The Long Island City waterfront is a great location for family portraits. While I have visited the area several times for engagement portraits, last week marked my first Gantry Plaza family portrait session with Amanda, Timothy and their kids. We had a blast (despite the rain), and I have all the details so that you can have just as much fun in a photo shoot with your own family.
A Gantry Plaza Family Portrait – The Path We Took
As with my Gantry Plaza engagement shoots, this portrait session started off at the Pepsi Cola sign located at the north end of the park. The iconic sign is easily recognizable, and thus a great place to meet clients. We began with some energetic wide shots with the sign in the background and this helped to get everyone in the family excited about the session.
The next order of business was a series of individual photos along the boardwalk of the children, then the children with each respective parent, and eventually of Amanda and Timothy together. I also made sure to take quality headshots of Amanda and Timothy alone for their own professional use. By the way, a huge congratulations to both Amanda and her husband who both graduated recently – Amanda with a MBA and her husband with a doctorate of divinity! Sadly, they never got to fully celebrate thanks to the pandemic, so these photos were a great way to acknowledge that all of their hard work is finally completed.
In addition to walking along the boardwalk and capturing fantastic view of the New York City skyline, we made sure to take advantage of some unique features in Gantry Plaza State Park including the wooden benches in front of the apartment buildings and the curvilinear wooden lounge chairs.
Finally, no photo session at the park would be complete without a shot in front of the gantries. In case you were curious, a gantry is an overhead bridge-like structure supporting equipment, such as a crane. The park is the site of Long Island City’s former dockyard and manufacturing district. The collection of gantries found in the park have car float transfer bridges, which were used in conjunction with barges that carried Long Island Railroad freight railcars between Queens and Manhattan.
Things to Consider – Sun, Wind, and Rain
Thankfully, the skies were a bit overcast for Amanda’s family portrait session. Otherwise, we would have been victim to the harsh overhead rays of the sun since there is virtually no shade in Gantry Plaza State Park. There are a few shady spots behind trees near the Pepsi Cola sign, but the key to successful photos in the area is to time your session so that you are there as close to ‘golden hour’ (the hour before sunrise or before sunset) as possible. In digital photography, bright sunlight is the worst scenario you can encounter because your highlights will be completely blown out and the image will not register any detail in the brightest spots. (In comparison, in old school film photography you need to worry about your subject being too dark.)
But don’t go too far in the dark and cloudy skies direction if you will be shooting in Gantry Plaza State Park. For any photo shoot in New York City, make sure you watch the weather forecast. First, because the park is located on the waterfront, you can always expect a fair amount of wind. In the case of Amanda’s shoot, the brisk breeze added a nice fashion shoot feel to the photos. If you have a precious hairdo or hat, however, you have been warned.
Second, rain is the enemy as there are no rain backup locations nearby to Gantry Plaza State Park. I went to bed the night before this session seeing zero rain in the forecast. When I got up in the morning, there was a 30% chance of rain at 10:00 a.m. Sure enough, it did rain a bit towards the end of the session, but we were able to get in most of the main photos prior to the skies opening up.
Finally, if your goal is a beautiful sunset over the East River, note that because the sun sets behind the buildings, you will need to start your shoot a bit earlier than if you were closer to the west side of the city. The tall skyscrapers of Manhattan will obliterate the fading light early, especially in winter, and thus you will lose light well before the technical sunset time.
Gantry Plaza Family Portrait – Beyond the Park
Amanda and her family were fantastic to photograph. She and her crew were up for action shots and wanted to break out of the park itself and explore more of Long Island City. I fully applaud that decision as the area has so many background options for photos.
First, take advantage of the large reflective windows in the Queens library located just to the right of the gantries on Center Boulevard. Second, if you’re interested in more of a skyscraper scene, then check out the crosswalk on Center Boulevard and shoot up towards the apartment buildings. There are some quirky murals both in front of the Rockaway Brewing Company and on Vernon Boulevard. Finally, there is a gorgeous ivy-covered wall at the corner of 46th Road and Fifth Street that is a beautiful backdrop. Don’t don’t forget to take a walk along the little streets filled with former factory buildings just past Center Boulevard to get a taste of Long Island City’s manufacturing history.
If you are up for a walk, and want a little taste of old New York, then check out the Hunters Point Historic District. This area, a.k.a. 45th Avenue between 21st and 23rd Streets, is lined with beautiful old trees and flanked by historic brownstones. It is the perfect stop for a family photo. Bear in mind that this is a private, residential street, so keep your photos on the private staircases to a minimum. Also, note that the street is a bit of a walk from the park, though it is very close to the Court Square subway station so you can end your shoot here.
Enjoy the photos, and if you have a little ‘staycation’ time on your hands, why not book your holiday portrait now? 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