Thursday, September 18, 2014

Aerials of New York and the World Trade Center with the Nikon D810

I have anticipated doing some helicopter sunset aerial photos of New York City ever since the exterior of the new World Trade Center was completed earlier this year. This is part of my plan to re-photograph the various views of Manhattan with the new World Trade Center included in them.

Sunsets in the summer are so late that by the time the sun goes down the building lights are no longer turned on. Sunset city shots are always more dramatic if taken when the office buildings are still lit up. September is a good time because the trees are still green and, although the sunset in New York is around 7:00PM, many of the building lights are on.

The choice of camera was the Nikon D810 because of its extremely high resolution, and good noise control. The main lens was a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom, but I also had a 14-24mm f/2.8 for wider shots, a 70-200mm f/2.8 (that it did not use) for long shots, and a Nikon 24mm f/1.4 to gain two aperture stops when the light dropped as it got dark.

The D810 allows for auto-ISO, which I set to cap at 3200. Anything higher than that and I would switch to the 24mm f/1.4 lens to pick up two more stops and lower the ISO.

As a second camera, I carried a Leica M because of its exceptional, fast-aperture lenses.

A sunset shoot like this lasts about 45 minutes: beginning 15 minutes before sunset and ending a half hour after sunset, around the end of civil twilight. A shoot like this is happening fast so you need to have a game plan.

The session was divided into three parts. Before the sun set we traveled up and down the Hudson River to capture lower Manhattan and the Trade Center with the setting sun reflecting from the glass windows. Next we headed out to the Statue of Liberty in time for the actual sunset and used the statue to frame the city.  After sunset, when the city lights were beginning to come on, we headed up the East River just above the Manhattan Bridge and used it and the Brooklyn Bridge to frame photos of lower Manhattan. Finally, with the approach of civil twilight, we retraced our path back around the island, and, as we went along, grabbed some shots of the city with the lights on.

The first part of the script called for images of lower Manhattan with the direct light from the setting sun glinting off the buildings, as it is here and in the image below.

This is one of the very first photos I took. It was nice of the little schooner on the far right to accommodate me.

This was one of the last shots of the session where the lights in the buildings are clearly visible and the twilight sky is reflected in the glass. This image and the one above it illustrate what a difference 45 minutes can make. At this point my auto-ISO setting was maxing out at 3200, but the D810 handled it quite well with the noise most noticeable in the sky where it is easily dealt with in post-processing.. 

View from the harbor as the last rays of sunlight hit the city.

This wide angle image was done by panning the camera and taking two shots in close succession then combining them later to to extend the scene so it covered the financial district in Jersey City on the left, the Statue of Liberty, and the financial district with lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center. 

For a view of the island that showed more of the relationship of lower Manhattan to mid-town, we took the helicopter up to an altitude just high enough to keep the World Trade Center partially outlined against the sky.

For the third part of the session, we are looking back at the city from Brooklyn with the Brooklyn Bridge in the foreground. We positioned the helicopter so we could see a clear silhouette of the front tower of the bridge contrasted against the lighter shade of the water in the East River.

One of the last shots of the day, the fading glimmer of twilight is reflected in the glass buildings with the interior lights on in the buildings and some detail still left in the sky. Taken with a Leica M and 28mm Summicron lens at f/2 and ISO 1600. 


  1. Lovely images - what camera and lens?

  2. Thanks. Check back tomorrow morning when I will be posting a full explanation of the shoot along with many more images.

  3. Very nice group of shots, and an interesting set of camera equipment tailored to the job. It just shows that no one camera, or system is enough if you have a varied shooting regime.