Manhattanhenge - Photography Tips and Viewing Locations
Manhattanhenge dates for 2020:
Friday, May 29th and Monday, July 13th for "half sun"
Saturday, May 30th and Sunday, July 12th for "full sun"
When the sun lines up with the city streets, it brings out the sun worshiper in all New Yorkers as we gather along the Manhattan grid to take photos of the sunset. Twice a year, as the angle of the sun slowly moves north and south, there end up being two times when the sunset lines up with the Manhattan streets, which are rotated approximately 29° off from true north, and creates a city holiday called Manhattanhenge.
Part of the fun is the experience of gathering together in the street to wait for the sun to light up the canyons of Manhattan – the bright gold only lasts a few minutes before it sinks below the horizon. As it gets close to sunset (around 8pm in May and 8:30pm in July), more and more people will begin to show up, and as the sun dips into view, the bravest groups will begin to dodge traffic and shuffle out into the middle of the street during red lights to try and get the best view!
Show up early – try to be at your viewing location by 7:45pm – because the famous golden glow reaches across the streets as the sun is on the way down, and you will miss the big show if you plan your trip based on the sundown time. Use the AGBC Weather page to check beforehand if the clouds will block the view to the west.
The recommendation is to stick with the large cross streets in Manhattan to get the best view: 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, and 57th Streets. Most of the photos you’ll see are taken from 42nd Street, which has a clear view all the way across the island, especially when you climb on the Tudor City overpass, which is at 42nd Street between First and Second Ave. The overpass gets packed with photographers during Manhattanhenge, so if you want the best spot, be sure to show up early. You can also view the sunset from any spot along 42nd, including Times Square!
For those who would like to stick around downtown, the first large cross-street suitable for Manhattanhenge viewing is 14th Street. A large part of 14th is tree-lined, which will hide the sun, but if you stay to the west at 14th Street and Eighth Ave, you can get a clear view of the horizon.
However, 14th Street can be a bit of a letdown, since the view won’t resemble the classic photos of the sun shining between two walls of buildings. If you'd still like to stay downtown, head a little farther north to Madison Square Park on 23rd Street, where groups gather at Fifth Avenue / Broadway and it's a bit easier to step out into the intersection to take a few quick photos before the traffic starts moving again.
For a unique perspective, try leaving Manhattan to view the skyline from Queens. Anywhere along the waterfront will give you a view across Manhattan, but line up with the large cross streets to get the best glow. Hunter's Point Park lines up with 34th Street, Gantry Plaza State Park lines up with 42nd, and the waterfront park along the west coast of Roosevelt Island is your best bet for lining up with 57th Street.
Taking Photos of Manhattanhenge
The experience of Manhattanhenge is fun even for a non-photographer, but if you’re going to take some photos, you'll need to be prepared. Photographer Tom Grill has some tips on taking sunset photos, so be sure to take a look through his recommendations on getting the best results.
Since you'll be looking directly at the sun, it's important to take proper precautions. If you'll just be observing, be sure to wear some dark sunglasses and don’t stare directly at the bright horizon. If you still have your eclipse viewing glasses from the 2017 eclipse, bring them along! It's certainly safer than staring at the sun without eye protection.
Unless you're using a professional camera, it might not be worth taking a picture – your cell phone camera may be overwhelmed by such a bright light and your photo may come out overexposed. And, of course, watch out for traffic! Drivers will also be blinded by the sunset and may not be able to see you crossing the street or the traffic signals telling them to stop.
Get a good photo or see any strange Manhattanhenge behavior? Leave a comment below!