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Which high-elevation locations in New York City are publicly accessible, with or without entry fee, are good for photography?

What I am looking for are places that remain open through sunset, ideally the entire golden hour. Please specify which ones allow tripods and if the view in unobstructed by a glass, a fence or other. If there is a fence, state if it allows a typical high-end lens (say up to 9cm in diameter) through it?

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Depending on "high" in elevation there are free public places that will, if nothing else, get you above street level, with views over streets and long avenues. These include the High Line Park, which is usually open till a couple of hours after sunset depending on the season, or Tudor City, above 42nd Street, which is a street and open 24 hours.

There's also the Manhattan Bridge with some great views of lower Manhattan (I've never walked over the biking path on the other side, but I'd imagine it has fantastic views, too). It has a fence, but you can kind of jam a camera lens through between the top and bottom parts, plus there's numerous rips and tears in the upper chain-link fence.

You can get some decent skyline views from near the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge as well, without it being obstructed by suspension cables. That's also open 24 hours a day.

In Brooklyn there's the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, a public park, which is quite a bit higher than the East River and the streets of Manhattan's Financial District across the way. Depending on the time of year you can see fantastic sunsets behind Manhattan from here.

  • Great, thanks! Points for unusual locations and access details. – Itai Feb 22 '15 at 2:55
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The most obvious one has a spectacular view of the city: the Empire State Building. The observation deck is fenced, but in such a way that you can fit a camera lens through and it's open until 2:00 AM (last elevator ride up is 1:15 AM).

Anyways, plenty of detail on their website and I definitely recommend it.

  • Note the FAQ says they prohibit "Professional cameras, equipment and camera stands: mono-pods, bi-pods and tri-pods". – vclaw Feb 13 '15 at 23:55
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    @vclaw - I took a dSLR (Pentax K-5) up there without a problem. What they're trying to avoid is commercial photography. Besides, there are plenty of "professional" cameras that don't look it... – John Cavan Feb 13 '15 at 23:58
  • @JohnCavan Was there a tripod below your K-5? Did you see any tripods being used around? – Itai Feb 14 '15 at 14:53
  • @Itai - No, no tripods that I saw. There are some ledges that you can probably use for stability. Also, depending on the camera, you might be able to use a Gorilla pod. Failing all that, the classic "string tripod" will work. – John Cavan Feb 14 '15 at 15:05
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    But unlike the movies, it's always packed like a sardine can. – JDługosz Feb 19 '15 at 17:59
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Top of the Rock. Nice view of Empire State and Manhattan. The upper deck has just a low fence.

Empire State is great during the night because it has a view towards Time Square and is much less busy then.

Instead of a tripod, carry a bean bag.

  • Is there a good surface for a bean bag with unobstructed view? Or would a Gorilapod fair better? – Itai Feb 23 '15 at 16:43
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The Roosevelt Island Tram is a great choice, especially for getting close-ups of the Midtown East skyline. The tram operates all day and well into the night. I don't think there is an official policy on tripods, but on the other hand I doubt you'll be able to use one given that the tram will be packed. Note that the view will be obstructed by glass, but it's fairly clean. Entry is just $2.50 (same as a subway ride) or free with an unlimited MetroCard.

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