Camera settings for total solar eclipse
April 3, 2024 8:03 AM   Subscribe

I would like to take at least one decent photo of the total solar eclipse on Monday (weather permitting, of course). However, I don't want to be fiddling with my camera instead of enjoying the experience with my own eyes! Help me set up my camera ahead of time with the best possible settings.

I have a Nikon Z-6 mirrorless with a 24-200mm zoom lens. While not ideal, the best I can do is 200mm at 6.3 aperture. First of all, how do I make sure the focus is correct? Can I just set it to infinity? I assume it will be best to use auto-bracketing, but I haven't used it before with this camera, so any advice would be welcome. This camera has a lot of other features, like Active D-lighting. Should I turn all of them off, or are some useful for this event? I plan on adjusting as many settings as I can in advance in manual mode so it's ready to go when totality starts.

Thanks for your help. Now if I could just make the weather forecast change, I'd be in business!
posted by Don_K to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you don't have a solar filter for you camera, then don't use it until the eclipse is at totality!

If you can see a radio tower a 1+ mile away I would use that to set your focus according to this depth of field calculator, that'll mean the sun is in focus too. But would I use that focus for my first set of photos, then let the camera autofocus use that for my second set of photos, and then manually focus for my third set of photos.

Bracketing is the way to go! In the manual for the Z-6 on page 194 it explains how to do the bracket. I would probably set it to 3ev and 5 shots. Which should give you a pretty reasonable range, though if you want to do more post processing more shots would be helpful. For the last total eclipse, I did a manual bracket from about 1/8000th (dark corona) to 1/10th (sky is washed out gray). I took the shot, then rolled the shutter speed wheel one click and shot again, for about 9 shots.

Looks like your camera has the most dynamic range at the lowest iso, but 600 is a close second if you need a bit more speed (scroll down to 'Landscape').

I would just shoot in raw and not worry about Active D-lighting or whatever other settings.

May the Weather be Ever in Your Favor
posted by gregr at 9:26 AM on April 3 [4 favorites]

That's good advice from gregr.

I'd add that you should turn off image stabilization when the camera is mounted on a tripod (assuming you're on stable ground and not next to a highway with trucks rumbling past).

Also, while it's true you can shoot without a solar filter at totality, it's also important to note that you should shoot without a filter at totality — you won't be able to see the corona if the solar filter is on at totality. And re-emphasizing that you absolutely should not shoot without a solar filter at all other times.
posted by theory at 10:00 AM on April 3 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: This is great advice. Thanks, and hoping for clear(ish) skies!
posted by Don_K at 11:36 AM on April 3

If you do have solar filter, you can practice right now for the pre and post totality shots.
posted by soelo at 11:37 AM on April 3 [1 favorite]
posted by LoveHam at 5:04 PM on April 3

If you don’t have a solar filter, you absolutely should not point a camera directly at the sun with a 200mm lens attached. Don’t mess around with this. The only time you can do this without a solar filter is during totality.

In 2017 I used the exposure chart in this guide from MrEclipse and I was happy with my photos.

Seconding the advice above about turning the motion stabilizer off when the camera is mounted on a tripod and using manual focus set at infinity (or confirmed on a distant object if one is available).
posted by fedward at 5:09 PM on April 3

What I did for the 2017 eclipse was set up my camera on a tripod with *both* bracketing and an intervalometer. It was just going off the whole time of totality taking a 5-bracket shot every second. My goal was to not touch the camera at all during totality and just hope that I guessed the exposure close enough that it was somewhere in the brackets.

I think the important thing was it let me not think about the photography at all during the main event. I was pretty sure something would work but also made peace with myself that it might not. I had a great experience and did end up with the shot.

Consider using electronic shutter ("silent") mode, especially if you're in a peaceful area.

Keep in mind that even at 200mm the sun will move across the frame pretty quick so check the framing a few minutes ahead of time. And yeah, make sure the lens is covered or has a filter until just before/after totality, that's the one thing you have to mess with.
posted by davidest at 10:20 PM on April 3

Response by poster: UPDATE: I went to Dallas as part of the TESS solar physics meeting. A colleague and I got away from the hotel crowd to a nice natural area (in Dallas!) with egrets, hawks, vultures, and butterflies. The skies were looking horrible up to an hour or so before the eclipse, then started to break up a bit. The subsidence caused by the moon's shadow was just enough to clear our area out! Unfortunately, I was so concerned, rightfully, of missing the eclipse with my own eyes, that I hurried the photos, and they came out blurry. I was able to salvage them to some extent, but I learned a lesson: just enjoy the damn thing and leave the photos to the pros!

Here is the result after processing. Could be worse!
posted by Don_K at 7:03 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh, I want to also say that the suggestions given here were great, and I would use them again. Just focussing better!
posted by Don_K at 7:04 AM on April 15

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