Photographing 9/11 Tribute Lights and Related Events Through the Years

Through the Years: Photographing 9/11 Tribute in Light and Other Related Events

Today is September 11. Each year on 9/11 I try to photograph the commemorations, ceremonies, and moments of silence, as well as the Tribute Lights. Perhaps commemorating September 11 in images is mainly about photographing the Tribute Lights in New York City area, but it’s also about capturing related events not only today, on September 11, but also around the year.

Each year, I usually start my September 11 day by going out to the Jersey City waterfront and capturing the morning ceremonies and commemorations. There’s usually a small gathering of people on the waterfront, at what’s known as the Jersey City 9/11 memorial. Across the Morris Canal, Liberty State Park hosts yet another gathering at the foot of the Empty Skies 9/11 Memorial. I usually try to avoid Lower Manhattan at this time. But at night, I go out again to photograph the Tribute Lights, most of the time from Jersey City; sometimes, from Manhattan.

Here are a few images from the 9/11 morning commemorations I’ve taken over the years:

Then again, at night, people gather on both sides of the Hudson to light candles, look at the Tribute Lights, remember, not only on September 11 night, but always:

Here are a few images of 9/11 Tribute Lights photographed over the years:

Testing the Tribute Light for 9/11/2017. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
9/11 Tribute Lights. Close-up. Photo by Alina Oswald. A close-up of the Tribute Lights.

Here are a few ideas for photographing Tribute in Light:

-first things first: charge batteries, format cards, clean sensor, etc

  • bring a tripod, you’ll photograph at night
  • bring zoom lenses, to be able to capture the whole scene (wide-angle shot) as well as close-ups (zoom in on details)
  • start by exposing for the Tribute Lights, in particular in close-up shots
  • experiment with long exposures (it will eliminate people walking by in front of the camera)
  • capture the NYC skyline at night, with the Tribute Lights, and then start zooming in on the lights
  • especially if you’re close to the actual lights, use the lights as converging lines
  • clouds and/or rain (right after the rain) can help enhance the subject, make the image more powerful
  • for a close-up shot of the actual Tribute Lights, consider a composition that allows for the light beams to cross the image frame as diagonal lights
  • experiment with various lenses, including the #lensbaby with creative aperture rings
  • use items in the foreground to help set the scene and tell the visual story
  • test shoot by capturing the Tribute Lights before September 11 night; they usually get tested, too, before the year’s 9/11 night

Also, one doesn’t have to wait for September 11 to commemorate the event through photography (or any other way, for that matter). One can visit the Empty Skies memorial in Liberty State Park or the Tear Tower in Bayonne or walk on the Jersey City waterfront and capture the tiny memorial every season of the year. Or capture the Manhattan or Lower Manhattan skyline without the WTC towers. Or capture the 9/11 memorial at the foot of the new Freedom Tower.

Here are a few examples:

September 11 memorial–beams from the actual Twin Towers–as part of Jersey City 9/11 memorial:

One of my first photographs is of the Jersey City  9/11 Memorial and the Lower Manhattan skyline. Photo by Alina Oswald. Summer of 2004.
Jersey City 9/11 Memorial and Lower Manhattan skyline. Winter 2007. Photo by Alina Oswald.

Empty Skies 9/11 memorial, Liberty State Park:

Park 9/11 Memorial. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

Tear Tower in Bayonne, NJ:

Tear Tower or Tear of Grief 9/11 memorial donated by Russian artist to the US stands now in Bayonne, NJ.
Tear Tower or Tear of Grief 9/11 memorial donated by Russian artist to the US stands now in Bayonne, NJ.

The new World Trade Center building and memories of the old one:

And one more image–reflections of yours truly photographing September 11 morning ceremonies in Jersey City:

Self…Reflections while capturing the 9/11 2013 morning ceremonies on the Jersey City waterfront. Photo by Alina Oswald.

As always, thanks for stopping by,

Alina Oswald

PS: And yet, one more note. I wrote this on a rainy, windy, dark night on September 10, 2018. I just got back from trying to get a glimpse of the Tribute Lights. It can be quite a challenge on a dark, rainy night with low-hanging clouds that shorten the beams just above the height of the surrounding buildings. I had to go to the waterfront to capture the lights. Here are a few images.

9/11 Tribute Lights on a rainy, cloudy September 10, 2018 night. Photo by Alina Oswald.
9/11 Tribute Lights on a rainy, cloudy September 10, 2018 night. Photo by Alina Oswald.

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