The Top of the Rock Observation Deck is one of the best places in New York to get a photo of the city. The views from the top are amazing -- you can see uptown, downtown, Central Park, and from Jersey to the Outer Boroughs on a clear day. The Empire State Building is also a great place to photograph the city, except when you shoot from the Top of the Rock Observation Deck the iconic Empire State Building is included in your photo since it is not beneath your feet.
Getting to the Top of the Rock
The Top of the Rock Observation Deck is located atop 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the building which towers over the ice skating rink and Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center during Christmas time. Take the D or F train to 47 - 50 Streets - Rockefeller Center. The entrance to the Observation Deck is on W 50th Street between 5th Ave. and 6th Ave. Public transportation is recommended; if you choose to drive, you will almost certainly need to park in a garage which will be very expensive.
The Top of the Rock Observation Deck is open 8 AM - 12 midnight, 7 days per week. The last elevator goes up at 11 PM. Before arriving at the top you will watch a short video on Rockefeller Center. Once you do arrive at the observation deck, there is no time limit - you can stay as long as it's open.
Tickets are available at the box office and online. If you are planning your visit ahead, I highly recommend you buy your tickets online so you can reserve your time slot and be assured of entry.
Photographing from the Observation Deck
There are three levels to the Top of the Rock. The lower two levels are surrounded by safety glass. Shooting from here, get your lens as close to the glass as possible and use a hand to block light from the sides in order to get rid of glare. The top level is completely open air and is your best bet for an unobstructed view of New York City.
This attraction is open throughout the day, but the best time to visit is surely sunset. During this short span of time the sky and the city below will change to all sorts of dramatic colors. And due to your 360 degree view, the city will be light in the west while darkening towards the east. If you have a wide enough lens, you can literally get a photo of the sky fading from light to dark across your frame.
Once the sun goes down, you have a different but equally inspiring view: the dark night sky against the infinite blanket of lights throughout New York City. With a DSLR, the city lights are so bright a tripod really is not even necessary to shoot once it's dark -- turn off your flash, turn up the ISO and keep your hands steady. The following photo was made at 1/50 sec. and ISO 1600.
Gear for the Top of the Rock
Tripods are not allowed on the Observation Deck. Security guards are on the look-out, and will ask you to put your tripod away if they see you setting one up. I do not know if this same rule applies to small travel-sized tripods such as gorillapods, which you might be able to place on the barrier and hold steady with your hands. Try asking a security guard if it's OK.
Since you cannot use a tripod, a camera that is capable of good image quality at high ISO can do wonders for shooting from here during and after sunset. Fast lenses and Image Stabilization/Vibration Reduction also come in very handy. You will be challenged to get a reasonably fast shutter speed and hold your camera steady, but since the city lights are so bright this task is not as hard as it sounds.