How to Photograph the NYC Skyline and Statue of Liberty...FOR FREE!
Well, it had to happen eventually. I finally made it to Staten Island.
It was the last NYC borough to check off the list. I’d been putting it off for ages because, for as long as I’ve lived in New York, I’ve never heard a compelling reason to visit Staten Island.
I live in Manhattan.
I’ve been to Queens [I was lost] and Brooklyn [to check on the hipsters].
And I’d been to the Bronx a few times: once to watch a Yankees game; once to tour Yankee Stadium; and a third time to buy bootlegged booze from a large Dominican man named Lincoln who made the cash sale…in his Lincoln.
But never Staten Island.
Because there’s zero reason to go there—as explained to me by everyone I know who lives on Staten Island. Even people I don’t know who live on Staten Island would approach me on the street—with a twitchy eye and pained look on their face—and say, ”d-d-don’t…go there.”
So I never did.
I’d heard for years that the best part of Staten Island was the ferry. Mostly because you don’t really have to set foot on the island. But also because riders get great views of the city skyline and the Statue of Liberty.
And great views I got. And, being the selfless, amazing [and humble] person I am, I wrote a brief article detailing the experience so that you, Dear Reader, could follow in my footsteps.
How to get there
Find your way to Whitehall Terminal. This Google Maps link will take you there. The 1 train will drop you off right in front of the ferry terminal—(get off at the South Ferry Station stop. The R,W also stops nearby—get off at the Whitehall Street Station. The 4,5 drops you off a few blocks away (look for Bowling Green stop), but it’s just a short walk along Battery Park.
Or you can just tell your cabbie, “Staten Island Ferry, please!”
When to get there
Anytime! The ferry runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I know I could have been a cool kid and just said 24/7, but I’m not a cool kid.
The best times for photographing the city and Statue of Liberty are sunrise and sunset, plus or minus an hour, for a few reasons.
For starters, there will be fewer people. Most tourists are on vacation and wake up on vacation time, between 9-11am local time. Add a few hours to get up and moving, and you’re looking at peak tourist time at 12-2pm local time. [I don’t know why I keep saying local time.]
But the most important reason is that sunrise and sunset will yield the most interesting photos. The light will be more interesting, the shadows will be better—everything is just a little better when the sun is at a more dramatic angle. Even before sunrise and after sunset, the city looks marvelous.
How to Ride The Ferry
When you arrive at the terminal, you’ll see a giant sign that reads “STATEN ISLAND FERRY.” If it’s not abundantly clear already, go in the doors beneath that sign.
Congratulations. You’re there.
Now…wait for the next ferry! At most it’ll be 10-20 minutes between ferry rides.
Even at off-peak times, everyone will start lining up by the doors. Let them. They’re doing that because they want to grab a seat. And you, dear reader, don’t care about a seat since you won’t be sitting.
Someone will announce something over the intercom. It will be unintelligible [they speak Staten Island], but the gist is something like “GO GO GO!” That’s your queue to wait for everyone to board the ferry. Hang back a bit if you don’t want to be stuck in the crowd.
But get on the ferry eventually!
And then..just hang by the back doors. Seriously. Depending on the time of day and the size of the ferry—they run multiple sizes—the back door may be your only option for taking pictures. If the back is completely crowded and the front doors are open, that’s another option.
Once the boat is on its way, one of the crewmen will come back and remove the rope preventing you from going outside. That’s your queue to go outside and shoot!
What to shoot
The skyline and the Statue of Liberty. Both will be visible off the back of the boat. Or you could shoot people. [There’s probably a better way to say that… 😳]
How to shoot
At sunrise and sunset, you won’t have full light. You’ll still have enough to take great pictures, but you’ll want to make sure your lens is fast enough that you don’t have to increase your ISO too high.
I shot most of my dusk photos at 1/50 at f/2.8, ISO 320. If that’s Greek to you, don’t worry. Just shoot in A Mode (aperture priority mode), crank your aperture to the lowest number it allows, and let the camera take care of the rest.
I brought my Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM [my favorite lens EVER] for this shoot. About 5 minutes after the ferry departs the dock, you’ll see the full skyline from the back of the boat, and you’ll be able to shoot in all your wide-angle glory. The shot at the top of the page, for instance, was shot at 24mm.
For the Statue, you’ll want to zoom in, otherwise she’ll just be a dainty, green speck on the water. The shot of her on this page was at 70mm and heavily cropped.
A few minutes before docking on the Staten Island side, you’ll hear another announcement. It’ll sound something like “PUMBLY PUM PUM PAWPERAYY.” Translating from Staten Island-ese, they’re saying “We’re about to dock. Get ready to get of the boat, make a U-turn, and head home!”
And that’s exactly what you should do. Everyone will line up to get off the boat, and again, you can hang towards the back if crowds aren’t your thing…
You’ll deboat [not a word].
Go into the terminal, hang a left, walk past a few vending areas, and then hang another left to enter the waiting area. Wait for the next boat (likely the same boat you just rode), and head home!
And don’t forget!
On your way home, you’ll have another chance to shoot the city AND the Statue. Head to the front of the boat and open a door. It’s okay to open on of the doors even if they have the ropes up preventing you from going outside. [Everybody does it.]