11.26.17: A view of the city

The Empire State Building rises above the skyline looking south from Rockefeller Center, New York City.


Technical information

Nov. 18, 2005,
8:58 a.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) 


1/125th second


I doubt if there’s a more recognizable skyline in the world than New York City’s. 

Much of the credit for that belongs to the Empire State Building. 

People who have never been to New York City recognize the Empire State Building. Maybe that’s because it’s played important roles in more than 250 movies (including many worldwide hits) since 1931. A skyline shot that includes the familiar art deco skyscraper topped by the 203-foot spire (which brings the total height to 1,453 feet) identifies a movie’s location as New York City. It’s that iconic.

The Empire State Building has been featured 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. King Kong hung from the top of the building in the 1933 film and again in the 2005 remake. And the building played key roles in The Amazing Spider-Man, When Harry Met Sally, Annie Hall, Elf, North by Northwest, Kramer vs. Kramer, Taxi Driver, Shaft and Serpico, among others.

It’s a very photogenic building. And it’s as recognizable worldwide as Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower or other iconic location-identifying structures.

As a photo hobbyist, I’m quick to confess that I’ve never been to the Empire State Building’s famed 86th floor observation deck. I’m sure I could get some great photos from that location, but — in my opinion — a high shot of the New York City skyline is much better if it includes the Empire State Building. You can’t get that shot from the Empire State Building.

That’s why I like the observation deck atop 30 Rockefeller Plaza (commonly known as 30 Rock), about a mile north of the Empire State Building. It provides a great view of the city and, more importantly, a great view of the Empire State Building.

The 30 Rock observation deck — Top of the Rock — is on the 67th, 69th and 70th floors. That’s 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.

I shot this photo looking south from 30 Rock early on a November morning in 2005, about two weeks after the observation deck reopened to the public after being closed for almost 20 years. I processed the image to include just a hint of color to emphasize the lines and tones of the buildings. The Hudson River can be seen at right. 

I had been to the same spot the night before to get a photo of a sunset behind the Empire State Building, one of my favorite photos.

If I returned to the same spot today I’d see the new One World Trade Center in the distance, just to the right of the Empire State Building. Construction of that building didn’t begin until about a year after I captured this scene.

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.