If you live in New England, you probably already know much about the city of Boston. As the capital city of Massachusetts, it’s the most populated city in both Massachusetts and in all of New England. It’s also one of the oldest cities in the country, founded in 1630 by those strict Puritan settlers from England.
If you dig into your memory bank, you may recall that the city was the scene of key events in the American Revolution. Yep, the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the Siege of Boston all happened here. And the city is now a center for education and culture. Harvard, MIT, and Tufts are but a few examples of the serious brainpower that exists here.
Alright, enough of the history lesson. I occasionally come to Boston to photograph its magnificent skyline. Although driving around the city is often a test of nerves and patience, the photography somehow makes it all tolerable. I don’t consider myself a big-city person, but I do love a brilliant skyline
There are many different vantage points to capture the Boston skyline at dusk, depending on your personal taste. The most common photos include the Charles River or Fan Pier Park. But in this article, I describe two of my favorite locations for sunset and dusk shots from across the harbor in East Boston.
Piers Park is across the Sumner Tunnel on the East Boston side of the harbor. It offers an outstanding view of the city, providing a great place to stare at the skyline at dusk as the city lights cast a glow in the harbor.
Piers Park includes a fitness area, playgrounds, and access to a community sailing center. The view is not too shabby from here either, looking out toward the Faneuil Hall Marketplace, the New England Aquarium, Boston Harbor, and Government Center.
The best place to set up a tripod is at the far end of the 600 foot promenade, which sits on a manmade island called Noodle Island. From here, you have an unencumbered view of the city across the harbor, making it possible to create panoramic images, if you’re so inclined.
LoPresti Park, also known as North Ferry Park, is a four-acre park on the waterfront just a few blocks north of Piers Park. Although the two parks are similar, there are some subtle differences in the perspective they provide. I also find that LoPresti Park offers a bit more foreground potential than Piers Park. Like Piers Park, LoPresti Park includes a playground and several ball courts.
The park also features a modern promenade, but it’s much shorter than the one at Piers Park. Although rapidly diminishing in numbers, you can still find old pillars near shore left over from dilapidated old jetties — excellent candidates for foreground subjects. Years ago, there were many more of these, but the construction boom on the waterfront has either eliminated the old jetties or rendered them inaccessible with obstacles that include fences, no trespassing signs, and heavy construction equipment.
BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH
Piers Park and LoPresti Park are ideal places to capture sunset and the skyline at dusk. If taking in a sunset is your main goal, then the best time of year to come here is from December through January. In winter, the sun sets behind the city center, increasing the likelihood of getting a colorful sky over the backlit scene.
If your main interest is to photograph the city lights at dusk, then you can come at any time of year, with the understanding that dusk happens much later during the summer months.
As for me, I prefer to photograph from these East Boston parks in winter for three reasons. First, I can photograph the sun setting over the city and then simply stick around until dusk for the city lights — a two for one win. Second, dusk happens very early in winter (i.e. 5pm in January), allowing me to head home for dinner at a most respectable hour. And third, there are very few people hanging around these parks after dark in winter, allowing me to move around freely without disturbing other photographers.
So, when is the best time to capture the city lights? Well, I find that my best photos are taken 30-45 minutes after sunset. This corresponds to nautical twilight. At that hour, the city lights are bright, the sky is still visible, foreground details are recoverable, and you can get nice reflections in the harbor. While you may be able to continue taking photos an hour or later after sunset, the overall contrast quickly becomes a tricky challenge to overcome in post-processing, with bright city lights overpowering everything else in the scene.
If you’ve ever driven in Boston, you already know the pitfalls of navigating these city streets. Boston doesn’t use a grid system in its street design, so it can sometimes be an “interesting” experience to find your way around the city. Do you remember the scene in National Lampoon’s European Vacation comedy film where Chevy Chase is driving endless circles around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris? Well, it sometimes feels that way in Boston.
To save yourself untold aggravation, I recommend that you use a GPS to locate Piers Park and LoPresti Park. The GPS coordinates I provided in this article will get you close to the parks. If you prefer to key in an address, enter 95 Marginal Street for Piers Park, and 33 Sumner Street for LoPresti Park. Be aware that there are several Sumner streets in Boston, so be sure to pick the one on the east side of the harbor, otherwise you’ll end up elsewhere.
If you come here at dusk, be aware that you may be alone in an East Boston park in relative darkness, so take the usual safety precautions. Both parks have been modernized with good lighting, so it’s never completely dark in either place, but better be safe than sorry as the old adage goes. Probably the best way to be safe is to bring a friend or fellow photographer with you (advice that I myself fail to heed all too often). Safety is less of an issue in the summer, since you’re more likely to be in the presence of ample evening visitors to the park.
If you come in winter, be sure to dress warm. This might sound obvious, but I’ve been there when the temperature was not so horrible yet the wind coming off the harbor was brutal. In early February, I had to wear layers that included a balaclava to cope with the stinging wind.
So, now you know two of my favorite places to photograph the Boston skyline. The view of the city center from these parks is as good as it gets, in my opinion. Be safe and enjoy the breathtaking scenery!