In between Halloween and Thanksgiving, there is another season for New York families: Holiday Card Prep. For those who go the way of sending a photo of their crew as part of their season’s greetings, the pressure is on to take—and get organized for!—that annual ritual known as family picture day.

Once you’ve got your outfits in order and a photographer (or your sister’s friend with the good camera) booked, the question becomes where to shoot. Sure, Central Park is a classic (and we’ve got several under-the-radar spots to recommend). But for families looking for photos as unexpected as they are, we’ve got plenty more spots you should consider.

photo: Leo Gonzales via Flickr

For the Art Aficionados

If you vacation to Art Basel and head to MoMA on weekends with the kids in town, then it would only be fitting for your family to pose in front of one of the City’s many public art installations.

You could all stand tall alongside Rose Crystal Tower, a 31-foot tall chunky pink glass-like tower that resembles an oversized rock candy lollipop. Done by artist Dale Chihuly, who is known for his colorful glass pieces and chandeliers, the sculpture was unveiled in Union Square Park in early October.


A nod to both Yiddish and Latin cultures and yet quintessentially “New York” in its affect, Deborah Kass’ eight-foot yellow OY/YO  sculpture is currently residing Williamsburg in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Depending on which side you shoot from, the images could either send holiday cheer or lament the year that was.

Your pictures will certainly pop with the giant whimsical sparrows currently flocking in Joyce Kilmer Park in the Bronx as their backdrop. Done by Venezuelan artists Nancy Saleme and Patricia Cazorla, the exhibition—called Flying High for Equality—makes a statement about society’s ongoing quest for fair treatment for all. It’s not a bad message at this time of year.

photo: Kia Ankoor via Flickr

For the Urban Outdoorspeople

If you can’t imagine a family photo session that doesn’t take place in Mother Nature (or at least a New Yorker’s version of it), consider something that offers up even more than grass and trees.

Located in Fort Washington Park right under the George Washington Bridge, the Little Red Lighthouse is one of the only remaining lighthouses in New York City and a sweet reminder of the City’s nautical history. Its bright red color and quaint silhouette make it an ideal background for Christmas pics.

If you’re still kicking yourself for not getting a holiday-card-quality photo at the beach this past summer, it isn’t too late to capture the sand and surf. Make it a family adventure by hopping on the “A” train to Rockaway Beach, where you can shoot arty pics along the now-desolate shore.

Located at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park is an architectural wonder with a green space as its centerpiece. You’l have to fill out a form to shoot there or risk having your session interrupted, but the minor hassle is worth it for stunning photos of stark granite, open air, and tidy double rows of trees. Not to mention the views of the City and the East River in the backdrop.

Speaking of Views…

There are so many places to capture gorgeous views of the City and surrounding waterways. A few of our faves:

A quintessential NYC destination, the Highline offers the chance to feel like you’re a part of the City’s skyline. Run the kids along the stretch of abandoned elevated train tracks and keep clicking that camera as they pass through Chelsea, the Meatpacking District, and all of the interesting greenery, architecture, and public art the 1.45-mile-long park has to offer.

If your schedule calls for a late afternoon photo session, head to to Gantry State Park, a Long Island City park beloved for its picturesque sunsets. The 12-acre park also offers views of the East River with the United Nations, Empire State Building, and Chrysler Building visible in the background.

While taking pictures at the Brooklyn Bridge may be an iconic NYC photo op, if you shoot from the nearby Manhattan Bridge instead, you can capture the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. It’s a clever move that only a tried-and-true New Yorker would be in on.

photo: dumbonyc via Flickr

For the City Slickers

Almost every NYC neighborhood has a truly picturesque street or two, so you shouldn’t have to stray far from home to find an urban setting to shoot. But if you’re willing to travel to capture that money shot, a few of our favorite spots:

A tiny street in the far-eastern side of Manhattan in Turtle Bay, quiet Beekman Place has an old-timey New York feel away from the hustle and bustle of Midtown.

The cobblestone street, red-brick buildings, and a close-up view of Manhattan Bridge make Washington Street in DUMBO a universal photographers’ favorite.

Here’s one for movie buffs: Convent Avenue in Harlem boasts historic homes from the Jazz Age, not to mention the famous Tenenbaum House from Wes Anderson’s only movie set in NYC. If you see some locals, you could ask to sit on their stoop; alternatively, pics of your family simply cavorting around on the sidewalk will show beautifully.

Conservancy Gardens photo: Daniel Jeffries via Flickr

For the Central Park Loyalists

You can’t go wrong with family photos at Belvedere Castle, the Mall, Bow Bridge, the Carousel, or Wollman Rink. But if you’re looking for something a little less crowded or a bit more unexpected, Central Park has plenty more to offer than the typical tourist traps.

Considered one of Central Park’s “hidden” gems, the tranquil Conservancy Garden is a six-acre formal garden with three separate areas featuring English, French, and Italian botanical design. While the pinks and purples of the flower plantings will be gone by now, the fall display can be equally lovely—and the sculptures and small ponds are pretty any time of year.

Out-of-towners rarely make it as far north as 102nd Street, where the North Woods boasts top-notch fall foliage, waterfalls, and story bridges in a forest-y setting. If you have plaid, hiking boots, and down vests in mind for your holiday photo wardrobe, this is the spot for you.

The vast and tranquil Harlem Meer is surrounded by trees on all sides. If you catch it at the right time, you’ll see the crisp autumn leaves reflected in the water—pure picture perfection.

Do you have a favorite spot for a holiday shot? Tell us in the comments!

— Meredith Barnett