How to Photograph Manhattanhenge
What is Manhattanhenge?
Twice a year the setting sun lines up perfectly with Manhattan’s city grid. Locals, tourists, photographer’s, and pedestrians all bask in the glowing sun as it dips below the horizon during sunset, completely visible between NYC’s skyscraper canyons. The light emanated from the sun attracts enthusiasts from all corners of the world to watch this rare event. The conditions need to be perfect to witness the sun delicately sit atop the horizon between New York’s buildings. The view can be blocked by cloudy skies overhead or in the distance, making this event more rare than the twice a year it’s possible to witness.
A suffix borrowed from Stonehenge, where during the Summer Solstice the Sun rises and aligns perfectly with several of its stone pillars. Historians claim it signals the change of season for the ancient civilization. Therefore Manhattanhenge is a fitting name for Manhattan’s setting sun in perfect alignment with the city’s grid-lined streets.
The alignment usually corresponds with the days surrounding Memorial Day and Middle July. If Manhattan’s grid aligned perfectly with North, East, South, and West then this event would happen precisely during the Spring and Fall equinoxes. But Manhattan’s grid is rotated 30 degrees east off the North-South axis causing this event to occur on specific dates out-of-alignment with the equinoxes, leading up to and declining from summer solstice.
Facing west towards the setting sun, you’ll notice the point where the sun touches the horizon creeps day-to-day north until the summer solstice, then creeps back south until the winter solstice. Depending on the time of the year you can plan for the type of Manhattanhenge shot you want to capture. Some prefer catching the full disc just above the horizon. Some prefer catching the sun’s half disc, aligned directly halfway above and below the horizon in alignment with the skyscrapers. The position changes daily so you’ll have to use your best judgement to catch the shots!
The best positions are as far east in Manhattan as possible, with vantage points facing directly west down the streets towards New Jersey. A few streets that have clear vantage points facing directly West are 57th, 42nd, 23rd, and 14th street. Wherever you decide to shoot, make sure you arrive early to beat the crowds, there will be plenty of people fighting for ample tripod / elbow room.
- Tudor City Bridge
The most popular location to shoot from is Tudor City Bridge, a vantage point offering beautiful views straight down 42nd street with the Chrysler Building and the Madame Tussauds Sign in frame. It’s an easy location because you’ll be perched above the street level on a sidewalk with nearly unobstructed views.
- Gantry Plaza State Park
A recently popular location to shoot Manhattanhenge is from Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City. From here, using a telephoto lens, you’re able to shoot directly down 42nd street with Tudor City Bridge as your subject framing the setting sun as it hits the horizon. From here, you’re able to capture small silhouettes of people, standing on top of Tudor City Bridge, holding their phones in the air taking photos of Manhattanhenge, adding to the energy of your composition.