The key to getting a good angle on the world-famous Brooklyn Bridge and the New York City skyline is a little place in Brooklyn called D.U.M.B.O. That stands for "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass". It's a small neighborhood in Brooklyn found exactly where the name says.
Down along the water between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges by Plymouth Street, you'll find a small park where an untold number of photos of New York City have been shot. The western portion of the park, Empire-Fulton Ferry, is locked at night however the smaller part to the east, almost directly underneath the Manhattan Bridge, is more accessible.
Walk Across the Bridge
The most scenic way to get here is to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Taking the 4, 5 or 6 train to Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall will put you just a few steps from the pedestrian walkway. The bridge is just over one mile long -- walking slowly and shooting photos along the way, I usually make it from one side to the other in 45 minutes. If this is your first time, consider giving yourself an hour or so.
There are two lanes on the pedestrian walkway. One is for bicycles and the other is for pedestrians. Beware the bike lane. You may be sight-seeing, but most people on bikes are commuting and have little patience for meandering pedestrians. If you step into the bike lane you will likely be shouted out of the way. Some cyclists carry whistles. A few even carry air horns. Keep to your side of the bridge.
Once you reach the Brooklyn side, take the first exit off the walkway, take Front Street to Old Fulton Street, hang a right and walk back towards the water. At the end of Old Fulton Street is the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory with the Brooklyn Bridge on your right and the skyline ahead of you. This is a decent view so spend some time here if you like, however I prefer the view from the aforementioned park -- walk along Water Street towards the Manhattan Bridge, make a left on Main Street and look for the entrance (Google Maps walking directions). After you're finished in D.U.M.B.O. you can grab a yellow cab back home.
Bonus photo opportunity: keep an eye on the Empire State Building as you get closer to the Brooklyn side. At one point, you'll be able to get an angle that places the Empire State Building directly in the arch of the Manhattan Bridge.
Take the F train to York Street and walk to the park (Google Maps walking directions).
Take the A or C train to High Street and walk to the park (Google Maps walking directions).
Take the BQE to Cadman Plaza.
I've driven here numerous times and while I don't necessarily recommend it unless you are far removed from public transportation, it is possible. Parking can be bad, but not terrible. I usually find a parking spot somewhere around Water Street within 10 minutes. Pay attention to the posted signs and don't park anywhere that will get you ticketed.
Parking may not be a problem, but the BQE can certainly ruin your day. I would not go anywhere near this road any time even close to rush hour. Heck, I avoid it during daylight hours in general. I have been stuck in stand-still traffic on the BQE at 3 AM. The road is in complete dis-repair and major sections are closed for construction.
Use caution when walking to and from the subway. Some of these routes may not have sidewalks or pedestrian paths.
At the time of this writing, Google Maps walking directions are in beta. This means there may be errors. Double-check your route if you are unsure of where you are going.
Safety-wise, I have never had a problem walking around here. Nevertheless, be cautious, tell someone where you are going and try not to travel alone when going to unfamiliar neighborhoods such as these. Use an inconspicuous camera bag and don't flash your gear around.
When the weather is nice, the park can be very crowded. In the Spring and Summer, it can get packed. On the other hand, I have been here in the dead of winter in the freezing cold without another soul in sight.
Shooting the Skyline and Bridges
There are countless different photos you can shoot from this location, many of which will be crowd pleasers. It's easy to get postcard-style shots, but if you're creative you can certainly come away with something impressive and different.
A wide angle lens should be able to include both bridges in the frame. You could also shoot multiple frames and stitch together a panorama, like so:
A telephoto lens can be used to isolate parts of the bridge or individual skyscrapers.
Of course the classic photo at this location is a shot of the Brooklyn Bridge with the NYC skyline in the background.
My favorite time to visit this location is sunset, particularly for the 30 minutes or so after the sun goes down and the sky turns a deep shade of blue. I'm not very fond of the brownish hue the sky takes on after night falls, and so I like to play with black and white photos when the sun is gone.
You will notice that some people climb out onto the rocks in order to get a better angle on the scene (or to get away from all the other people in the park). If you choose to follow their lead, be very careful. The rocks are wet and slippery -- you could very well fall. I have. It hurts. You could break a camera, or a leg.
If you are planning to hit this location at sunset or at night, a tripod is almost essential. The flash on your camera isn't going to light up much more than the rocks beneath your feet. Not only does a tripod stablilize your camera in low light, but long exposures also give the flowing water of the East River a smooth, wispy texture. If you do not have a full-size tripod or would rather not carry one, consider picking up a travel-sized Gorillapod. These are light-weight tripods with flexible legs that can wrap around street poles, benches and other stationary objects.
- Point & Shoot Gorillapod - good for compact digital cameras.
- SLR-Zoom Gorillapod - good for SLR cameras with detachable lenses up to 6.6 lbs.
- Professional Gorillapod - Designed for heavy professional cameras and lenses.
I am a big fan of traveling light and often carry a Gorillapod. Aside from stabilizing your camera, they are also great mini light stands for off-camera flash.
Wrap it up with some good food
After you're done with the photography, there are some excellent eating options in the neighborhood. Grimaldi's makes a mean pizza, Water Street Restaurant & Lounge has a dining room and bar, and The River Café is fine dining at its best. If it's early enough, you can even pick up some sweets from Jaques Torres.