What do you do if it’s raining on the day of your portrait? This town has a wealth of unique spots to act as a backdrop for any type of portrait. Sadly, however, most of these locations are outdoors. With the rain we have been having lately, I have had to reschedule countless family and engagement portraits. It’s time to find an indoor alternative. And thus, this week I became a photographer with a mission: to search out this city’s elusive public atriums and see how these spaces would work as NYC rainy day photo shoot locations.
Public Atrium: (n.) A free, indoor space in NYC open to the public.
The idea for this article came from a client whose family portrait was threatened by impending rain. Luckily the bad weather held off, but since she had family coming in from out of state, rescheduling was not an option. She had mentioned taking photos in a public atrium. And while this is, in theory, a good idea, public atriums come with some caveats. Here are my reviews of the public atriums open in New York City on the weekends.
Brookfield Place – 230 Vesey Street
Brookfield Place is a crowded, popular public atrium. Always crawling with people, the space does not have a lot of empty corners in which to take a portrait. There are always events scheduled in the building, and you never know what’s going on here. Case in point, when I visited there was a crane parked in the middle of the atrium. Why? Who knows.
Brookfield Place has plenty of high ceilings and windows, which equals wonderful light, but there is a lot going on in the frame. There are lines and shadows everywhere caused by the complex architecture, which means you can’t take a clean photo unless you use a boring wall as your background. And while there are great views of the city from the inside looking out, here again, the windows all have frames cluttering every view.
The main staircase is always a good option for portraits, but here again you have crowd control issues as there are people parked on the steps and constantly moving up and down. You can usually carve out a little space to get a close-up shot, however.
If I were doing a shoot today, I would use the steps, make use of all the reflections in the granite walls, and use any available light to add dramatic texture and contrast. This is not a great place for photos with kids or large group portraits. Because of all the textures and angles, I would use the space for an executive headshot or engagement shoot in which architecture, texture, and contrast are key artistic elements.
During my visit, I did not encounter any problems with security guards and you are seemingly allowed to take photos at will as long as you are not bothering other patrons, using a substantial amount of flash, or setting up a tripod. Brookfield Place is ideally located so that if it does clear up outside, you have the waterfront and a view of the Statue of Liberty. Keep in mind however, that if you’re shooting here, it’s because it’s raining and dark outside. As such, the dramatic light I experienced during my visit would be absent. Consequently, I get the impression that your photos may look like you’re shooting inside a giant mall. Oh, and one more thing: shooting inside the stores is off-limits because these are private businesses. Aside from a quick snap or two inside, you’re not going to be able to have your family portrait at Louis Vuitton.
60 Wall Street
When I visited at 7:00 p.m. on a Saturday, no one was here. The space felt abandoned. While this public atrium is probably very popular during the lunch hour for office workers, it was dead on the weekend.
In terms of decoration, there are Chinese-style rock formations along the wall which provide somewhat of a background, but that’s about it. The space has really high ceilings, and is entirely open in the center. The atrium has a covered entrance into the subway, so you could use the subway as a second photo shoot location. If the weather does clear up while you are in the atrium, you have skyscraper scenes all around, Trinity Church, and Wall Street nearby as secondary locations.
One Bryant Park – Corner of 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue
This was the greenest of the public atriums that I visited, but sadly, I was chased away by a very determined security guard. Apparently you are not allowed to take any photos in the space. Even if you did want to risk the wrath of the security guards, know that the space is very small, and chock full of visitors. This atrium is centrally located to Times Square, and it’s pretty much busy all the time. The space is tiny: so much so that I felt uncomfortable speaking above a whisper into my phone. I would feel even more uncomfortable if I were to try and stage a big portrait shoot here.
On the upside, the space has some lovely green sculptures that would provide a beautiful background. You’ve also got great windows into the city. One option would be to run in and take a few photos, stick your tongue out at the security guard, then head out to Times Square.
550/590 Madison Avenue
I laughed when I walked up to this address because of how unlikely it would be to set up a photo shoot here. These two public atriums are located directly behind the Trump Tower. There are Secret Service cars and barriers everywhere. Indeed, there is a sign outside 550 Madison Avenue saying no baggage allowed. I didn’t even bother to take any photos because I knew security would be on me like white on rice. At 550 Madison Avenue, there were three security guards casually perched at the end of the atrium. The space is lovely and is popular with tourists since it is located on the backside of Fifth Avenue close to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Center. There is no chance in hell, however, that you could stage a photo shoot here without getting chucked to the sidewalk immediately. Oh, and by the way, while 590 Madison Avenue has a sign on the door saying that the atrium is open to the public, there is a barrier outside the door saying the space is open only to security personnel. Thanks, Trump!
David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center – 61 W. 62nd Street
The David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center is a nice space, but you don’t have much chance of staging a photo shoot here. The atrium is a long space, and used frequently on the weekends by students and locals. This is the home base for the Lincoln Center TKTS office, so there is lots of traffic. The middle of the space is dark so that an advertisement for Lincoln Center can be continuously projected on the wall. This means that there is not much light inside the atrium. At the far end of the wall is a lovely green plant wall which you could use to snap a few photos, but I have the feeling security would be down on you in a hot second.
In the end, Brookfield Place is the only public atrium that could have accommodated a photo shoot of any type. This atrium is not ideal for family portraits, and realistically, rescheduling (or turning to that iconic New York City standby, Grand Central terminal) is probably your only indoor alternative. Keep in mind, however, that Grand Central Terminal has major lighting challenges and crowd control issues as well.
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