What It Was Like Photographing San Francisco’s ‘California Henge’

Like many things in San Francisco: Karl The Fog found a way to insert himself into the happening… to much frustration.

I’ve unceremoniously evolved into a morning person since late February. I wake up before 5:30 a.m. on most days during the week, greeting the soft sliver of the morning sun as it slices through my singular kitchen window. Or out on a morning run to remind me of the mobility this bag of proteins and enzymes poses. Rarely, on either of these regular occasions, do I admire the sunrise.

Saturday, April 8th, couldn’t have been more detached from that solar inattentiveness: My eyes and iPhone were glued to the eastern horizon.

“Here I was thinking I’d be the only one to sit on this intersection right now,” I say to a stranger on my left. I had climbed the two steep blocks from my apartment to where California Street meets Mason Street. A few yards from the InterContinental hotel, more than a dozen of us early birds assembled in hope of catching what’s now been coined the “California Henge” by popular media outlets. (I still prefer the “Friscohenge,” but we all must appease the SEO higher powers these days.)

The concrete was cold — the steel cable car tracks were even more frigid against my bare calf as I kneeled to find a decent shooting angle. Others were wiser, donning appropriate pants and layered coats; I literally put on running shorts and a sweater, sans undershirt, and walked out of my apartment toward the school of shutterbugs. They, too, had proper DSLR cameras and sturdy tripods. I had my iPhone 14 Pro and my chilly fingertips.

Traffic was extraordinarily light. Only a handful of vehicles forced our small group off the road. However, much like fire ants caught in a thick Texas storm, we immediately reassembled once conditions proved favorable.

Minutes passed as we all patiently waited for our solar system’s star to peek through California Street. Though the “California Henge” has a history of documentation — articles on the topic go far back as 2015 — I don’t remember it being such an event years prior. For some reason, 2023 proved to be the year we collectively dusted off this hyperlocal gem and chose to revel in its shine again.

The soft conversation continued in the presence of shutting cameras. Talking hushed and cameras busied as the California Henge— the reason we all rose before sunrise on a Saturday in April — began showing promise. Of course… this is when a drone was deployed.

The window to catch this celestial phenomenon is immensely brief; the sunset sits parallel to San Francisco’s California Street twice a year for less than fifteen seconds; if we missed this alignment, we’d need to rinse and repeat the morning’s routine and travel in September.

There it was: The sun beaming down California Street in all its solar magnificence, painting the sides of buildings in orange Pantones. It was gorgeous — breathtaking, enchanting. But Karl the Fog proved unmovable, shading the sun out as it passed directly over the Bay Bridge. Luckily, I had managed to get pictures of the sun just as it crested onto the street in its entirety before disappearing over the dense clouds. I was content and under-caffeinated.

As quickly as the group had grown at this corner of Nob Hill, it just as swiftly dissolved. People pulled their gaze off the horizon and onto their screens, scrolling and swiping through the images they’d taken, sifting out which ones were deserving of an edit.

It’s exactly what I did, as well. By the time I had locked my apartment door behind me and inserted an espresso pod into my Nespresso maker, I had a collection of photos from the morning worthy of a social media posting.

Apparently the following day, April 9th, the sun did rise right above the Bay Bridge, as evidenced by the picture local photographer Stuart Berman captured. For myself, it looks like I’ll have to wait until the fall for my second chance at capturing the perfect California Henge.

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