Twice a year the Toronto media perks up to announce the incredible event known as Toronto Henge sunset. The next occurrence is today. Though it’s good for a few days up to a week before or after the perfect alignment.
What is Toronto Henge? The sun aligns with the East and West streets to create an intense blast of light that creates strong silhouettes and shadows.
Photographers are very interested in these captures but anyone can participate. It just takes a few simple concepts and techniques to get good shots. Here are the main subjects of this article:
- Date and Time / Location
- Photo Technique
- Software and apps
- Example photos from Queen St. West
Date and Location
The dates change slightly yearly but you can keep up with it by checking out posts on sites like the Weather Network or just opening an app yourself and looking for alignments.
This February the ideal date is identified as February 15 by the Weather Network. This sunset timing repeats in February and October every year though the prime calendar date changes year by year.
It’s not a one day event!
Keep in mind though that this is not really a one date phenomenon. Depending on the street orientation, buildings in frame and height of the sun (altitude) you end up with variations on the henge effect over the course of a week or two.
A variability of the height of the sun will produce a differing quality but if you actually get a sun blasting pure light directly into your camera it will be difficult to take a good photo. You will end up having to stop down so much that the resulting photo can look kind of gross.
The best light may also occur just as the sun sets so the sun is partially obscured and offering indirect light. Objects or figures obscuring the light can also assist.
Photo Technique: Adjust Aperture
Shooting into the bright sun and getting useable images requires making the aperture of the lens smaller or using some kind of filter (or both). If you are using a smartphone and can’t adjust aperture a cheat would be to use a fast shutter speed. I do this with my Samsung to shoot in bright light.
Instead of shooting at a fairly wide open f-stop like you might normally do (say f/2.8) it’s necessary to move the aperture setting to a smaller f-stop like f/11. This process is called stopping down. The aperture is smaller as the number rises and less light hits the lens.
One of the benefits of closing down the aperture is the appearance of sun flares or lens flares in the image which often look beautiful. These flares are a kind of in camera visual effect which really adds “flair” to your images (pun intended).
Software and Apps
A short note on using software to calculate the angle of the sun. All you need is an app that can lay down the sun direction over a map. There are many websites and software that can do this.
Though many people swear by PhotoPills I recommend Sun Calculator. The main reason for this is cost and complexity. If you need super hyper positioning in relation to a building or statue then the functionality of a paid app like PhotoPills may be justified.
However since you only really need the sun angle laid across a map, many free or inexpensive apps will do the trick. Obviously the only “must have” is the ability to change date and time so you can look ahead and plan your shoot.
Case Study Queen Street West mid February
In these photos (at bottom of the post), looking west along Queen street west, you can see amazing bright light and long shadows. Keep in mind that these photos were not taken on the perfect alignment day (actually days later) but they still demonstrate what’s possible.
One of the greatest difficulties is the edit. Because of the stop down process you end up with dark images. As you brighten your raw files the image is revealed but the tones and colours are very intense.
It can be easily overdone. You may want to dial back saturation so your image is not so intense. Play with the intensity of the yellow, orange and red in HSL settings.
Tip – Try the pedestrian bridge overlooking Queen street that connects the Sheraton centre hotel with City Hall! Or go to King St. Try shooting alongside the streetcars in the middle of the street.
Good luck and have fun with your Henge shoot!
Make sure you tag your photos and videos with our hashtag #tdot_shots