PHOTOGRAPHING NEW YORK CITY - WITH AND WITHOUT A TRIPOD
GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL New York City, New York 2012
Becca and I had a blast visiting NYC last week! We roamed Manhattan and took in many of the sights, museums, games (NBA) and restaurants - and I even managed to find time to make some images! Before the trip and during my online research regarding photographing NYC, I found many photographers talking about how strict NYC is regarding tripod use, and wanted to talk about that some here.
I didn't have any problems five years ago using a tripod when I visited and made Times Square, an 8 minute exposure, but I figured maybe things had tightened up since that time, so I was a bit concerned. I mean, I couldn't leave the tripod at home! With every trip, a photographer has to determine what to bring and what to leave at home. Last year for a trip to the Pacific Northwest, I brought damn near all my gear. Two camera systems (film and digi), multiple lenses for each, tons of filters and miscellaneous items, and ultimately wrecked myself regarding bringing tons of equipment. This year, I did not want to make the same mistake. Besides, this wasn't a "shooting trip" as much as a "hubbie-wife trip" to explore NYC, so I certainly had to keep my stuff on the simple side. Also in consideration - I didn't want to stand out as "photographer" too loudly. I was still packing over 6k worth of gear with me at all times and being in a city I was unfamiliar with, I didn't want to draw too much attention by wearing a big Lowepro backpack. I wanted to stay light and nimble and incognito - definitely new territory compared to how I usually roll.
My research had left me so paranoid that I'd end up in jail or something for using a tripod, that I rushed and purchased a beanpod and a Gorillapod, neither of which I had ever used. I also carried my Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod on select outings and used a Op/Tech strap to sling it over my shoulder instead of hand-carrying it. Instead of using one of my usual Lowepro bags, I purchased an insert for my Manhattan Portage messenger bag. This turned out to be exactly the right solution allowing me to blend in without carrying way too much gear.
from left to right: using the Gorillapod at the Top of the Rock; shooting handheld in the subway; using a tripod at the Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Most of the time, I had the Nikon D800e with 35mm f/1.4 lens (or 24-120) attached in the messenger bag with a 50mm f/1.8, some filters, a spare battery, a shutter release and the Gorillapod. This wasn't heavy at all, and really allowed me to make a variety of images without bringing too much attention to myself and using a tripod. In the image above in Grand Central Terminal, I simply used the Gorillapod on the rail and had no issues making 2-minute exposures with Security less than 25 feet away! I am sure I wouldn't have been able to do this with a tripod as they surely would have shut me down due to the fact that this place is hustling and bustling with people.
I also used the Gorillapod at the Top of the Rock and made some successful images, but unlike Grand Central Terminal where I'm sure tripods would be an issue, there were photogs there with tripods extended, and I was left totally wondering what all the online chatter is about with tripods not-being-allowed at the Top of the Rock. From what I can tell, they don't care about tripods. I used one as I chatted up security a few years back and they were fine, and it still seems to be that way now. If I were heading up again, I'd take my tripod without worry, and plan on being up there during sunset. If you get up there too late, as I did on this trip, you'll have a more difficult time making successful images. Get there pre-sunset and stay until it's dark and you've used up all the ambient light in the sky.
Last time I visited and shot from under the Brooklyn Bridge in the Brooklyn Bridge Park, I had security on me in less than 3 frames - literally. Granted, I had a big Lowepro bag on my back, a DSLR and a big Horseman 617 around my neck, and looked like I was a major commercial shooter creating a major campaign. This time, with the incognito setup, I setup the tripod and made exposures to my hearts content. Lesson learned. Blend in and don't look like a pro and you're much more likely to be left alone.
In the end, I didn't really miss the times without a tripod as much as I thought I may and I made the Gorillapod work well for me. It forced me to get creative, shooting from low ground-level viewpoints, on top of mailboxes, or balanced on rocks. In fact, I'd say it's found it's way into my permanent camera bag setup and definitely will be present in all future trips. It's worth noting that you've got to take extra care to get sharp images while using this, but with mindful technique and a shutter release, it can be done. The beanpod on the other hand, was never used and not sure if I will use it. Obviously, tripods will still be my main stabilizing tool for 99% of my work, but it was a pleasure traveling light and nimble and blending in. In fact, more than once people asked us directions to places as if we were locals! Ha!! If only they knew we were from Maui and hadn't a clue.