When it comes to birthdays, everyone celebrates differently. For me, it’s shoes. I try to always buy myself a new pair of shoes on my birthday. But because this year was a relatively big birthday, I decided to add something into the mix. What better way to celebrate a birthday than a weekend in New York City with one of your oldest and closest friends?
Although I lived in NYC for 10 years, I give myself a C- in terms of taking advantage of my ‘NYC’ surroundings. When you live there, you’re too busy to do everything you wish you’d done once you leave. Maybe that’s everywhere, but in NYC it is quite a lot that you’re overlooking. That’s why whenever I’m back in the Big Apple, I’m hell bent on visiting as many spots previously overlooked as possible.
For this trip, I was hoping to try League of Kitchens. Unfortunately, my timing was a little off and the available classes didn’t fit into my schedule. Outside of a cooking class, I thought a food tour would be fun. After all, New York is synonymous with food.
But I wasn’t looking for a Chelsea Market, or Eatly food tour, I was thinking more East Village…where you can try all kinds of amazing ethnic foods. Sadly, I ran into the same challenge. There were plenty of tours, but again none fit into my schedule.
Determined, I kept pounding away on the keyboard trying different combinations of “things to do in New York City” until I came up with a winner: a photography tour of Central Park.
Like any New Yorker who’s lived in the city for more than a couple of years, I’ve been to Central Park dozens of times. Still, the idea of walking around with a photographer was intriguing. I like to take pictures, plus when would I get the opportunity to soak up tips from a professional in one of the most beautiful areas in the city? Plus, bonus, the tour was free…to a degree. You tip what you felt the tour was worth.
The night before the tour, I received an email from the photographer—let’s call him D—confirming the tour and meeting location. In the morning, he was at the meeting location acknowledging participants. (Note: he didn’t have a sign, or other way of identifying himself as our guide. It was mostly guesswork on my part until I found him). As participants arrived, we were asked to introduce ourselves and share what type of camera we had brought. I thought this was clever and was excited to hear tips about how to better use my cameras over the next three hours.
The tour began with a brief history of the Park. For all the times I’ve been in Central Park, I didn’t know the park was not included in New York’s original real estate plan. At the time, 57th and 5th was considered “undesirable” and considered similar to “the wild west.” If you’ve been to New York, you know how funny that is today. The park has 20 official gates to it, none with signs. If someone uses a named entrance as a point of reference, you might want to confirm the intersection. And smile, you are talking to a legit New Yorker.
D, continued to share that the majority of Central Park was man-made, or developed to fit the popular vision of the time. It’s not as though the park was excavated. Rather, the man-made touches are minor, such as when you walk into the park, you’ll notice it gently slopes down. That’s because the land was dug out for the park. Another example, Sheep’s Meadow used to be a swamp until one of New York’s mayor’s liked the idea of real sheep in a meadow. Presto, the area was drained and sheep were added. Who knows where the sheep of Central Park are now?
I was enjoying a day off, the weather was beautiful, I was out having an adventure and I took tons of pictures. However, in terms of meeting my expectations, this tour missed the mark. I can’t say the tour was a total waste of time, but it was not what I’d anticipated.
For example, the photography tips were few and far between. In fact, these are the three tips I wrote down in my notebook (Yes, I take notes. How else would I remember all these details for future blog posts?):
- Some photographers believe there should be three things in a photograph to make it interesting
- Taking pictures of a moving subject is difficult
- Try framing your photos with an interesting object that tells the story of where you are
A friend once gave me a piece of advice that’s been much more helpful—and I’ll share it free of charge: “whenever you’re taking a picture, just remember, the better photograph is often behind you.” I don’t know why, but that is in fact the case quite often when I travel.
I guess I just hoped to hear more, like what did D suggest you do when you want to take a moving picture? And what wisdom could he share about light during the day, and how to work with it, capturing great images.
Another bummer (in my book) was that the tour only covered the southern area of Central Park (5th Avenue up to 72nd Street). There is so much more to the park, I was sad to have stuck with the typical, more well-known areas. Granted, they are the most recognizable with tourists, but a photographer has so much to work in Central Park. I really wanted to be surprised and see different parts of the park. We didn’t even get to the tidal basin boat house.
On two separate occasions, D hinted that he does the same tour on Wednesday’s and chargers $45/person. Honestly, I couldn’t see it. Maybe if I had gone in with lower expectations, it would be easier to articulate my disappointment. Perhaps, if our group was more cohesive and didn’t have so many stragglers, D could have offered more photography tips and covered more ground. At the end of the day, with all there is to do in New York, I wouldn’t recommend this to other visitors. There’s too much else to do, and too much ground to cover.