I had a list of about twenty topics I wanted to write about in my travel and photography blog even before the website was launched. But I was struggling to find the subject for what my introductory post had to be about; it was imperative for the first post to be on something or some place very special to me. On a recent Friday evening, I went for a jog in Central Park to chip away at the mountain of thoughts and stresses from a long week at work. Everything about photography (ok, most things…) is relaxing for me and undoubtedly my thoughts wandered to the website and the nagging thought of ‘Gotta get going on that blog, buddy!’. Ugh. So much for a relaxing run. I tabled the thought until mile 2 when the Great Hill usually forces my mind to focus. The thoughts of the unstarted blog and ‘less beer more exercise’ slowly and inevitably got drowned out by just how incredibly beautiful my surroundings were. And just like that ‘duh!’ feeling of looking for sunglasses that are on your head I realized that my first blog post most certainly had to be about my beloved Central Park!
I may be biased because I am fortunate enough to live across the street from the park but Central Park is hands down the most beautiful and well cared for urban wilderness I have ever encountered. Feel free to share your favorites in comments below! Sure, Hyde Park in London, Vondelpark in Amsterdam and Yoyogi Park in Tokyo are beautiful and have their own respective charms but I don’t think they even come close to the standard set by Central Park. Credit must be given where it is due: Central Park Conservancy and its thousands of employees, volunteers and donors keep this 800 acre behemoth of a park looking as tidy and well taken care of as a front lawn in Westport, CT. I think the original planners of the city and Frederick Law Olmstead et al would be very proud of the Central Park of today and what it has meant to the generations of residents and millions of visitors to the park over the decades.
Not only is the park a much needed respite from the machine of New York City, but it also is an absolute dream for photographers like me. While the majority of the three million visitors the park gets annually (a number similar to the million acres of Yellowstone NP gets each year!) visit during regular daytime hours (10-5pm), I shoot exclusively in the golden hours (half hour before and after dawn/dusk; more on that in a subsequent blog post). Although it is true that in large parts of the park you don’t hear the midday traffic of our raucous city, but the early morning serenity of the park is beyond magical. Being on location to shoot at dusk means I’m in the park when the first slivers of light are just streaking the pitch black sky. Thankfully the park is very safe and I have never felt threatened at any time even with my expensive gear. It’s always a good idea to be aware of your surroundings when shooting solo. If you’re reading this blog and taking notes for your own photo adventure in the park, please use your best judgement.
Favorite seasons: looking at the images here, it should be no surprise that my favorite time to enjoy photographing Central Park is Fall and Winter. Let’s start with Fall: yes, I’m a leaf peeper. I’m that guy who tracks daily wind speeds and temperatures to see when my favorite areas of the park will be at peak fall foliage colors. Luck favors the well prepared and you almost have to be obsessive with these details because every year is different and one wind storm or rain at the wrong time can completely ruin fall colors. For the last six years I have been shooting at the park during the peak fall colors but all of the fall images in my portfolio are from only one year…the other years just didn’t live up to my high expectations and the images I had already created. That’s one of the key challenges of being a landscape photographer: you’re always at the mercy of nature. If the sky is too flat or the light is too uninteresting or the air too hazy for the shot you’re trying to capture then you’re just outta luck until next time!
Winter is also gorgeous in the park but you have to wait for the not so frequent snow and try to get to the park when the 1) snow is fresh 2) the light is good and 3) there are few tourists. I don’t find the rest of the year as prolific from a photography perspective but there are still plenty of opportunities to take beautiful photos and enjoy what I think is the most amazing feature of urban planning in this great city.
Favorite locations: I have made some of my favorite images of the park near The Lake. the northern part of The Lake around the Ladies Pavilion offers an awesome view of midtown Manhattan with the park and the possibility of including some interesting foreground. I must say though that the construction of the uber-tall residential buildings in Central Park South has ruined this photographic possibility for me because the new construction is so much taller than the rest of the skyline that it ruins the composition, not to mention that these buildings cast unwelcome shadows in the park.
There are over 30 bridges and arches in Central Park but Bow Bridge is a personal favorite. It is a charming complement to the Upper West Side skyline and the park. I love the cast iron details on the bridge and the location has photographic potential in all seasons.
Close by is probably my favorite location in the park: Bethesda Terrace! The photographic potential here is tremendous with the Bethesda Fountain and the gorgeous tile work inside the terrace. You can experiment with various focal lengths here so try out some compositions with a wide angle as well as a zoom lens.
Another photo hot spot is the southeast side of the park near Gapstow Bridge. It offer many opportunities to capture the urban park charm of Central Park by including the iconic buildings of Central Park South in the composition. Mccaulay Culkin’s favorite hotel, The Plaza, is right there. 🙂
Hope this blog post gets you started on your own Central Park photo adventure. Most of the fun is to get out and enjoy the amazing scenery and capture images that are meaningful to you, both from an artistic as well as emotional perspective. Finally, what do you think about my blog name: Best of Light? At the core of it all, we’re all chasing beautiful light in gorgeous locations to create images that give us joy. So, until next time, Best of Light!