Central Park is one of the loveliest parks in all of New York City. However, it is also one of the most crowded spots in the city. There are some tricks of the trade to make it look like you have a whole park to yourself, and in today’s blog post I’ll give you all the Central Park holiday portrait tips you need to make your photo shoot look amazingly lonely.
Meet Imane and Nicolas
Let me introduce you to Imane and Nicolas. Their little daughter was about to have her first birthday, and they wanted to celebrate her special milestone with a family portrait in Central Park. In particular, they wanted to focus on the iconic Bow Bridge and Bethesda Fountain.
How COVID-19 Has Affected Photo Shoots In Central Park
As you well know from my previous Central Park blog posts, these two locations are the most popular destinations within the park. While the number of visitors to Central Park is down compared to how it was pre-Covid, the park is definitely not empty. Not by a long shot. Central Park is still incredibly crowded, especially on the weekends. Since movie theaters and indoor venues are either closed or operating at lower capacity, people are looking for places to escape their own apartments, and the parks are doing a booming business. As such, my rules for Central Park still apply: try to schedule your portrait session during the week if it all possible, and schedule your session in the early morning. The earlier the start time, the better.
Central Park Holiday Portrait Tips
Schedule your session on a weekday morning. In the case of Imane and Nicolas, we had originally scheduled their session for a Wednesday afternoon. Of course, 2020 being what it is, a huge snowstorm was scheduled for Wednesday. We regrouped and switched the date to Saturday at 9:00 a.m. This turned out to be a great time of day, but a word of caution: get to the park even earlier if you can. While I was waiting for Imane and Nicolas at Bow Bridge I counted two engaged couples and a maternity session ahead of us on the bridge.
Bow Bridge, in particular, is a bottleneck because it is a one-lane highway ferrying tourists from the Ramble to the Bethesda Fountain. During the summer or when the boats are on the lake, the crowd levels can be absolutely crazy so that there’s really no chance for you to get a photo on the bridge alone. This photo I took of Imane and family on the bridge looks great, but I did have to Photoshop out two other tourists in the background.
Go for just a touch of the iconic to avoid the crowds. The trick to shooting in very crowded Central Park locations is to aim for an obscure view of the icons. Certainly if the Bethesda Terrace area is empty, then go for the gold and get that photo of yourself by the fountain. But if the crowds are too much to bear (or to Photoshop out), then aim for a view of these iconic locations in the background. In the case of Imane and Nicolas, we got a great shot on the bridge but my best Bow Bridge photos of them are pointed back towards the edge of the bridge and the flower urns. Also, check out these fantastic photos of Imane and Nicholas with the Bethesda Fountain in the background taken at the edge of the lake. The beautiful light in this shot is filtered through the above tree branches, as opposed to the harsh overhead light in the Bethesda Fountain patio area. Most importantly, we had this edge of the lake all to ourselves. Compare this with a shot of Imane and Nicolas directly beside the Bethesda Fountain. If you look right underneath the statue you will see a guy shooting a music video inside the fountain. Only in New York.
There is more to Central Park than the 72nd Street Corridor. Make sure you check out the other beautiful spots in Central Park, such as the Pool at 100th Street. Once you go north of 72nd Street you will find a whole new world filled with waterfalls, caves, and beautiful pine forests – all of which can be enjoyed without the maddening crowds.
Head for the grassy knoll south of Central Park Lake for close up family shots. For family photos that focus on the little one alone or the family together on a blanket in the park, you’re going to need a blank background free of tourists so that you can focus on your subject. I find the grassy area south of the lake to be ideal for this purpose. Even in the summer, there are never a lot of sunbathers in this area so the grass remains fairly open and you can just put down a blanket and have tons of open space behind you.
Always have the sun behind your subject. If you are going to be scheduling your Central Park holiday family portrait session in the early morning hours, then you will be shooting at or near ‘golden hour.’ But if you have to schedule your shoot later in the day, then there are some tricks for getting the sun to be at just the right angle. First and foremost, you always want to have the sun behind your subject. There is nothing worse than having a subject with squinty eyes because s/he is looking directly into the sun. Instead, have the sun behind your subject, and then have some fun playing with lens flare.
The easiest way to find out the angle of the sun is to simply hold up your hand and then look for shadows. If the sun is directly overhead, then there won’t be any shadows and you should look for some shade underneath a nearby tree. But depending upon the side of your hand that is shaded, this is the angle to which your subject should be facing.
Watch out for dappled light. Finally, I leave you with a strong word of caution for shooting under trees. In the case of these beautiful shots of Nicholas and his daughter, the overhead tree branches filter the sunlight beautifully and consistently. But beware having your clients sit in dappled sunlight. Unless you’re going for an overly artistic look, there is nothing worse than having a photo of two people and one person being in shade while the other person has blown out highlights. The key to lighting is consistency across your subjects.
So those are my top Central Park holiday portrait tips. Enjoy the images, and I’ll have more photo adventures to share with you next week!
Interested in scheduling your own Central Park holiday family portrait session? Then drop me a line and let’s chat about your photography needs.
If you would like to see more images from my family portrait portfolio, then please visit my website – KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com