Recently, on a pleasure trip to Manhattan, I had the opportunity to visit Top of The Rock (Rooftop lookout at Rockefeller Centre). As a professional landscape photographer, I never consider taking photographs from these types of rooftop lookouts because I prefer not to photograph through glass or bars. However, I was excited to see that Top of The Rock has a small observation deck above two other observation floors that offers an unrestricted view of the Manhattan skyline. And what a view! In particular, the sunset/nighttime view is spectacular. One drawback…no tripods allowed.
This presents a huge problem for me as I print my gallery, panoramic prints at up to 12 feet wide and absolutely need a tripod for low light shots that require long exposures. What to do?
I went back home to Toronto and did a little research. I remembered that the Observation Deck had a chest level, flat cement surface area measuring approx. two feet across. I found two sneaky options that might work.
Plan A: The Gorrilapod Focus (a mini tripod sturdy enough to hold my Medium Format Pentax 645Z). Technically still a tripod, I purchased another option…
Plan B- The Pod (basically a beanbag with a camera bolt).
Satisfied, that I would be able to use at least one of these options, I bought a plane ticket to New York in mid January and booked two nights in a hotel (this gave me two cracks at it in case of bad weather).
I arrived late morning and bought my pass to Top Of The Rock. I wanted to plan my sunset shot and make sure the security guard stationed at the observation deck didn’t give me a problem when I started using my mini tripod. Getting to the Observation Deck is more than just an elevator ride. Here are the frustrating, time zapping steps: wait in line to purchase a ticket, go through a security check (similar to airport security), watch a 20 minute info movie on the history of Rockefeller Centre, wait in line for elevator, elevator ride to first observation level, escalator to second observation level, walk circumference to stairs that lead to final observation deck.
I did all of this with a smile on my face, as I knew it would lead to the shot I had been planning for over a month.
Looking back now, I would have liked to have seen my expression when I reached the final stairs to the Observation Deck only to have a guard blocking the entrance, telling me it was closed due to ice build up on the floor of the deck (the Observation Deck is the only floor out of the three that does not have heated floors).
The accountant in me quickly added up all of the money I had wasted in this failed attempt to get one photograph. The Security guard didn’t seem the least bit bothered when I told him I had planned a three-day trip around getting a photograph from the Observation Deck. I took an elevator back down (another 20 minute wait) and asked to speak with a manager. I told him my sob story and he informed me there was nothing he could do until the ice melted (a quick look at the weather forecast assured me this would probably not happen during my stay). At least he seemed empathetic and actually gave me his direct number to check in for updates.
Fortunately, this whole debacle led me to one of the best panoramic images I have ever taken. Walking back to my hotel, I took a wrong turn and ended up at Time Square. I found a great vantage point and set up shop. The final image required me to take five separate vertical shots (each overlapping the other by 30%) in three varying exposures using two different focal points. I was extremely happy with the results and a 12 foot version is now being produced to be featured at my Montreal Gallery (Kandy Gallery).
I called the manager a couple of hours before sunset and he informed me that the observation deck was still closed. Some quick research on my laptop led me to another great photography location on the edge of Brooklyn looking back at Manhattan. With two great shots, I was now feeling less dejected about not getting the shot I came for.
The next day I went back to speak with the manager and although the deck was still closed, he told me to come back for sunset and he would have a security guard open up the Observation Deck just for me. His reason for doing so, he explained, was because I had been so polite during our exchanges (little did he know it was in my Canadian blood and I had no other option). And wouldn’t you know it, the skies later cleared up and I got the shot I had dreamed about. Yes, the guard had no problem letting me use my mini tripod and in the enlarged version of my final photo, you can clearly see people in the surrounding buildings at their desks working away.
This photography trip had a happy ending and although it makes for a lengthy story, they do say a picture is worth a thousand words and I was fortunate enough to get three of them!
Photographs and Text © Neil Dankoff
Neil Dankoff Photographer Bio Neil was born and raised in Montreal where he studied Film & Communications at McGill University before heading west to Toronto in 1998. There, he founded Reaction Studio, a photography and video business. He has since enjoyed expressing his creativity within both mediums.Using a medium format digital camera, Neil’s unique approach and technique results in a distinct look that is easily recognizable. Each final piece consists of multiple images captured with varying exposures all seamlessly put together in an effort to transport the viewer to a specific time and place. Now permanently based in Toronto, Neil has been a large part of the city’s thriving art scene over the last six years, putting on several large solo exhibits at the prestigious Lonsdale Gallery in the Forest Hill Village.
Neil has recently been voted as one of Canada’s top ten photographers by The Culture Trip and has since been hired by the Four Season’s Hotels and Resorts to photograph several of their exotic locations.
This past October, along with partners Derek and Kirsty Stern, Neil opened Kandy Gallery in Montreal. The gallery is over 5500q.ft and displays 45 of Dankoff’s large, limited edition, panoramic prints.
Using a medium format digital camera, Neil’s unique approach and technique results in a distinct look that is easily recognizable. Each final piece consists of multiple images captured with varying exposures all seamlessly put together in an effort to transport the viewer to a specific time and place.
Blog / Website: Neil Dankoff Panoramic Photography