It’s a New York truism that for the best views of Manhattan, you need to leave the island – or rise high above it. The Top of the Rock Observation Deck takes you to the soaring 70th floor for some of the finest vistas of NYC.
Beyond gazing out at the sweeping skyline, most visitors are doing two things at Top of the Rock: Taking a photo or posing for one. We’ve compiled photo tips, from choosing the best light of day to mastering portrait shots to making the most of your digital camera and iPhone. Say cheese.
All Clear: Visibility
Perhaps one of the most important factors for quality photos at the Top of the Rock Observation Deck is the visibility – clear or overcast? It can be tough to gauge just by looking up at the sky. But the Top of the Rock Observation Deck monitors visibility, measuring it on a 0 to 5 scale. You can check with the staff and security guards at the front entrance, and they’ll let you know the current readings. Keep in mind, too, that visibility can change quickly, going from cloudy to bright in the space of an hour.
Timing is Everything
The best light for photos at Top of the Rock is right when it opens, at 8am, as well as in the hour before the sun sets, also known as the golden – or magic – hour. On the other hand, high noon (10am–2pm) can be more challenging, especially for portraits; that’s when you’ll sometimes get photos with “raccoon eyes.”
There’s another bonus to going in the early morning hours: You’ll beat the crowds. Not only does this make it easier to position yourself for great shots, but the shimmering skyline is that much more magnificent when you have it to yourself.
Bright Lights, Big City
The skyline view during the day is superb; but for many, it’s even more so at night. The city glows under a rainbow of lights, which often translates beautifully in photos. To maximize your night pictures, switch your digital camera to the manual setting so that you can adjust the ISO and turn off the flash. Change the ISO to 800 or higher for handheld shots. Plus, of course, at night there’s the romance factor, which comes through in the photos: There may be no more fairytale shot than your loved one standing under the starry sky in front of the sparkling Empire State Building.
Smartphone photos have come a long way – see our photos that we snapped with our iPhone. If you have the iPhone 4 or higher, take advantage of the HDR (High Dynamic Range) setting, which is especially beneficial for photos taken in an outdoor setting like Top of the Rock.
Also, yes, there’s an app for that: One of the bonuses to using a smartphone are the many photo apps, both for maximizing your phone’s camera – and for tweaking and processing the shot. The VSCO Cam app for the iPhone allows you to adjust the settings on your shot – including contrast and color balance – after taking the photo. Other top-notch iPhone apps include Camera+, Autostitch and Snapseed. There also are excellent Android apps, including Camera Zoom FX and HDR Camera.
And, the Top of the Rock has its own user-friendly app, available for iPhone and Android, which can help enhance your visit. The app includes a picture-guide to the iconic landmarks around NYC and an audio tour and souvenir photos and panoramic images that you can download. One note: There is limited to no cell-phone service at the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, so you’ll have to do your Instagram/FB/Twitter uploading when you’re back on the ground.
Say Cheese: Portraits
With its stunning skyline backdrop – and ample viewing decks – the Top of the Rock Observation Deck is ideal for snapping portrait photos. On positioning: People generally look best in photos when they’re angled slightly – not straight on. Also, try to have the sun coming in from either side, so you’ll get a flattering light on faces. And, on a day with distinct shadows, use the flash for portraits; it will help clarify the people in the shot. Also, when you’re faced with a skyline, the inclination is to shoot the full figure from farther, but often torso shots with part of a landmark in the frame can be stronger. Follow these tips for great portraits, and your friends will happily give you license to tag them in Facebook.
Add variety to your photos by including a foreground in your shots. The Top of the Rock Observation Deck has a unique advantage: The decks feature Art Deco-style moldings and croppings that add a retro elegance to pictures.
Who hasn’t taken those fun photos of “holding up” the Leaning Tower of Pisa with their hand? Or, “squeezing” the Eiffel Tower with a thumb and forefinger? The Top of the Rock Observation Deck, with its 360-degree views and spot-on views of iconic buildings, is ideal for these silly snaps – try it with the Empire State Building and the Citigroup Center, which has an eye-catching angled top. Also fun: Look for the famous Times Square crystal New Year’s Eve ball, which you can see if you look southwest, through a forest of buildings.
Note: The tips and information in this article are intended for personal-use photography. Photographs taken from Top of the Rock are for non-commercial purposes only.