I recently had the opportunity on November 13th, 2021 to shoot timelapses from the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building. Myself and Emeric from Emeric’s Timelapse were granted access from the Empire State Building.
I’ve never shot timelapses before from this viewpoint and wanted to provide some info on my experience, preparation, and results. Keep reading further for tips on how to shoot from the 102nd floor of the world’s most iconic building. This view is truly the best New York City has to offer!
Prep for the Shoot:
Having the right equipment and gear is very important. The 102nd floor of the Empire State Building is a rather small area with 360 views. There are no tripods (small gorilla pods can be used) allowed however lens skirts and suction cups are usable. Prior to the trip I bought a suction cup mount for DSLR cameras and a lens skirt. I also have a bean bag for placing my camera on surfaces where tripods aren’t allowed. The bean bag is very flexible and can help you position the camera in the perfect spot. Note: the bean bag by itself will not work and I had to use a camera bag and bean bag to get the camera high enough above the floor.
The suction cup mount is used to attach the DSLR camera to windows and the lens skirt is used to reduce glare and reflections from the window. The lighting and reflections on the floor could absolutely ruin a timelapse if you’re not careful and the black covering is perfect. The image blow shows the setup used and also highlights the reflections on the glass with a photo taken using a cellphone. Although its possible to eliminate reflections by getting close to the glass there will always be people moving around and changes in lights that it will be difficult to eliminate all reflections.
Another pro trip is to wear dark clothing yourself since you will be closer to the camera and lighter / bright clothing may be seen more easily!
We had a ticket time of 3pm to shoot a 440pm sunset. When we arrived in NYC there were storms in the area.
We had been tracking the weather all morning and afternoon and were fairly confident the storms would clear in time for sunset. A lot of times storms right before sunset can turn into some amazing light and colors so we were hopeful. However at about 230pm it started to hail! The storm was really intense and we were having a few drinks before the shoot. But by the time we got to the Empire State Building at 3pm the storm had cleared.
We then started our ascent to the 102nd floor!
The 102nd floor is a rather small area with large windows and a full 360 degree view. Theres probably about 8-10 feet of space between the center column / elevator and windows all the way around. We had special access so made sure to check in with the security guard that we would be setting up our shoot. We were intending to stay there for several hours so glad we made it early to get setup.
Both Emeric and I had multiple cameras so we decided to each stay on one side and change position every 10-15 minutes to check our cameras and view. The main viewpoint is looking out towards lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center. The other viewpoint we did a day to night timelapse of was looking towards midtown and central park.
I eventually decided to set both my cameras on aperture priority since there were lots of people and I didn’t want to have to be touching my camera every few minutes. I did a 5 second interval on the timelapse pointing towards lower Manhattan and a six second interval on the one towards midtown.
As we got closer to sunset the clouds really started to clear. There was some amazing lights and colors. We had to make sure we kept an eye on the cameras to ensure people didn’t bump into any of them.
As the light faded the city becomes absolutely beautiful. New York City is stunning in any weather and the city lights are just something you have to see from above. We then decided to try some more detail shots including the Flatiron Building, Hudson Yards, and the World Trade Center. The crowds drop off drastically and there is a lot more freedom to maneuver around and find specific angles for your photos.
Three timelapses are below from the evening. Also make sure to check out my Instagram page for more videos
Here are three tips for shooting at the Empire State Building
- Make sure to get there early! – – there will be very large crowds in a small area at sunset so if you get there early (at least 1 hour before sunset) you’ll have an opportunity to find your best angle and setup
- Use lens skirts – – the reflections are pretty bad on the 102nd floor due to the lighting inside the room and crowded space
- Stay after sunset – – there will be fewer people and you’ll have a chance to find some amazing angles and viewpoints! Plus the city lights and streets are something to see from the high vantage point!