New York City in 35mm

After an eight hour flight from Zurich to JFK and a three-and-a-half hour nap, I loaded my camera and followed my gut.

Jan 7, 2018 · 6 min read

In October I travelled to New York City for the first time. Not having visited the USA ever before, I knew the States only from fiction and media. And I can certainly reassure everyone that there are big differences to the European lifestyle.

This is my exploration of New York City through 35mm film.

Statue of Liberty (35mm, Yashica FX-3 Super, CineStill 800 film)


For all of the analog shots, I used the Yashica FX-3 Super. A great Japanese mechanical camera with all the basic functions you’ll need.

I took only two rolls of film: one roll of “Kodak Ektar 100” and one roll of “Kodak Gold 200”. Why only two? Firstly, I was worried about damaging the film by putting it through the X-Ray machine at the airport. Second, film is way cheaper in the US than EU.

I later bought a CineStill film to experiment with low-light shots during night-time.

The Plan (Or Lack Thereof)

I did not have any plans in terms of photo subjects for the one week I would be in New York City.

So after an eight hour flight from Zurich to JFK and a three-and-a-half hour nap, I loaded my camera and just went with the flow. Everything that seemed significantly exciting or special earned its exposure. In total, I exposed 3 rolls of film — that’s slightly above 100 pictures. Now I want to present some of the best pictures, and also some “fails”.

New York City’s Busyness Business

The first thing I did after jumping out of the subway and climbing up the stairs into overground New York, was look up. Those magnificent skyscrapers and huge ad-displays at Time-Square really captured my interest.

However, I quickly became just as interested in the busy crowd. A lot was happening at once: humongous trucks making their way through streets filled with yellow cabs, tourists and businessmen. Road-workers fixing the asphalt, people taking pictures, phoning, talking, buying, shouting, screaming…

I am amazed by how true, honest and authentic pictures of New York urban life are. You can literally feel the tension of so many people being compressed into such a small, but vertically impressive space.

Casual Times-Square. (35mm, Kodak Ektar 100)

Every intersection of Manhattan is an interesting subject to photograph. On one side, you have people of all kinds of ethnicity crossing the street together. On the other side, the same mixture of people waiting. Additionally, car traffic is crossing and defining the overall flow of movement.

New York Intersection. (35mm, Kodak Gold 200)

Something that really surprised me was the massive police presence. No matter where you look, Manhattan is full of police. However, I did not feel intimidated or scared as I would in Switzerland when police occasionally sum up to the mass of what I experienced in New York City. But there, it felt authentic and right, somehow. These — friendly — police officers just fit in into the New York environment.

NYPD. (35mm, Kodak Gold 200)
NYPD “Tuk-Tuk”. (35mm, Kodak Gold 200)

Night Life

It is tremendously fascinating to visit Broadway and Times Square during the night-time (preferably Monday — Thursday, otherwise you’ll bump into hordes of tourists).

Times Square At Night. (35mm, CineStill 800 film)

I decided to use CineStill 800 for the purpose of capturing lights at night. And at this point, I’ll show you some fails.

As I got the film developed, I noticed that red light burned itself into the film with some kind of —unwanted for me — glare. I think it had been caused by to much light getting onto the film. So: if you don’t want that red glare, make sure not to overexpose. You could even take it to the other end of the spectrum by considering underexposing the film. However, it could be nearly impossible preventing that glare. It’s caused by too-bright light as you can see in the three images below.

Bright red light creates glare on CineStill 800 film.

For comparison, if you want a cleaner image you should consider more color-realistic films like the “Kodak Ektar 100”, which I have used for the image below.

Springsteen in Broadway. (35mm, Kodak Ektar 100)
Carnegie Hall. (35mm, CineStill 800 film)

Taking a Breath

The first days — the whole week, really — killed me in terms of stimulating optics, audio, events and feelings. After two days, it felt right to take a breath and visit some quieter spaces like Brooklyn, Central Park and outskirts of Manhattan.

Interestingly enough, I had still some exposures left on the CineStill 800 film. I used it at daytime in Central Park and they turned out pretty well.

Central Park. (35mm, CineStill 800 film)
Squirrel in Central Park. (35mm, CineStill 800 film)
Greenwich Village. (35mm, Kodak Ektar 100)
Greenwich Village. (35mm, Kodak Ektar 100)
Staten Island Ferry. (35mm, Kodak Ektar 100)

I found taking the Staten Island Ferry fun for four reasons: it’s free, you get pretty close to the Statue of Liberty,️ and, as you arrive at Staten Island, there’s another ferry that takes you right back to Manhatten, again passing the Statue of Liberty. Also, free WiFi.

Goodbye New York

New York City is such a great source of inspiration, especially for analog photography. Just take the camera with you and go where your feet take you. Taking pictures there was as much fun as reviewing them back home. There is so much happening in this fraction of a second you’re taking the picture that you can rediscover the moment in a whole new way.

I’d advise anyone visiting NYC for the first time to not focus too much on composition or subject framing. Be conscious of the moment and capture outstanding, special and interesting things. Go with the flow and enjoy your stay.

Red CocaCola Truck. (35mm, CineStill 800 film)
New York City Subway. (35mm, CineStill 800 film)

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