Interview: Jonathan Colton Teaches How to Take the Most Memorable Photos in New York City

In the beginning, it seems a really big step. Although, everything in life is hard before it is easy. This is how I felt after my last visit to New York. I felt that even if the distance back to Greece would be almost 5,000 miles, in my head it was just a normal 9-hour flight. The space between those cities had shrunk in my head. I could literally come back next week, it is that easy.

I am blessed to have networked with so many people around the world. People I have connected and inspired by their photography and mostly by their personality. Those people keep me motivated too, they keep my dream alive. A dream I have since I was a kid, to explore this world and capture it with my camera.

One of those people is Jonathan Colton from New York. Combining landscape photography with sunrises and sunsets was the beginning factor that ignited my desire to buy a camera and start documenting the world as I see it. Jonathan’s photography had something similar to what I have experienced here in Greece.

However, his scenery offers the viewer the greatest experience of the most popular and vibrant city in the world. When you’re in New York, “that concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothing you can’t do” as Alicia Keys sings, it is so very true! This is what I was singing every day when I was heading downtown Manhattan to take photos and feel that energy that flowed in my veins.

I won’t say more though cause here it is, a new interview and Jonathan’s most amazing photos in New York. I hope you get something valuable from him and his expertise in landscape and cityscape photography. Enjoy!

Share a few things about yourself.

I was born in Manhattan and grew up 30 miles north in Rockland County, NY. A suburb of New York City that sits at the foot of the Ramapo Mountains and Harriman State Park. Growing up I spent summers in the Adirondacks and Maine, so landscapes and nature were some of my favorite scenes and places to be. 

View from the East River 

  • Camera: Sony A7ii
  • Lens: Pentax SMC Takumar 55mm/F1.8 (1972-1975)
  • ISO:100
  • 1/2500 sec
  • f/8

I studied at the University of Pennsylvania, Undergraduate and Graduate degrees in politics and government. I was a political consultant during 3 election cycles in the 1990s. I raised money for Congressional, Gubernatorial and Presidential candidates. In 1996, I joined a healthcare company in NYC and spent 13 years in healthcare. I lectured at Pace University 2004-2008. And for the past decade or so, I have worked as a consultant to various companies focusing on business development and growth strategies.

Interesting fact: I started taking photography seriously in 2019 when I started shooting RAW, using the camera manual settings only, shooting manual primes/manual focus and using lightroom to process digital files. 

In the past year, I have taken 30,000-ish photos. 

What kind of camera gear does someone need to capture photos in New York? 

The best camera is the one in your pocket. When I moved out of Manhattan and into Long Island City where I was experiencing amazing sunsets daily, all I had was an iPhone. So I used that iPhone to do time-lapses and take photos. The iPhone is a fantastic camera. For more serious photographers, who want to capture very detailed photographs, I recommend you choose something you don’t mind schlepping all day. Like a mirrorless camera with a 17-70mm lens and a tripod. 

(AM Blue hour) View from Long Island City (Sunrise)

  • Camera: Sony A7ii
  • Lens: Nikkor-P 105mm f/2.5 (Produced 1959-1971)
  • ISO:100
  • 1/10
  • f/8

What is your main camera/lens and why did you choose it?

My main camera is a Sony A7ii. The reason I chose it initially is that I could mount any lens to it. There are adapters for just about every lens ever made, making the Sony A7 a platform for me to experiment with different lenses and their unique optical effects. I want my images to be unique and vintage primes offer that. Also, the A7ii has IBIS, which is great for handheld shooting with manual primes. I have used dozens of modern autofocus/Image stabilization lenses and vintage manual primes from the 1960’s all the way to current production lenses. I prefer shooting manual primes. My Favorite lenses from the past year are: 

  • Nikkor-P 105mm f/2.5 (Produced 1959-1971) – Famous portrait lens I use for cityscapes 
  • Carl Zeiss Distagon 35mm ZF.2 (Produced 2009-2017) – One of the best 35mm lenses ever made, my goto, insane micro-contrast. 
  • Canon 100-400mm L IS II Full-Frame EF USM (2014-) My favorite telephoto, could be one of Canon’s best lenses. I use it for cityscape/landscape and when I zoom in tight on a subject. Like the empire state building. 
  • Pentax SMC Takumar 55mm/F1.8 (1972-1975)
  • Pentax Super-Takumar 28mm/F3.5 (1966-1971) A classic landscape lens 
  • Pentax SMC Takumar 35mm f/2 (1971-) I love this lens almost as much as the Zeiss 35mm ZF.2
  • Nikon 55mm f/3.5 Micro-NIKKOR (1969-1979) One of the sharpest most awesome lenses made. 
  • Nikkor-S Auto Nippon Kogaku 24mm f/2.8, non-AI (1962 – 1974)
  • Sigma 18-35mm F/1.8 Art Lens (2013-) 
  • Vivitar 135mm F/2.8 – (1971-1974) $39 on eBay 

View from the North End of Jacqueline Onassis Reservoir

  • Camera: Sony A7ii
  • Lens: Nikkor-P 105mm f/2.5 (Produced 1959-1971)
  • ISO:100
  • 30 Seconds
  • f/8

Can beginner photographers use less expensive gear to capture long distant shots? (Like skyscrapers, bridges, etc.) 

Absolutely! There are a ton of used cameras and lenses that make expensive gear way more affordable. I buy all my stuff used at B&H, eBay, and KEH. I started off with a used Sigma telephoto lens that helped me capture the first images of the Empire State Building up close from 2.5 miles away. It’s not the gear, it’s the person using it. 

(Sunset) View from the Highline (W. 28th Street looking toward Jersey City, NJ) 

  • Camera: Sony A7ii
  • Lens: Pentax Super-Takumar 28mm/F3.5 (1966-1971) 
  • ISO:100
  • 1/50
  • f/8

Name the top 5 locations photographers can visit to take stunning shots of the city. 

There are so many cool locations to shoot in NYC to get stunning shots of the city. 

  • All the ferry stops along the Hudson River in NJ have incredible views of Manhattan’s Skyline and the same goes for the East River Ferry stops in Brooklyn and Queens. Ride the ferries all day with your camera, the views are breathtaking and it’s a great way to see the city.
  • Top of the Rock has amazing views of the ESB, WTC and the NYC Skyline. 
  • Central Park around the Pond at the Southern end of CP is one of my go-to locations for landscape/cityscape shots + incredible people watching. The whole park is amazing and you could spend at least a day walking and shooting there. 
  • Gantry Plaza State Park and Hunters Point South have incredible views of Midtown (ESB/Chrysler) and the WTC. 
  • Dumbo (Brooklyn) and the ferry stop there have incredible skyline and bridge views. 
  • I like going to Washington Square Park (Greenwich Village), Union Square, Madison Square Park, and Bryant Park for street photography & capturing skyline views from within Manhattan. 
  • Hudson Yards is an amazing public space with great people-watching, the Vessel and amazing sunsets as it looks across the Hudson towards NJ, especially in the spring and summer. 

(Sunset) View from Hunters Point South  

  • Camera: Sony A7ii
  • Lens: Pentax SMC Takumar 55mm/F1.8 (1972-1975)
  • ISO:50
  • 1/1600 sec
  • f/8

What is the essential camera gear someone needs to have with them to take photos in New York?

On the subject of gear, that depends on the types of shots you want to take. I’ll share what’s in my kit when shooting in NYC. 

  • Wandrd – photo backpack, this is my goto bag. 
  • Sony A7ii camera 
  • Tripod – Oben, carbon fiber with a good ball head
  • Remote trigger for the camera, I use a wired remote, made by Vello
  • I have extra batteries 4 total
  • Extra SD cards 2
  • ND filters 10stop filter and 3 others 
  • Sensor cleaning kit 
  • Swiss army knife and hex key thingy from Matt Granger 
  • Nikkor-P 105mm f/2.5 (Produced 1959-1971) – Famous portrait lens I use for cityscapes 
  • Carl Zeiss Distagon 2/35 ZF.2 (Produced 2009-2017) – One of the best l35mm lenses ever made, my goto, insane micro-contrast. This is my go-to lens, my desert island lens. 
  • Canon 100-400mm L IS II Full-Frame EF USM (2014-) My favorite telephoto, could be one of Canon’s best lenses. I use it for cityscape/landscape and when I zoom in tight on a subject. Like the empire state building. 
  • Nikon 55mm f/3.5 Micro-NIKKOR (1969-1979) One of the sharpest most awesome lenses made.
  • Nikkor-S Auto Nippon Kogaku 24mm f/2.8, non-AI (1962 – 1974)
  • For those visiting/getting started, I recommend a 17-70 lens which gives you great variety in the shots you can take and a telephoto lens, something with reach over 100mm. A tripod, camera, extra batteries and something stylish to carry it in. 

What are the main settings for sunrise/sunset shots or when it’s sunny or cloudy?

Sunny Sunset like this photo with the sun setting directly behind the Empire State Building: 

  • ISO:100
  • F/20
  • 1/200 sec 
  • 349mm focal length 
  • Lens: Canon 100-400mm L IS II Full-Frame EF USM (2014-) 
  • Camera: Sony A7ii 

Cloudy sunsets/sunrises are more dynamic because of the extreme lighting and it changes by the second. 

Cloudy sunset like this where the sun pops thru: 

  • ISO:100
  • F/20
  • 1/60 sec 
  • 400mm focal length 
  • Camera: Sony A7ii
  • Lens: Canon 100-400mm L IS II Full-Frame EF USM (2014-) 

Any suggestions on editing the photos in post-process (highlights/shadows / S curve, exposure, color, etc.)

I shoot RAW and use lightroom. Recently I began bracketing my shots and merging them in Lightroom. My advice is to go easy on the adjustments, too many photogs make their pictures look cartoony because they look cool on Instagram. And I know because I’ve been there myself. 

Any advice you would give to photographers who visit New York for the first time? 

Think about your shot before you take it, visualize the scene you want and then take your shot. And have fun doing it.

Connect with Jonathan

IG: https://www.instagram.com/jlcolton/

FB: https://www.facebook.com/jonathancoltonphotography/ 

Website: https://www.jlcolton.com 

ARTSY: https://www.artsy.net/artist/jonathan-colton 

WTC – (Sunset) View From Long Island City

  • Camera: Sony A7ii
  • Lens: Canon 100-400mm L IS II Full-Frame EF USM (2014-) 
  • ISO:100
  • 1/200 sec
  • f/20
  • 400mm focal length

(Sunset) View From Long Island City

  • Camera: Sony A7ii
  • Lens: Canon 100-400mm L IS II Full-Frame EF USM (2014-) 
  • ISO:100
  • 1/50 sec
  • f/20
  • 241mm focal length

2 thoughts on “Interview: Jonathan Colton Teaches How to Take the Most Memorable Photos in New York City”

  1. Interesting interview, Jon! It’s nice to have some insight from a local NYC photographer and I’m noting down some locations to visit 🙂 Although my take of those places would be very different!

    1. Thank you, Helena! The key is to see as many photos and locations on Instagram and then when you visit, take each photo from your perspective! There are so many places to go to. I have to share in another blog post!

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