So you have two weeks to travel and see the sites in the USA where do you go? I recently had the opportunity to venture to the states, here is my brief guide and photo journal of some of my recommendations.
WHERE TO GO
As a first trip to the US you will want to visit some of the big cities. We explored New York, Washington and San Francisco.
NEW YORK CITY
New York was a great place to start our journey, there is so much to do and see in the city of lights. The best way to get around is to both walk and use the subway.
You can get a 7 day Metrocard for $29. As long as you are mindful of your safety and your belongings, it proved a pretty easy way to get around.
Walking as much as you can also enables you to see some of the sites and the hustle and bustle of the city.
The 9/11 Memorial is a must, the museum has an app with an audio tour that will guide you through the various displays. Be aware this is a very emotional space, where people to visit to pay respects to friends and family that were lost. I shot the photo below from the top of the staircase looking down on the blue mosaic looking installation by Spencer Finch.
The work is titled “Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning”. Finch hand-painted in different shades of blue with water colors, hung like the missing person notices that filled the city’s streets in the days and weeks following the tragedy. Each of the 2,983 squares represents one of the victims of the 2001 attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. I found this artwork quite significant and chose to photograph it in a way that showed the passing of time, through a slightly longer exposure to show the movement of figures observing the work.
Adjacent to the 9/11 Memorial you will find the Oculus building which is a phenomenal architectural space. The lines and light are breath taking, thus making it the spot for my next pic! Simple worked best with this image, symmetrical and black and white to showcase the spectacular architecture of the building. The structure was actually designed to resemble a dove taking flight.
Next on the list is the iconic Empire State Building, located on 5th Avenue all 102 stories of art deco glory. Head up to the observation deck to view 360 degrees of the city of lights. I highly recommend heading up as the sun is going down so you can see the city come to life in lights. When capturing the city of lights from above you want to have clear crisp lights so you will have the most effective results if you remember to bring a tripod! Unlike me who shot the above images holding the camera pressed up against the balustrade to stabilize it.
Central Park – the stage to many movies and TV shows you absolutely can’t come to NYC without a stroll through Central Park. A break from the pace of the city walk around and see what features you can recognise from the heart of the park – Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, the bridges, lake and cherry blossoms. You will have photo spots galore!
With the overwhelming amount of things going on and sites to look at you have to slow down and stop to notice the people. In particular the street performers and musicians are an important aspect of the city.
Musician in the Central Park
Get on a boat and head out to check out Lady Liberty on Liberty Island, on the way out you get to see the stunning skyline of NYC. When we headed out it was early morning and the fog covered most of the skyline. (We were able to grab a shot on the boat on the way back). Use the weather to your advantage! Check out this epic photo I snapped of a boat out on the water, with the fog and gloomy sky behind, so dramatic!
While you are travelling around on the subway you will probably by pass Grand Central Station, it is a site not to be missed. It is so much bigger and “grander” than you think it will be! I fell in love with the old world design of the building and spectacular giant panes windows. You could also go “Gossip Girl” and get a portrait leaning up against the rail on the stairway a la. Serena van der Woodson.
Head across the bridge to Brooklyn. We caught the subway across to Brooklyn to explore the area and view NYC looking back across the river.
I noticed immediately the buildings in Brooklyn are must shorter than NYC!! If you head across to Dumbo, you will have the perfect photo op to capture NYC through the frame of the bridge.
We walked back across the Brooklyn Bridge to the city, grabbed a coffee at Starbucks and sat in the park and watched the squirrels run and leap.
You may notice a theme, I also shot the geometric patterns and lines of the structure of the Brooklyn Bridge. I may have taught an architecture photography unit to my students prior to embarking on this trip, these conventions are fresh in my mind.
Honourable mentions: other places to check out include MSNBC Studios (home to Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers), The MET (Metropolitan Museum of Art) and Broadway.
As the capital of the states there are alot of interesting things to see and alot of them are free and around the National Mall.
We took advantage of this and stayed only a couple of blocks from the National Mall. As everything was so close we didn’t purchase a metro card like in New York, we just paid for the one off trips to Arlington Cemetery and Georgetown.
First off on our to do list was The Smithsonian museums, namely Natural History, American History, Air and Space, and National Gallery of Art. There’s a museum to suit practically every taste, and we didn’t have time to get around and see them all but check out a map beforehand and pick one that appeals to you.
Next up is a walk exploring DC’s monuments and memorials. Starting at the Washington Monument, head south and walk the path around the Tidal Basin. Then walk west to the Lincoln Memorial, then back east past the reflecting pool, and end at the World War II Memorial. Here’s what you’ll see along the way (in order):
• Washington Monument
• Thomas Jefferson Memorial
• Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
• Korean War Veterans Memorial
• Lincoln Memorial
• Vietnam Veterans Memorial
• World War II Memorial
The loop is around 5km long, so wear comfortable shoes and bring bottled water, especially in the summer. You have plenty of time to complete the tour, so feel free to sit, reflect, and rest at each monument. And if the weather’s nice, take a spin on the paddle boats at the Tidal Basin! It’s $36 for a 4 person vessel and the vista from the boat on the lake is pretty spectacular.
I led a group on an evening photo walk and several brisk walk/run morning ventures. The above photo of the Lincoln Memorial and the image below of the World War II memorial were decidedly captured as long exposures. This allowed stillness in the movement in the images and I believe adds to the reflection and impact of the capture.
Next, you’re off to shop in Georgetown (a 30 minute metro ride away). Charming town with its cobblestone streets and colourful buildings. The main roads are home to many shops and boutiques including the Georgetown Cupcake (which I can definitely vouch for the gluten free lava fudge cupcake – drool…)
I decided to create a little typology, the doors of Georgetown. Inspired by the colours and some insanely cool doors, I walked around exploring the streets. I tried to vary my composition having some straight on, further back and an angles depending on what the environment allowed.
Honourable mentions for DC: Visiting the White house and touring Capital Hill are also free and you can also opt for a visit to the Holocaust Museum and Arlington Cemetery.
Last stop on our grand adventure was San Francisco. We made the most of the short two days we had left in the US.
First up a tour of Alcatraz! – This former federal prison on Alcatraz Island was home to some of the worst criminals in the US. It was shut down in the 1970s and has since become a national landmark people can explore. Be sure to do an audio tour as there is alot of background information on the different areas of the prison that is very interesting. Be sure to book the ferry to the island, as it gets very full!
I walked around the island for a period of time while on an audio tour. As I photographed my goal was to captured the stark, isolating feeling one got. I was intrigued by the abandoned forgotten beauty, and the windows to the outside world.
Walk the Golden Gate Bridge – The Golden Gate Bridge is one of San Francisco’s most famous landmarks as well as a piece of engineering art. You can walk across the bridge if you want (recommended), drop in at the visitor’s center to be briefed on the history of the park, or just stare at it from every angle and take a stupid amount of pictures like I did.
Tip for this one is to try and show the depth and size of the bridge. In the first image I used the grass in the foreground (after climbing over the barrier everyone else was standing behind…) and shot along the bridge to the city on the other side.
Visit Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 – This area covers numerous blocks along the waterfront and is one of the most popular (touristy) things to do in the city. There are street performers, souvenir shops, and tons of restaurants (including Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.) Don’t forget to go check out the sea lions on the waterfront. From late July to mid-May, anywhere from 150 to 600 sea lions can usually be once again observed sunbathing and barking at K-Dock.
The area is also serviced by two cable car lines: the Powell-Hyde line on Hyde Street and Beach Street, and the Powell-Mason line on Taylor Street and Bay Street.
Riding the cable cars is an excellent way to tour the city and experience various neighborhoods in San Francisco. Catch the cable cars from Market Street. They’re fun to ride and will save you lots of time walking up and down those hills. A one-way ticket is $7 (you can pay the conductor onboard).
Visit Lombard Street – While riding the cable cars, make sure to get off at Lombard Street (located south of Russian Hill Park) and see one of the world’s windiest streets. Just take the Powell/Hyde line, which starts at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Honourable mentions: Head to Chinatown and eat your heart out and explore Golden Gate Park – this gigantic park features a Japanese garden, a museum, an arboretum, and tons of hiking and walking trails.
Well these are my top recommendations hopefully this has you all excited about booking your trip to the USA!