Brooklyn Bridge Park is a great place to have a family portrait session, no matter the age of your brood. But where do you go for the best photos with little ones? In today’s blog post, I’ll tell you my best Brooklyn Bridge Park family portrait tips for young children so you know where to go, when to go, and how to get the best smiles out of your children.
Brooklyn Bridge Park Family Portrait Tips for Young Children – North Park
Let’s start with what side of the park is best for kids. Brooklyn Bridge Park is split roughly in half by the Brooklyn Bridge. On the north side of the park closest to the Manhattan Bridge you have Jane’s Carousel, the Washington Street view of the Manhattan Bridge, and Main Street Park with a beautiful view over the NYC skyline. On the other side of the park, you have the Granite Steps, a clear view of the Statue of Liberty, and a lot more forest areas to roam through.
In my opinion, the north side of the park offers a lot more photo opportunities for any type of portrait. Jane’s Carousel and the Max Family Garden next to St. Ann’s Warehouse are two of my favorite spots for photos in the park. The waterfront is great here, and you have lots of little nooks and crannies to duck into for photos.
Brooklyn Bridge Park Family Portrait Tips for Young Children – South Park
Unfortunately, this side of Brooklyn Bridge Park also deals with way more crowds. The north side is infinitely more popular, because of how close it is to the subway, restaurants, and shops. You also have more bathroom facilities on the side of the park.
If you are a family that values your privacy, then I might suggest the south side of the park. Here, you can get some fun photos along the waterfront and have the kids play in the grass. But if you can time your shoot to avoid the crowds, then the north side of the park is best simply because of the variety of backgrounds it offers for any type of photo shoot.
Brooklyn Bridge Park Family Portrait Tips for Young Children – When to Go
Dealing with crowds, while trying to maintain order during your own family portrait session, is the number one challenge of shooting in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The park, while relatively small when compared to Central Park, sees over five million visitors a year. When you consider the number of visitors vs. the amount of park space available, you have a recipe for disaster unless you time your session correctly.
As with all parks in New York City, I recommend that you avoid the weekends if at all possible when scheduling your photo shoot. Weekends in Brooklyn Bridge Park, especially during the summer, can be more than most people can handle. It’s not just the number of people enjoying the park, it’s also the number of photo shoots occurring. On a typical Saturday afternoon in June, you will see quinceañeras, weddings, engagements, and family portraits all happening at the same time. Normally all of us photographers have to wait in line at specific locations until one shoot finishes before the next can begin. Do your photographer a favor and schedule your shoot for a weekday morning in order to avoid the hordes.
Brooklyn Bridge Park Family Portrait Tips for Young Children – Recommended Route
Meet at Water & Dock Streets
To start things off, I encourage you to meet at the corner of Water and Dock Streets. This entrance into the park has lots of picnic tables for seating. It also has a quick entrance into the Empire Stores Shopping Mall where you can use the restroom if necessary or change clothes. For all of my sessions, I recommend that you walk into the park with your photographer. It is much too easy to lose each other inside the park, so pick an entrance and start there together.
Max’s Family Garden
From the entrance, walk over to the Max Family Garden, next door to St. Ann’s Warehouse theater. This is going to give you your best spot of greenery on the north side of Brooklyn Bridge Park. Here you have options to take photos in the cute brick windows and along the brick walls. Depending upon what is in bloom inside the space, you can also take some great photos walking along the pathways inside the brick building.
Brooklyn Bridge Patio
The next stop is the patio to the left of Max’s Family Garden for your most unfettered view of the Brooklyn Bridge. Now that construction is done in this area, this patio offers you the best view of the bridge with the fewest crowds. For whatever reason, people tend not to walk through this patio, so you won’t have as many random strangers in the background of your shoot. Try comparing this space with the walkway in front of Max’s Family Garden and you will see how many people (and how many annoying light posts) you instead have in the background.
Roam Free in the Grass
At this point, you will have taken some great family shots together, but now it’s time to let the little ones roam free. The grassy area in front of the Brooklyn Bridge (marked Empire Fulton Ferry on Google maps) is a fantastic spot to let the little ones run around and get their energy out. In the case of Karla and her clan, this was where we let her four-year-old daughter roam free. I also like to put down a blanket and take photos focused on the wee ones here.
At this point the kids will be tired out and it is time for a new distraction. This is where Jane’s Carousel saves the day. The carousel is open from 11:00 a.m. to 6:50 p.m. on weekdays, and 10:00 a.m. to 6:50 p.m. on weekends (closed Tuesdays). The carousel only costs two dollars per person to ride, and children under 42” can ride free with a parent. I can’t say enough how kind the staff is at Jane’s Carousel. They are always sweet to let photographers be on the sidelines and take photos of families riding the carousel.
The grand finale of your Brooklyn Bridge Park photo shoot is the waterfront. Quick reminder that sunset comes early to Brooklyn Bridge Park because the sun will be heading behind the tall buildings of Manhattan. As a result, plan to have your sunset time cut by at least 30 minutes.
Final Location Options
This is all the locations we had time for during Karla’s family portrait session. If you are working with adults for an engagement or family portrait session, however, you may be able to squeak out a few more photos.
If you have time, I recommend heading up to Main Street Park. The dredging that was taking place around the Pebble Beach area is finally finished. As such, you once again have a glorious view of the carousel and NYC skyline from the large hill in Main Street Park. This location is perfect if you need to do larger family portraits with five or more people.
Don’t forget about some fun photos on the blocks of stone in this area of the park. Here you can get a great view of the Manhattan Bridge. You can also head over to the walkway in front of the Environmental Education Center to catch an equally good glimpse of the Manhattan Bridge.
Finally, if you must follow the Instagram trend, Washington Street and the crowds await for a final photo with the bridge in the background.
And if you really want to get crazy, there is some fantastically colorful graffiti along York and Adams Streets that most people never visit. These are great backgrounds, and will make your photo shoot very unique.
General Family Photo Shoot Tips
I have written lots of articles filled with family portrait tips for kids of all ages. Here is a summary:
Time your session to begin when your child will be at her/his happiest. A happy baby equals an easy photo shoot. For most children, this means right after they woken up from a nap and had a feeding. In general, the best time to schedule a session in terms of light is during golden hour: either one hour after sunrise, or one hour before sunset. But a happy baby trumps all lighting issues, so schedule your session according to your child’s demeanor.
Bring lots of snacks, drinks, and bribes. Kids get distracted easily, and no model of any age is going to be able to smile when hangry. As I have said countless number of times, a handful of goldfish crackers can solve just about any problem. I’m not a huge fan of bribery for children, but you might consider bringing a toy or special snack as a reward.
The exterior temperature absolutely affects your child’s interior happiness. Little ones can be very affected by heat or cold. Be it heat and humidity or cold and wind, kids are not likely to just suck it up and smile. If you have little ones and your portrait session is scheduled during extreme weather, you should consider rescheduling.
Limit your outfit changes. An outfit change can disrupt the happiness flow of a photo shoot. In general, I recommend that parents only have one outfit change per shoot, because you are much less likely to get quality photos after the second outfit.
Other outfit advice. Don’t expect that anything going on a baby’s head is going to stay there for long. Headbands and barrettes are usually the first thing to be flung off in a photo shoot. Also, make sure you test drive any new outfit. Kids will not smile if they are wearing scratchy, uncomfortable clothes.
Bring distractions, but not the entire toybox. I encourage parents to bring favorite toys or books that will make a child feel more at home during a session. But that said, we are going to be moving from location to location, so you don’t want too much luggage in tow. Your session is only 90 minutes long, so bring just a few props.
Balloons never work. Speaking of props, balloons never work successfully in photo shoots. This is especially true if you are going to be anywhere near the waterfront or other windy areas. Balloons only look good if they are floating perfectly still, and that never happens in New York City.
Set your priorities ahead of time with your photographer. The reality is the attention span of a typical child is only one hour long. This means that you have a limited time with your model to get the photos you want. Chat with your photographer ahead of time to convey your priorities. If you want that one hero shot for your family Christmas card, then let your photographer know ahead of time. If you want to focus on the little one alone and have the baby playing with a specific toy, then make sure you tell your photographer.
To this end, my normal order of portraits is as follows: a) family altogether, b) individual children alone, c) kids together (if there are multiple children), and then d) individual family members with the children alone (i.e. mom with kids alone, dad with kids alone, or grandparents with kids alone). This way you get the shots you want upfront, and everything else is gravy.
Don’t forget to have fun. Kids can definitely know when the pressure is on, and will react accordingly – normally in a negative fashion. If I had one bit of advice to give any parent, it would be to go into a family portrait session with no other aim but to simply have fun in front of the camera. The genuine smiles you get from playing together as a family are far better than any stiff shots from a list. As Karla and her family prove, you want your portrait session to capture the emotional bond of your family. In my opinion, Karla and her family nailed it.
Enjoy the images and I’ll have more photo adventures for you next week!
Interested in setting up your own family portrait session? Drop me a line before December 10th and let’s talk about your photography needs in NYC. If you are in the San Antonio area, then contact me about setting up a session starting in 2024!
To view more photos from my family portrait portfolio, please visit my website – KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com