On the short list of my favorite cities in the world, New York has a special place. I visited it for the first time as a nine year-old boy, and was mesmerized. It lived on for decades in memories and photos until I came back in 2003. So when the opportunity came up to go there again this past Thanksgiving, I spared no expense.

The purpose of the trip was not photographic in nature, so I was content to see the city as a tourist yet again. In addition, the November weather was murky and unpredictable and did not hold much promise for successful photography. But, on the only day when the forecast called for clear skies in the afternoon, I decided to make the pilgrimage to the Observation Deck on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.

The plan was to shoot the sunset and capture the brilliant sunlight reflecting off majestic skyscrapers. But two things conspired against me — one, sun sets really quickly in the Northeast at this time of year, and two, it takes a really long time to get through all the lines and onto the top of the ESB. By the time we went through metal detectors, cheesy green-screen photographers, ticket counters, elevators and more elevators, the sun was gone, and only the glimmers remained. It wasn’t even 5 p.m. when this shot was taken.

Lower Manhattan, Sunset

Lower Manhattan, Sunset

On the plus side, the city lights were coming on, and the south view to lower Manhattan was fantastic. The downtown buildings stand out wonderfully, with the Flatiron, Woolworth, and Metropolitan Life dominating the foreground along with Fifth Avenue. If you know where to look, you can find other New York highlights, such as the Liberty Island (with the Statue of Liberty just barely lit), and Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.

Taking the photo without a tripod in fleeting light wasn’t exactly easy. I tried several techniques and spots along the southern terrace of the Observation Deck. The settings I ended up being the happiest with are the ISO 400 (not too noisy, but enough to keep the shutter speed manageable) and f/5.6 (one stop down for my 17-40mm f/4L lens). Resulting shutter speed was 0.4 seconds, so I braced myself into the fence and hoped for the best.

Michigan and Chestnut

The exposure ended up being just a little dark, so I lightened it in PhotoShop, carefully watching not to lose the pink and orange hues along the horizon. The shot immediately reminded me of a similar photo of Chicago I took from the Hancock Tower when I was there shooting with my friend John. Millions of tourists see these same views every week, but the iconic cityscapes represent a universal language that all tourists speak.

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