Winter brings with it the good and the bad for New York City. Everyone wants to make a trip to NYC to experience the city during the holidays. And while this is be the most wonderful time of the year, winter also brings with it a number of closures in Central Park starting in mid-November. In today’s blog post I’ll share with you a list of Central Park winter portrait tips to make sure you are prepared for a park without fountains, lawns, or even bathrooms.
Meet Ashley and Raj
Ashley and Raj’s family portrait this past week in Central Park was definitely a highlight of my 2022 season. This fun family is based in Singapore and traveled for a month throughout the United States on holiday. To commemorate their trip to New York City, they booked a session with me. We got some great photos, even though Central Park is not in ideal shape in winter. If – like Ashley and Raj – you have a trip to NYC scheduled for November through the end of March and want a photo session in this most iconic of locations, then today’s list of Central Park winter portrait tips is for you.
Central Park Winter Portrait Tips – The Basics
Central Park is the most popular location in all of New York City for photo sessions. So, of course, this means that you can expect significant crowds during your photo shoot. To get great shots in Central Park without having to fight the Christmas crowds, follow these basic tips:
- Choose a less popular time to schedule your session, preferably a weekday morning.
- If you have to shoot on the weekend, then schedule your session in the morning hours for the best light and lower crowd levels.
- The 72nd Street corridor is the most popular area of the park (Bethesda Fountain, Terrace, the Mall, Bow Bridge). These areas are beautiful, but don’t forget about the less popular, yet even more stunning, areas of the park such as the Shakespeare Garden and the Pool at 100th Street.
- In case the thought of too many people in the background of your photo makes you want to avoid Central Park altogether, then check out this article for alternative photo locations within the city.
Central Park Winter Portrait Tips – Timing
The sun sets at 4:30 PM. Most of my clients coming from down south simply can’t get their head around the fact that the sun will set at 4:30 PM in the winter. This means that it will be dark by 4:31 PM. Yes, you read that correctly.
You should also take into account that while the sun will technically set at 4:30 PM, it will be setting behind very tall skyscrapers on the east side of the city. This means you are going to lose your best light about 30 minutes prior to the actual sunset time. Bottom line: schedule your session so that you take advantage of every minute of precious daylight. Plan to end your photo shoot by 4 PM at the latest. For a 90-minute session, I always budget in extra time and aim for a start time of 2 PM. (Oh, and in case you were thinking high noon would be a great time to schedule a photo session…think again and read this article about ‘golden hour.’)
Lots of things in the park are closed…like bathrooms. Central Park is a great pitstop if you are out and about in the city. Unlike some of the park bathrooms which close year-round at 4 PM, most of the bathrooms in Central Park are open from 7 AM to 7 PM. That is, until mid-November. This is when some of the bathrooms will be closed for maintenance. While many of the bathrooms will remain open year-round, the bathroom in the Bethesda Terrace will be closed. So if you were planning on using this restroom for an outfit change, then instead plan on changing right in the middle of the park. (For a list of all the bathrooms in Central Park, click here.)
Lawns are down, and fences are up. Speaking of closures, most of the lawn areas in Central Park, such as the Great Lawn and the grassy areas on either side of the Mall, shut down for winter maintenance beginning in mid-November. This is so the grass has a chance to recover from the hordes of summer tourists. Incredibly ugly black fences will arise out of nowhere to keep people off the precious lawns. As a result, you’ll have to stick to the main pathways – along with everyone else – for your photos. There’s no escaping the tourists. (For a list of all closures in Central Park, click here.)
No beautiful fountains. Though we have had a spate of 60-degree days in November, believe it or not New York City is usually cold in the winter. As such, Central Park closes off all the fountains so that they do not freeze. As with everything else, the water gets turned off around mid-November. Thus if you want a photo with the Bethesda Fountain spewing water, get there by the end of October.
I believe that Ashley and Raj’s family portrait session happened on the first day of the fountain closure. We were going to start our session with the Bethesda Fountain in the background. However, a very ugly orange crane beat us to the spot.
Central Park Winter Portrait Tips – Loeb Boathouse?
The Loeb Boathouse is closed. If you have been watching the news, then you may have read the Loeb Boathouse recently closed. I happened to photograph one of the last weddings at the Boathouse, and you can check out the photos here on Instagram. I’m sure that the Boathouse will eventually return in all of its glory, but as of this blog post, the venue is completely shut down. This means that the bathrooms outside the Boathouse are closed and you won’t be able to have a snack here after your shoot.
No gondoliers. With the closing of the Loeb Boathouse, the iconic rowboats and gondolas for rent on Central Park Lake are out of business as well. Even without the closing of the Boathouse, boat rentals always ended at the end of October. Again, I’m sure boat rentals will eventually resume, but as of now plan to remain a landlubber.
Central Park Winter Portrait Tips – Bright Colors and No Colors
The big red ladders return. Cold weather brings the possibility of ice on lakes and ponds. While I don’t think I have actually ever seen ice in Central Park, big red ladders still make an appearance for safety’s sake. I mention this because now most of the traditional views of any Central Park body of water will now include a rather unattractive ladder. It’s as if the Central Park staff knew just where you wanted to position your camera, and then put the ladder right there. Yeah, safety.
The leaves are here… and then they’re gone. Fall foliage really gets going in New York City around the second week in October. You can always check this website to try and calculate peak leafage.
If you have missed this window, however, you might be in for an unattractive surprise. Here’s how the weather in New York City usually goes. Everything is fine and dandy weather-wise all through October and early November. Around the second week in November the city gets one big rain storm. And it’s all downhill from here. This storm will normally take all the colorful leaves off the trees, and then turn rainy and miserable until the end of March. The resulting trees end up looking like a nuclear fallout forest. The truth is, the trees are not at the prettiest in the winter. The park is still lovely, but it’s just not everything it could be.
Central Park Winter Portrait Tips –The Upside
The ice-skating rink is your big draw. So, if you can’t look forward to leaves on the trees, what can you look forward to? The answer is snow and ice. Wollman Rink near 59th Street is scheduled to be open from October 24th to March 15th. You can find all the hours and details here. (Lasker Rink, up in the north of the park, is closed for renovations until 2024.)
For optimal snow photos, get to the park early. Snow in New York City tends to be magical only for about 15 minutes before it turns into yellow snow. My best tip for capturing the snow in Central Park is to get there early and try to visit areas of the park that don’t have a lot of traffic. Also, showing off the snow-covered park in comparison to the big city skyline makes for some great photos. Aim for edges on the side of the park, such as along 59th Street or around the Central Park Lake looking towards the west side to get the best view of the skyscrapers in the background.
I’ve got one more photo shoot in Central Park this week, so I’ll let you know if anything has changed. In the meantime, check out my article here for winter portrait tips to help you look your best in front of the camera even if your teeth are chattering. Also, check out this article if you’d like to remember Central Park in the summer. And finally, here’s a list of holiday portrait location ideas in New York City. Stay warm everyone and I’ll have more photo adventures for you next week!
Interested in scheduling your own family portrait session, either now or when the weather turns warmer? Drop me a line and let’s talk about your photography needs.
If you would like to see more images from my family portrait portfolio, then please visit my website – KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com