Twice each year, the setting sun perfectly aligns with Manhattan’s grid of streets in New York City, providing a fun visual and photographic opportunity referred to as “Manhattanhenge”. The next opportunity to see this phenomenon will be in July of this year (2018), so I thought I would share a few tips on photographing Manhattanhenge.
The key to the best Manhattanhenge experience is location. First, you want to be on one of the wider streets, which includes 14th Street, 23rd Street, 34th Street, and 42nd Street. Second, you want to be as far east in Manhattan as possible, to help add more context to the position of the sun at the center of the street.
For 2018, the first set of Manhattanhenge dates was in May, so July is the next opportunity. The full effect will be visible on Thursday, July 12th. The sun sets at 8:20pm that day, so you’ll want to be in position by around 8:00pm. If the weather (or your schedule) doesn’t cooperate, the following day (July 13th) you can see a similar effect, but with the sun halfway below the horizon by the time it is aligned with the street.
Note that the sun will be hidden from view until just before sunset. That’s because the sun will follow an arc in the sky, entering the position between buildings lining the street from the left side. So as the sun is going down toward the horizon, it will appear from behind buildings on the left as it continues toward a position that aligns it with the center of the street.
In terms of exposure, you can treat Manhattanhenge as a “normal” sunset. I do recommend bracketing exposures to provide the option of creating a high dynamic range (HDR) image, so you can preserve more details in the foreground buildings, for example.
And don’t forget not to stare at the sun! Have fun, and be sure to share any photos you capture if you take in the unique experience of Manhattanhenge.