Setting Sun Casts 'Manhattanhenge' Shadows In NYC

Jul 12, 2012
Originally published on July 12, 2012 6:10 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. When dusk fell in New York City tonight, the setting sun lined up perfectly with the street grid of Manhattan. This phenomenon happens only four times a year, two nights in May and two in July. It's been dubbed Manhattanhenge, and it draws photographers from across the metropolitan area and beyond. NPR's Joel Rose went to 42nd Street in the heart of Manhattan to capture the spirit of the moment.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: On a clear night, Manhattanhenge turns the streets of midtown into canyons of light and shadow. Skyscrapers frame the setting sun as it sinks behind the hills of New Jersey.

MERRILL SKYLER: And it just looks so mystical.

ROSE: Merrill Skyler(ph) has seen Manhattanhenge before, though last night was the first time she tried to photograph the effect herself.

SKYLER: The way the light comes out and just kind of makes the buildings look almost like cliffs, and I think it just makes the city just look like why we live here. And it's just so beautiful. It just gives it that gorgeous glow.

ROSE: The tricky part: snapping that perfect image without getting run over. Skyler was planning to meet a group of other photographers on a bridge across 42nd Street, which makes for an ideal view of Manhattanhenge, but the best spots on the bridge were already taken by photographers who've been camping out since early afternoon. That forced late arrivals, like Lufti Ellis(ph) of South Africa and Jody Christian(ph) of South Carolina to get creative.

LUFTI ELLIS: I'm just going to lift her on my shoulders, and she's going to take pictures for both of us.

JODY CHRISTIAN: Yeah. We're practicing right now.

ROSE: Ellis had read a blog post about Manhattanhenge earlier in the day, and he knew he had to see it for himself.

ELLIS: I haven't been in New York before, and it's something you have to come and see it in person. Looking at a picture just won't be the same.

CHRISTIAN: And it's like, you know, when you see a picture of a painting on the Internet versus when you see it in real life, in a museum, you know, it's a totally different experience.

ARNULFO PASYON-QUEEN: I'm going to be risking my life trying to get this Manhattanhenge.

ROSE: Other photographers, including Arnulfo Pasyon-Queen(ph), decided to take their chances right in the middle of traffic on 42nd Street.

PASYON-QUEEN: It's worth it because it happens only, like, a couple times a year. It looked like somebody planned it to be this way when they planned the city of Manhattan.


ROSE: If they did plan it this way, nobody told the cabbies.


ROSE: As the sun hovered above the horizon, photographers flooded into the intersection of 42nd Street and 2nd Avenue, blocking the street until a few police officers persuaded them to move.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: People, you have to move.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Guys, you're blocking traffic.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN#1: I'm sorry. I like the view too. I'm not taking my camera out right now.

ROSE: Then the sun disappeared, and a moment later, the crowd did the same. Larry Sachs(ph) stood on the sidewalk, looking into the screen on the back of his digital camera.

LARRY SACHS: It's a great shot. The cops came. That kind of screwed everything up. The ones before they came up were pretty good.

ROSE: Sachs says he'd be back again to try for the perfect shot. If he didn't get it tonight, he'll have to wait until May. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.