Liberty.

In order to get a unique travel shot that captures the spirit of New York, you have to think like a local. The following are my favorite places to snap photos for Downtown Traveler.

Whether you are shooting on a smartphone or a DSLR, you are guaranteed to get at least one outstanding photo in these locations. Get ready for your friends and social followers to ooh and ah over your photography skills!

1. City Parks

Camping in Central Park NYC-26

As the crown jewel of the New York City parks system, Central Park is not an off-the-beaten path destination. But it is possible to capture a unique photo here. I had the good fortune of winning the NY Urban Rangers camping lottery and spent a night in the upper reaches of Central Park. One thing I discovered: Central Park closes at 1am every night. That means you can take your camera and tripod and snap photos throughout the park when it is virtually empty. You’ll make some interesting discoveries, like the sky never gets truly black since there are so many lights in Manhattan.

If you aren’t up for a nighttime sojourn, no worries– the daytime people watching is spectacular at any New York city park.

2. Williamsburg

Williamsburg Bklyn Smorgasburg-10

Known worldwide as a hipster Mecca, Williamsburg is the best neighborhood to snap street fashion photos. No argument. You will see characters here! Whether you are at Smorgasburg, the Brooklyn Flea, a Christmas market or just hanging out, expect to see ridiculously young, ridiculously trendy people doing ridiculous things.

3. Art Fairs

2012 Frieze New York City Art Fair Olaf Nicolai 03

I loooooove art fairs! It’s not because I am an art collector or harbor a secret desire to be the next Picasso (OK, maybe that’s true). One of my main motivations for attending Armory Arts Week and the Frieze Art Fair each year is the people watching. Eccentric characters of all ages, races and styles attend the city fairs. Expect an older, more upscale crowd at established fairs like Armory or Volta; a younger, fashionable, upscale crowd at Frieze; a young and grungy crowd at Fountain (heavy on the Montreal street artists), and anything goes at free festivals like Howl and Figment.

4. Bridges

Bike N Roll NYC Bike Tour-0081

To get a panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline, you have to actually leave Manhattan. Head to one of our pedestrian-friendly bridges (try the Manhattan or Brooklyn Bridges) to snap pics of tourists and bicyclists with an amazing backdrop.

5. Times Square

Us against the world! @ Times Square

Times Square is among our most photographed landmarks, but that can work to your advantage. I enjoy taking photos in Times Square because people don’t have their guards up. There are so many tourists with cameras here that your DSLR won’t stand out. You can liberally snap candid shots without your subjects taking any notice of you– and you won’t find many other places in the world so densely populated with tourists, people in Disney costumes, adorable dogs, cops and horses.

6. The Dog Parade

NYC Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade 2010

Parades are great places to take photos in New York City; they are filled with happy people in outrageous outfits who can’t wait to be photographed. But hands down, the best parade for photography is the annual Halloween Dog Parade in Tompkins Square Park. While the pooches are indifferent to photographers, their humans absolutely love having their dogs become the center of attention. I have never once faced rejection when asking, “can I take a photo of your dog? He’s so cute!” The dog owners will actually pose their dogs for you, or try to get them to look at the camera. I like zooming out to get the owner in the frame. It’s a great way to add context to the shot!

7. Santa Con

SantaCon NY 2011 East Village presents

If you are looking for a photo op, do not miss any “con”– SantaCon, ZombieCon or NY Comic Con! SantaCon is an all-day bar crawl that always includes a few stops in the East Village (my neighborhood). You know the event has arrived when you start seeing barely-legal NYU students dressed as Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, Rudolph or sexy Christmas trees at 10 in the morning. Lines stretch out of pubs by noon and Santas are passed out on the curb by late afternoon. As with parades, SantaCon participants are happy to have their photos snapped. But be careful- you might get vomited on!

8. Storms

Spectators watching the FDNY unload a boat onto 14th St last night #Sandy #NYC

When the first snowflakes hit the ground, I grab my phone and head to the parks: Tompkins Square, Washington Square, Union Square, Madison Square and Central. There’s nothing as exciting as New York City during a snowstorm; kids and adults are equally pumped to make snowmen, and New Yorkers can engage in our favorite pastime: complaining about the slush and commute. While Hurricane Sandy was no breeze– and I did not enjoy the five day Lower Manhattan blackout that followed– it totally transformed the New York we are used to seeing. Jake and I grabbed our iPhones and shot photos of the storm coming, then waded (literally) around our neighborhood after to survey the damage, snapping pics of downed trees and the FDNY rowing down 14th Street. It was surreal seeing our neighborhood paralyzed by the storm.

9. Astor Place

Fascinated by this ever-evolving flea market at Astor Place subway #eastvillage

Like Williamsburg, the East Village is a great place to see young, fashionable people wearing outrageous fashions. But the neighborhood isn’t just about NYU undergrads; there are plenty of eccentric characters, bicyclists, artists and pugs to photograph. Start at Astor Place, home to the famous “cube” sculpture, and walk east on St Marks. You’ll pass professional couples with sweater-wearing Pomeranians, “crusties” (traveling homeless youth who pan handle with their pit bulls) and maybe even the Mosaic Man (a neighborhood artist who covers lamp-posts in mosaic murals). It’s an ideal place to hone your street photography skills.

10. NY Comic Con

NY Comic Con 2012-67

San Diego may boast the biggest and most famous comic con, but New York City’s festival holds it own in the costume department. As a fan of fantasy/sci fi, I personally enjoy going to NY Comic Con for the people watching, kinship with other fans and chance to hear TV stars dish on cast-members. (A gossip-filled presentation by Spike from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was a favorite moment). As NY Comic Con gains popularity, scoring a press pass has become quite difficult, but it’s worth paying for a day pass to experience this orgy of fan boys and fan girls. Similar to parade goers, NY Comic Con attendees want you to notice their intricate costumes (which they often make from scratch) and will eagerly pose for photographs.

11. Coney Island

Coney Island Brooklyn (26 of 20)

Coney Island is an iconic New York destination, but many first-time visitors don’t make it here. This amusement park/boardwalk/beach is humming with activity in the summer, and there are ample people-watching opportunities. Make sure to snap photos of Coney Island‘s Wonder Wheel (a massive, creaky old ferris wheel), Cyclone (a historic wooden roller coaster) and carnival attractions. When you finish, head to Brighton Beach for Russian food and more photo ops!

12. Gay Pride Parade

NYC Gay Pride Parade 2010

If you are going to hit up one human (non-dog) parade in New York City, it should be the Gay Pride Parade. This colorful celebration of LGBT culture attracts participants from every walk of life; marchers include Episcopalian ministers and drag queens. The crowd is typically friendly and the atmosphere is festive but lacking the over-the-top drunken antics that come with the Halloween parade. Floats tend to throw tchotchkes, so you may end up with a “Tel Aviv Pride” magnet or Mardis Gras beads!

13. Dance Parade


This lesser-known parade does not have the lengthy history of the Gay Pride Parade but is equally lively. NY Dance Parade floats blast techno, funk and Bolivian music as dance teams march down St Marks Place to Tompkins Square Park. The photo ops are excellent, as the crowds are sparse at the end and you can snag a spot right by the metal barricades. Favorite dancers from recent parades include a team of women in spandex shorts dancing on roller skates; a guy with impressive hula hoop skills; salsa dancing couples; and the many South American dance teams that feature rows of leaping men and twirling women in traditional costumes.

14. Halloween Parade

NYC Village Halloween Parade 2011_Demonic crew

Watching the NYC Halloween Parade qualifies as a night out. There’s drinking, music, skimpy outfits, shouting and all-around revelry. This is Manhattan’s version of Mardis Gras. Unless you want to spend half a day lining up for the event, don’t plan on marching. Instead, bring your DSLR and take photos of the crowd at the sidelines. I often don’t make it close to the parade itself; I take photos of the costumed crowd on the fringe.

15. Protests

NYC Occupy Wall Street Rally Oct 8 2011 marx sign

Like most of the US, New Yorkers are not big on protests. This is not Buenos Aires or Athens, where political or labor marches are a daily occurrence. However, when we do have a protest, it is guaranteed to be colorful. Occupy Wall Street provided many photo ops before Zuccotii park was cleared, from clever posters to costumed activists.

What’s your favorite spot for snapping photos in NYC?

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About Leslie Koch

I'm a New Yorker with a passion for travel and art. I founded after returning from a year-long backpacking trip around the world. Find me on Twitter at @leslietravel.