Over the years, you might have seen on social media epic pictures of the sun in the center between New York City buildings. This phenomenon is called Manhattanhenge, and it’s when the setting sun can be seen aligning precisely between the buildings of the grid, creating a radiant glow.
As a New York City photographer, this is one of the main events I photograph in the spring and summer. Yes, as much as I’m not a fan of crowds I still put up with them to get ‘the shot’. After I posted about Manhattanhenge on my social media channels, people started letting me know about other henges they knew about!
Technically, “henge” is used to describe an enclosure. While Stonehenge derived its name because of its physical setup, it is also the OG of such an event where the sun is enclosed through something man-made. The sun rises behind the Heel Stone during the summer and winter equinoxes and brings in tourists from everywhere to witness.
It’s from there that American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson realized the sun systematically sets exactly along the Manhattan grid every May and July. Watch the linked video above for a more in-depth explanation.
The exact dates vary slightly year by year, but it occurs twice a year with the first Manhattanhenge usually happening around Memorial Day Weekend and then the second set in mid-July. Between May and July, the American Museum of Natural History also coined the “Manhattanhenge Effect” which is where the sun appears between the grid of New York City since it’s low in the sky, but it doesn’t quite “kiss” the grid-like it does on the actual Manhattanhenge dates. This is my preferred time to photograph the sun between the grid because the hype is gone, and no crowds!
Since Manhattanhenge happens during sunset, it’s necessary to stand east facing west. Ideally, find a spot as far east as possible. For best results with a wide-open view, go to one of the two-way streets of 14th, 34th, 42nd, or 57th Street.
Tudor City Overpass on 42nd St. and First Ave. is the most popular location. My favorite spot is actually at Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City because you can include the NYC skyline. If you want to get ‘the shot’ you should get to your shooting location two to four hours early to stake your spot. No, I’m not exaggerating about the time. Be prepared for crowds everywhere on the streets, especially at Tudor City Overpass. Everyone acts like animals when it’s a clear day and the sun is setting!
Believe it or not, this phenomenon is not unique to New York City! In general, depending on the time of year and location, anything could technically be a sun-related henge. That being said, it’s always exciting to see the literal ball of sun so close through a social construct! I’m making it my mission to compile a running list of sun henges around the world, but here’s an introductory list.
These are some recommended settings to get started with. As always, experiment on your own depending on the environment and lighting conditions. Also, since you’re dealing with the literal sun do not look directly into it!! Read what camera gear I use to photograph the sun, or check out my storefront on Amazon
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