First things first, plan your trip. Do you want to see sunset? Do you want to see the pretty lights on in the buildings? Or do you want full sun and puffy clouds? [Yes, yes, and yes.]
Plan on it taking an hour from your reservation time to the moment you snap your first photo. That’s the time it takes to wind through all the lines, their souvenir photo area [which you can skip] where they take a photo of you in front of a backdrop, and fighting through crowds to the top deck. Subtract an hour from the time you want to snap your first shot; that’s your reservation time.
Sunset was 8:18pm on the day I took the photo at top. I wanted to take photos during golden hour (7:39-8:37), sunset (8:18), and blue hour (8:37-8:49). To be safe, I booked tickets at for a 6:25 reservation. This was the right choice.
I was early and couldn’t get in. I arrived at 6:00 and the gentleman manning the front door suggested I “head inside the NBC building next door because the AC is much better than sweating through your shorts out here; visit the stores—but don’t buy anything, it’s way too expensive, and use the restroom and then, at 6:25, come back and I’ll let you back in.” It was the nicest way I’ve been told No ever.
Be patient as you wind your way through the maze and, if you’re visiting in the summer, mouth breathe [lots of B.O.]. And be nice to the guards. Despite having to herd tourists [without a cattle prod] the guards keep smiling and joke with people. That surprised me…they’re all funny.
Once you’re at the top, don’t stop at the first floor observation deck. This is where a LOT of people hang out, but it’s also where the glass partitions separate you from the Manhattan skyline (and from taking great pictures). You didn’t come here to take pictures with a billion other tourists slobbering on a glass partition. You came for Glory. GO ALL THE WAY up.
Follow the signs for the escalators leading up. It’s worth it.
Find a view you like, setup your mini tripod on one of the concrete pads, and wait. I stood in the same spot from 7:00 to 9pm and was super happy with the shots I got.
The best location for taking south-facing photos is the SW corner of the upper upper third floor. You can take photos elsewhere on the third floor, but with a wide angle you can see the partitions and the tops of tourists’ heads. The SW corner removes most of the distractions and gives you the clearest shots of the city.
Show the backside some love! [Click me!]
Don’t forget the backside! The views there are incredible as well. (See below.) I shot this from the top deck as I was looking winding my way through the hoards of people. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? SAY IT’S BEAUTIFUL.
Once you get into position, park yourself there and enjoy the view. The lights change from afternoon haze to golden pastel hues to deep blues.