04.15.18: Above Pier 17

New York City’s Pier 17, as seen from the Brooklyn Bridge, extends into the East River on the lower east side. 


Technical information

Nov. 29, 2005,
12:16 p.m.

40°42’27” N,
73°59'55" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 20D

Canon EF 28-135 (28mm)


1/100th second


If I had my way, all my photo excursions would be before mid morning or after mid afternoon on sunny, blue-sky days. Bright, directional sunlight makes colors pop, adds contrast to a scene and, in general, creates a much more pleasant day for wandering around with a camera.

But I can’t choose weather conditions for photography when I’m traveling. I have to take what I get. That means I’ve shot in rain, in snow, in bitter cold, beneath dark, overcast skies … all the conditions you don’t want to encounter when you have one day to play tourist in a city.

Weather challenges a photographer to get creative, and that’s a good thing. It also creates unusual lighting conditions, which also can be a good thing.

That’s what happened with this photo of New York City’s Pier 17 and the skyline of lower Manhattan, shot from the Brooklyn Bridge in late November 2005. I had taken a midday break between appointments and decided to walk the bridge with my camera. The skies were thick with clouds, creating a dreary mood. The defused light that filtered through the overcast sky took on an odd, yellow tint, adding warmth to anything red or yellow but masking contrast on other objects.

In other words, everything looked a bit weird. 

There was nothing I could do to improve the lighting so I decided to use it, grabbing several shots on the bridge that included red or yellow objects. A few turned out OK. Others, not so much.

As I was preparing to leave the bridge I saw Pier 17. Its red side popped from the low-contrast surroundings. So I grabbed the shot and headed back to Manhattan before rain set in for the remainder of the afternoon.

When I saw the photo on my computer I liked how the red Pier 17 sign pulled the eye to that area of the photo. The wall of tall buildings provided an interesting secondary focal point. The thick clouds and the bright area in the background, above where the East River flows into Upper New York Bay, enhanced the “dreariness” of the scene.

Pier 17 is part of New York City’s South Street Seaport, a 12-square-block historic area of Manhattan centered where Fulton Street meets the East River adjacent to the Financial District. It’s the site of the original port of New York City, which began receiving cargo at its first pier in 1625. 

When I captured this scene in 2005, South Street Seaport included a maritime museum surround by centuries-old buildings that were being refurbished to house shops and restaurants. Pier 17 itself was home to a number of shops and restaurants.

That changed in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy heavily damaged the seaport. Tidal flooding reached seven feet deep in places, filling the first floors of the refurbished historic buildings with water and closing businesses, some permanently.

We try to visit the area each year when we are in New York and have watched as it has slowly recovered. During our visit last September we found that a number of new shops and restaurants had opened and people were again walking the cobblestone streets along the seaport. But Pier 17 was a construction site, looking nothing like it did in this photo.

According to New York media reports, Pier 17 will begin reopening this month, anchored by a 19,000 square foot studio for ESPN. New, upscale restaurants will open later this year, making the seaport a destination again. But the building looks much different. And the red Pier 17 sign is gone.

Maybe I’ll get a shot of the updated seaport next time I’m in the city.

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.