02.28.16: New York sunset

Sunset behind Empire State Building and skyline, New York City. 


Technical information

Nov. 17, 2005,
5:03 p.m.

40°45’32” N,
73°58'46" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 20D

Canon EF-S 10-22 f/3.5-4.5 (22mm)


1/30th second


There are two observation decks overlooking New York City that provide great views of a potential sunset behind the skyline.

The most famous is the observation deck on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building. It has been featured in movies, most memorably in An Affair to Remember, a 1957 film starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, and Sleepless in Seattle, a 1993 romantic comedy starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan that was partly inspired by An Affair to Remember.

The other is about a mile north of the Empire State building atop 30 Rockefeller Plaza, known as “Top of the Rock.” It’s on the 67th, 69th and 70th floors, lower than the Empire State Building observation deck, but Top of the Rock is larger and can accommodate more people. That usually means shorter waiting times.

Both observation decks provide excellent views of the city.

But Top of the Rock offers something that the Empire State Building observation deck can’t: a view of the New York City skyline that includes the Empire State Building. A skyline photograph that includes that iconic building is immediately recognized as a photo of New York City. A skyline photo of New York that doesn’t include the Empire State Building is not as recognizable. (A third observation deck, the One World Observatory on the 100th floor of the new One World Trade Center, provides a view of the skyline to the northeast — including the Empire State Building — but the setting sun would be behind the viewer.)

I’ve visited Top of the Rock several times, always planning to reach the observation deck about an hour before sunset with a plan to stay until about an hour after sunset. I can watch the city transition from day to night, when the warm glow of interior lights replaces the view of steel and concrete exteriors. And sunsets behind the Empire State Building can be spectacular.

I took this photo in November 2005, about two weeks after the 30 Rockefeller Plaza observation deck reopened to the public after being closed for almost 20 years. I was shooting at a slow shutter speed and high ISO (light sensitivity), so the photo isn’t as crisp as it would have been had I used a tripod for stability and lower ISO. High ISO photos include more digital noise than lower ISO photos. Hand-held photos shot at slow shutter speeds can show blurring from camera motion.

I was lucky to get a usable photo. And maybe someday I will go back with a tripod and hope to get another spectacular sunset.

In the full-sized image the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan across the East River, and Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island across The Narrows, can be seen just below the horizon on the left of the photo. The Hudson River flowing into Upper New York Bay can be seen to the right just below the horizon.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.