Photographing in the Dark

It isn’t very often that a storm knocks out power in Manhattan, but Hurricane Sandy packed a punch and managed to cause a power outage that affected lower Manhattan, among many other areas. A few businesses here and there put generators to use so they could continue operating, but by and large things were very dark.

I decided to venture out with my camera to see what I could come up with in terms of a dramatic contrast between those areas in lower Manhattan without power, and the areas from midtown north that still had power.


It was creepy, to say the least. But I think what was most eerie about the experience was the knowledge that while Manhattan was dealing with an unusual power outage, many other areas nearby were dealing with extensive destruction.

There was something to be said for the resilience of many people. I’ve seen many examples of compassion and caring. I’ve seen countless individuals and businesses making power available to those who needed to charge laptops and mobile phones so they could stay in contact with friends and loved ones. I found more than a few businesses in the blacked out area that managed to get power, and while no doubt interested in earning income to keep their business in business, they were also clearly focused on trying to help the community. It seemed to me that those businesses were a bright spot in more ways than one.

Sandy NYCDeli

I had intended to photograph the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center, since lights had been restored there while most of the rest of lower Manhattan was still dark. But it seemed all the good vantage points featured the headlights of cars causing too much glare to get the shot I was after. So instead I captured some video that attempted to show what it was like driving in a darkened city with no traffic control at all.

I was surprised at how smoothly traffic flowed considering the circumstances. But nagging at my mind was the knowledge that there were others very nearby who were dealing with far more challenging circumstances, and monumentally greater losses.

Below you can see the video I’ve posted to YouTube that shows traffic maneuvering through a darkened lower Manhattan, with the Freedom Tower lit up in the background. Reviewing the video I captured has reminded me that losing power is nothing compared to what others are dealing with.

About Tim Grey

Tim Grey is in the business of making photographers smarter and happier. He is the author of more than a dozen books on digital imaging for photographers, has written hundreds of magazine articles, and publishes the Ask Tim Grey e-mail newsletter as well as the Pixology digital magazine. He also speaks at a variety of events and leads photography workshops around the world.
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5 Responses to Photographing in the Dark

  1. Mark Larson says:

    Thanks for sharing your updates, Tim, and wonderful news to hear that you and Renee’ are safe. Our daughter in Brooklyn is fine, except for “cabin fever”, but she — like you — has an amazing perspective on the damage. My other photography thought related to you (and Rick Sammon) was that you two should have quite a b4 and after portfolio opportunity with your Coney Island photo workshop images. Hope you stay safe and have a chance to continue your photojournalistic documentation of Sandy’s impact.


  2. Faith says:

    Thanks for your perspective , I’m glad you are safe. I love the video of the traffic . I live in South Florida and when we loose power in a major intersection there is a lot of horn blowing and there is always a few accidents. New Yorkers know how to take care of there own.

  3. Bob Bruce says:

    Keeping in mind that although the reason for all the darkness was rather sobering, your video reminded me of why almost all night scenes in movies have wet streets: they show up better than dry ones at night, with all the lights reflecting off them!

  4. sharon levy says:

    even in the dark new york drivers still honk!

  5. Bill Brennan says:

    Thanks for sharing, Tim. Having been in NYC when all was quiet due to Nature’s fury on a few occasions, I can appreciate the emotional story that you experienced. You probably have been amazed to find how resilient NYers are in difficult times.

    Bill Brennan

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