The New York Botanical Garden is one of my favorite photo shoot locations. The gardens are vast and there is always something in bloom. This past year I had the pleasure of photographing Noor and Troy’s engagement portraits and wedding. Next week I’ll share with you all the details of their Giando on the Water wedding, but for now let’s dive in to their New York Botanical Garden engagement photos and pick up a few tips for your own fantastically floral photo shoot.
Meet Noor and Troy
For Noor and Troy, the New York Botanical Garden holds a special spot in their hearts. The couple met many years ago while working together at a veteran’s hospital in the Bronx. They often visit the New York Botanical Gardens, and it was during such a visit that Troy asked Noor to marry him. The proposal was a complete surprise: Troy first asked Noor to take a selfie and then casually placed the ring behind her in the photo. She said ‘yes,’ and here we are.
Noor & Troy’s Engagement Portrait Session
For Noor and Troy’s engagement shoot in May of 2021, we made a circle through the gardens starting in the Azalea Garden and ending at the Haupt Conservatory patio. Their session was two hours in length, and we used every minute. Their session turned out some spectacular photos and it was well worth the time and distance covered. With that said, you definitely have to have a plan of attack ready when attempting a New York Botanical Gardens engagement photo shoot, and here are my top tips.
New York Botanical Garden Engagement Portrait Tips
Here is everything you need to know if you are planning a NYBG engagement photo shoot:
Take the subway or bus to get there. Parking at the NYBG is limited. I suggest taking the subway to the Fordham Road station using the B or D lines. It’s a hilly walk to the botanical garden, but least you don’t have to deal with parking.
If you are not up for the walk, the Bx26 bus will take you to the Mosholu entrance of the park. You can also take the Metro North train to the Botanical Garden station, which will bring you to the Mosholu entrance.
Meet at the Southern Boulevard main entrance gate. If you are scheduling a photo shoot with your photographer, the Southern Boulevard main entrance is the best meeting spot. The gardens are too vast to find anyone within its gates, so I recommend walking into the garden together.
Furthermore, at the main entrance gate you will find a visitor center with everything you need to prepare for your journey through the gardens including restrooms, a café, and even a gift shop.
Be prepared for crowds. Crowds are an inevitable issue in certain areas of the park. For most of the gardens you can completely escape the maddening crowd. The conifer collection, forested area around the Stone Mill, magnolia collection, and Thain Family Forest are especially good if you want to have the park all to yourself.
The most popular gardens near the front entrance of the New York Botanical Garden, however, are almost always crowded. The narrow walkways make it a challenge to hunt down the perfect shot and avoid park visitors who are also looking for the perfect shot of the perfect flower. Your best bet is to visit on a weekday when crowd levels are low. It goes without saying that you should always avoid the New York Botanical Garden on the weekends.
Comfortable walking shoes are a must. You will be covering a lot of ground, figuratively and literally during your photo shoot. The gardens stretch over 250 acres, and it takes a solid 15 minutes to walk from the main entrance to the Thain Family Forest at the opposite end of the park. I would try and concentrate your efforts on gardens that are near to one another.
Know the operating hours of the NYBG. Speaking of time, always check the hours of the New York Botanical Garden for the day of your photo shoot. The garden has seasonal hours, and during the fall and winter months the garden closes much earlier. Also, the garden often has private events that can close down specific areas ahead of the general hours. As of June 2022, the garden is open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday. The NYBG is closed on Mondays and all federal holidays.
Know what’s in bloom. The New York Botanical Garden is beautiful all year round, but it makes more sense strategically to focus your efforts on what’s in bloom. Thankfully, the NYBG has provided visitors with a helpful chart on their website called ‘What’s Beautiful Now’ to help you track exactly what is in bloom in any given month.
Know the areas of the park that are off-limits for photos. The NYBG is famous for an annual orchid show and Christmas train show as well as exhibitions by individual artists. The artist shows normally take place in the Haupt Conservatory, which is always off-limits for photos unless you have a wedding photo permit. (Even with a photo permit, the conservatory is only available for photos on weekdays.) Furthermore, any garden showcasing the works of a specific artist is normally off-limits because of copyright issues.
Reschedule in case of rain. As with just about every park in New York City, there really aren’t any rain backup locations within the New York Botanical Gardens. If rain is in the forecast, then it is time to reschedule your shoot for a sunny day.
Take your meds. Finally, allergies are a bitch. I was there in mid May, and had a tough time seeing through my tears caused by all the pollen.
My NYBG Photo Shoot Plan: A Rapid Fire Recommendation
My suggestion is that you make a circle through the botanical gardens starting in the Daffodil Hill area. From the Michele Liu Parkway entrance hang a right. Head north on Daffodil Hill road through the Crabapple Collection. Don’t forget about the Azalea Garden if it is in bloom. Also, don’t forget about the Mill Valley Trail leading to the not so hidden tunnel.
Next, check out the Thain Family Forest. The trees in this area are fantastic during the fall. Stay on old Stone Mill Road that will take you past the ornamental conifers, one of my favorite spots in the park for photos. The contrast between the landscaped lawn and the funky looking pine trees can give you some cool stylized photos.
You should now be at the back end of the park. This is where the peonies, lilacs, and the Rockafeller Rose Garden are located. While the rose garden is lovely when in bloom, it’s also basically an oven in the summer. There is zero shade, so my advice is to skip the rose garden unless the roses are indeed in bloom.
Next head through the cherry blossom pass and down through the waterfall walk. This little clump of cherry blossom trees is a compact area, so I can only imagine how crowded it must be during the cherry blossom season. During Noor and Troy’s engagement session the blossoms were mainly off the trees, but the petals on the ground were fair game for photos in my book. The light in this area is absolutely stunning so take full advantage.
The waterfall walk, by contrast, sounds better than it actually is. You cannot get a beautiful shot with the couple in front of the waterfall. Still, it’s a lovely little area, and there is a cute little bench underneath some trees.
This will put you on a straight shot down through the Thain Family Forest and get you to the native plant garden. Alternatively, you can take a walk through the Magnolia Collection if you truly want to feel like you have the gardens all to yourself. The road through the Magnolia Collection is truly spectacular, and it will take you past a beautiful view of the Bronx River.
The Mitsubishi wetland trail might not be worth your time. The trail offers some of the most interesting terrain in the gardens, but sadly there are not a lot of great shots. You could do a panoramic shot in front of the cattails, but that’s it.
The native plant garden is gorgeous… and crowded. You are never going to have the spot all to yourself. The best view of any subject with the waterfall in the background is to be on the left side of the water and don’t miss out on the pond reflections. Note this is where most of the public exhibitions are staged, so be prepared for a logjam of traffic.
The rock garden offers some of your best shots within the gardens. Both in terms of lighting, and the variety of colored backgrounds, the rock garden is going to be one of your best spots. It also, ironically, offers your best waterfall shot within the New York Botanical Gardens. Keep in mind it is a one-way pathway, so just take your time.
Finally, you will end up at the Haupt Conservatory. Without a permit, you have no chance of taking photos within the building. That said, the garden patios outside the conservatory are gorgeous, albeit brimming with visitors.
I planned this NYBG photo shoot tour with the idea that you would begin your session in the late afternoon. The main benefit of this course through the botanical garden is that you are avoiding crowds at the beginning of your photo shoot, while ending up in some of the most idyllic areas closer to ‘golden hour.’ If you follow this strategy, you start off with the park all to yourself in some of the least crowded spots. By the end of your portrait session you will be a pro in front of the camera, and thus more comfortable in front of crowds.
New York Botanical Garden Photo Permit Process
The New York Botanical Garden requires the purchase if a photo permit for every photo shoot. The permit cost $250 for two hours of photography. To secure a permit, you have to apply online six weeks in advance of your photo shoot date. Photos are only permitted in certain locations of the garden, including the Azalea Garden (seasonal), Benenson Ornamental Conifer Collection, Haupt Conservatory Courtyard (seasonal, weekdays only), Rose Garden (seasonal), and Stone Mill Patio.
As you might have guessed, there are a few rules to follow:
- This permit includes a maximum party size of 4 including your photographer.
- This photo permit is not valid for bridal, wedding, or other formal dress shoots.
- This permit type is not accompanied by NYBG staff, and does not include ticketed entry to the Garden or parking fees. You can purchase tickets for each member of your party onsite or online in advanceafter purchasing your permit.
- This permit allows for outdoor photography in approved locations only (Azalea Garden, Rose Garden or the Conifer Collection.) Prohibited locations include the Conservatory Lawn, within the Conservatory Courtyards, inside the Conservatory, along any pathways that line the perimeter of the Conservatory, at the Stone Mill, Stone Mill Patio, inside the Mertz Library, within the Rock Garden, or with elements of any Special Exhibitions currently on display at NYBG.
- All photography equipment used must be handheld. In the event that the photographer must use a tripod, lighting, or anything freestanding, please inquire about rates for these types of photoshoots.
If you are applying for a photo permit as part of your wedding at the New York Botanical Garden or specifically want photos at either the Stone Mill Patio or the Haupt Conservatory, note that this special photo permit costs $1,500 for two hours of photography. The hefty price tag includes the photo permit fee, ticketed entry for your party into NYBG, parking for up to two vehicles, and an NYBG garden concierge who will escort you from location to location in a golf court.
Enjoy the images, and I’ll have photos from Noor and Troy‘s wedding at Giando on the Water next week!
Getting married soon? Looking to create your own New York Botanical Garden engagement photos? Drop me a line, and let’s chat about your photography needs.
Would you like to find out how it all turned out? Check out Noor and Troy’s Giando on the Water wedding photos here.
If you would like to see more images from my wedding photojournalism portfolio, then please visit my website – KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com