Ah, the holiday card…the annual bane of existence for most families. If you live in New York City, holiday cards are made even more complicated by the fact that we all have cramped apartments that rarely include beautiful fireplaces around which you can take an annual portrait. While you could go to some big ol’ photo studio to get your portraits done with a blank white background and a fake Christmas tree, I’ve got some better suggestions. In today’s blog, I share with you a few NYC holiday card location ideas that will take you from Battery Park all the way up to the Cloisters.
NYC Holiday Card Location Ideas – Props
Let me start by saying this: while you all know I am not a huge fan of props in family portraits, for the annual holiday card I give props a pass. Especially in the case when you are trying to create a holiday card in the middle of June, props can be an effective way to convey the holiday spirit. Don’t be afraid to play with Christmas lights, put your newborn baby in a wreath, use a silly elf hat, and yes, put the tree up way, way early.
NYC Holiday Card Location Ideas – Activities
Speaking of silly elf hats, if you don’t want to go the kitschy Christmas route, then know that a quality family portrait will always work for a holiday card. In this case, my usual rules of setting up a family activity as the basis for a documentary-style portrait apply. As an activity suggestion, how about taking the gang ice skating? I’m not saying you can necessarily get your photographer out on the ice, but taking photos with a long lens as the kids lap around the rink is great for photos. Here are the opening dates for ice skating rinks in NYC:
- The Rink at Rockefeller Center: October 8
- Winter Village at Bryant Park: October 27
- Wollman rink in Central Park: October 20
- LeFrak Center in Prospect Park: October 29
- Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers: open year round
- Riverbank State Park Ice Rink: November (date yet to be confirmed)
One other activity not to be missed is the whole family going to purchase a tree. To educate my Florida family who is reading this blog, here in New York City most everyone has a live tree that they purchase on the street from a vendor. For your family portrait, take the whole family down to select a tree, take it home and then decorate. Instant holiday card memories, if you ask me.
Other options for family photo friendly activities include going on a hot chocolate run or baking up a storm at home. Nothing says the holidays like flour flying everywhere and kids running amok. Get those kids decorating Christmas cookies, and you will have plenty of photos for a holiday card plus a complete album.
NYC Holiday Card Location Ideas – The Great Outdoors
Thanks to global warming and the fact that the temperature in New York has been about 15 degrees hotter than normal, this means that taking photos outdoors is fine through mid-December. The warm temperatures, alas, also mean that the leaves haven’t been as pretty. (Read this article to find out exactly why.) The farther north you go, the better the leaves will be, so don’t be afraid to take a road trip north. Heading up to Lyndhurst Castle, or anywhere along the Hudson River Valley is always a great choice for photos. By the way, here is the fall foliage map so you can see when and where the leaves are predicted to change color.
If you’re in the city and going for a woodsy, forest atmosphere that perhaps summons the thought of the north pole in summer, why not try north Central Park. If you look at photos from Genny and Blaine‘s engagement shoot, you can see the diversity of terrain found by just venturing above 72nd Street. Going north lets you miss all of the tourists and the headaches that come with battling the masses around the Bethesda Fountain. Other ideal forest locations in the city include Fort Tryon Park near the Cloisters, the woods behind the Picnic House in Prospect Park, and Van Cortlandt Park way up in the Bronx.
For a quick waterfall look in the city, try Greenacre Park, located at 217 E. 51st Street. This is a public space in which you can take photos. Keep in mind this spot will be busiest during the day with office workers trying to have a little lunch. Greenacre Park is open every day from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
NYC Holiday Card Location Ideas – City Decorations
All the holiday decorations in New York come onto the scene by November 23rd (if not earlier). If you can schedule your holiday portrait session at this time, you have a wealth of options. Here are the dates for holiday decoration openings in New York City:
- Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting: November 28
- Big, red Christmas ornament balls at 1251 Sixth Avenue: November 23
- Giant menorah at the Plaza Hotel: December 2
- Holiday windows along Fifth Avenue: November 23
If you are interested in public art but won’t be scheduling your family portrait in November, then always keep in mind that the ‘Hope’ and ‘Love’ sculptures are always available. ‘Hope’ is located at the corner of 53rd Street and Seventh Avenue, and ‘Love’ is located at the corner of 55th Street and Sixth Avenue. Both of these sculptures are extremely popular with tourists, so try to schedule a shoot at an off-peak time and come prepared with plenty of patience.
New York at Christmas time has several indoor locations that are great for a holiday card, though many of these spots are technically off-limits for a professional photographer. The Metropolitan Museum of Art puts up a giant Christmas tree on November 20. While anyone can take a photo in front of the tree, a professional portrait is not allowed. But I always say you should ask forgiveness, not permission. As such, if you can be quick enough, and sly enough, you can get your photo taken, then wander outside for some photos in Central Park. It’s the same situation with the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. While the marble lions no longer wear wreaths around their necks at Christmas time because the pine wreaths hurt the marble, the library is beautifully decorated inside. You shouldn’t have a problem taking photos on the staircases or in the hallways, but you can’t take photos in the main reading rooms. And then there is my personal favorite: the origami tree in the American Museum of Natural History. This tree is incredibly unique, and who wouldn’t want photos with dinosaurs afterward? One final spot: don’t forget about the roaring fires in either the big hotels or the private clubs.
One indoor option that is always allowed is Grand Central Terminal. Grand Central is a fantastic option no matter the time of year because no permit is necessary and it is always open, making it the perfect rain back up location for any shoot. Again, you are fighting the crowds, but the space should be lit up with beautiful lights. Visit at an off time – in other words, when it is not rush hour for Metro North commuters.
You could also always go the full tilt tourist route. Have your kids photographed while eating a dirty water hotdog on the sidewalk. Take a family stroll down through Little Italy or Chinatown with strings of lights overhead. Head up to the top of the Empire State building. The Empire State building is open until 2:00 AM, so if you schedule your shoot late enough at night, or early enough in the morning, you could be up at the top with the twinkling lights of New York City down below. What could be more Christmas-y than that?
And finally, when you sit down to actually mail out the holiday cards, make sure you have double checked your addresses for accuracy and don’t forget to use festive stamps! Here’s a look at this year’s selection of holiday stamps from the United States postal office.
It’s already October, folks. This means that Christmas is only 79 days away…give me a call if you would like to schedule your holiday photo shoot.
If you would like to see more images from my family photojournalism portfolio, then please visit my website — www.KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com