On my first trip to New York City I realized there was far too much to take in with a single visit. (Understatement of the year!) It was too much for my lens, too. There was so much to photograph! Lights, streets, public art, the park, buildings—and on and on and on. After a few trips—and many years in between—I discovered the solution to successfully capturing New York.

Keeping it simple. The fact is, when you’re faced with an incredible subject like the Big Apple, you’ll face more than you can ever hope to successfully capture regardless of the length of your visit. So, I’ve pulled together some suggestions—collected from years of experience—for helping you navigate New York with your camera.

Simplify Your Plans

New York will wear you down if you've never visited before—so unless you’re visiting from an equally large metropolitan area, like Tokyo, the whole environment can be taxing for a first-time visit. For this reason, it’s best to make moderate plans in order to accomplish everything you have in mind.

Photo courtesy Peter West Carey.

I'd suggest concentrating on one particular area of the city each day in order to simplify getting around and to give yourself more time to explore in-depth. Walking street level won't give you insight to the city—you need to get indoors to visit delis and libraries, get over- and underground with subways and buses, and enjoy strolls through the city’s many parks.

Photo courtesy Peter West Carey.

Speaking from experience, there’ve been a few times where I tried to see it all, and by mid-afternoon I was burnt out—to the point of not wanting to raise my camera for another shot. Not a good place for a photographer. So, take it from me and take it slow and watch the world go by. Sitting and people watching will often give you more insight into a city than constant wandering ever could.

Simplify Your Gear

I carry a big rig: the Canon 7D with battery grip and 28-300mm L lens—plus a wide-angle. I love this setup; however, it was ill suited for my last trip to NYC with my wife. We were going to meet some of her friends—so this wasn't primarily a photo trip—but she did (as is usually the case) encourage me to bring my camera. Of course, she knew how much there is to shoot.

To be honest, I wanted to have fun on this trip and not concentrate on my camera. My setup tipped the scales at around 10lbs and can be a bear to cart through the day (and that doesn't include flashes, filters, batteries, et al.). My solution? Simplify.

Photo courtesy Peter West Carey.

I rented a 50mm, left the two aforementioned lenses at home and removed the battery grip. Also left behind were the flash (the 7D has a built in flash which works okay for photos of friends), filters and all but the battery charger and a spare battery, one memory card for the camera and a backup. That shaved about 10lbs off my total kit and made things far more compact.

Photo courtesy Peter West Carey.

And I loved it! Being forced to use one lens made me look at things differently and not spend so much time taking photos, which made my photos better. The camera was also less conspicuous and truly went wherever I went. All the photos in this post are taken with that 50mm—and I loved my time using it.

Simplify Your Subjects

Telling the many stories of New York takes accomplished photographers a lifetime of effort. You might only be there for a weekend or a week. What to do? See and tell it all? Nope. I think you know what my answer will be. Simplify.

Photo courtesy Peter West Carey.

Pick one or two subjects that interest you most and target those, while allowing room to adapt to what you find. Maybe you really like street performers or architecture or the food scene. Maybe it's galleries or life underground. Whatever your interest, stick to just a couple of subjects and your brain will start to see the myriad possibilities around you. Like when you notice some model of car on the freeway and soon afterward encounters it again—often repeatedly! Your photo-viewers back home and on the Internet will also appreciate it when your shots tell a specific story that they can understand—and follow.

Photo courtesy Peter West Carey.

So grab your simplified camera setup, jot down a simplified plan and start looking for your simplified subjects. New York City can be daunting for any visitor, but it need not stop you from capturing the uniqueness of this world-class city. And remember—keep it simple!

Getting There

Take a bite out of the Big Apple with G Adventures! G Adventures runs a number of departures to New York City encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips to the US here.