Sony A6000 Moon Settings – Intro
With the intention to shoot not just the moon, but a blood moon, I needed to plan my shoot meticulously. I’d only have this one opportunity whilst we were in Norway. It had to be a winner.
I needed to set up my Sony a6000 astrophotography settings precisely. It certainly wasn’t going to be a set-and-forget situation. As the moon transitioned from the earth’s shadow to again reflect the sun’s light, I would need to constantly adjust the camera’s exposure settings.
Judging the right Sony a6000 night photography settings would be critical. In this article, I share my Sony a6000 camera settings and the steps I follow to capture great images of the blood moon.
I’ve been a Sony shooter for many years now and still am; using the Sony a6000, Sony a7III and Sony a9 along with many of Sony’s fantastic lenses. I enjoy shooting all the different photography genres.
Astrophotography Equipment – What You Need to Get Shooting Right Now
Sony a6000 astrophotography can be achieved on a budget without the need to have oodles of photography equipment. So what equipment will I need?
- Camera (Mirrorless cameras are great with the ability to directly see the effect of any camera setting adjustments when looking through the viewfinder)
Recommendation: Sony a6000 APS-C mirrorless camera
- Lens (shooting a zoomed-in image of the moon will require a lens with at least a focal length of 200mm. Below is an image I shot at 600mm focal length)
Recommendation: Sony E 55-210mm 4.5 – 6.3 OSS
- Tripod with adjustable head (any tripod will do the job as long as it can hold the camera/lens combination steady without creep)
Recommendation: 3 Legged Thing Punks Travis
- Quick release plate is basically a small piece of interface equipment that tightens to the camera base which then allows it to be locked into place on the tripod head.
Recommendation: If you purchase the 3 Legged Thing tripod then a quick-release (QR) plate is included.
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Sony a6000 – The Right Decision?
Let’s take a quick look at why the Sony a6000 was the right choice as a versatile travel camera for any genre of photography.
It is compact, perfect for travel, with a swift burst mode of 11 frames per second, and packed full of features at a very reasonable price.
The Sony a6000 was bought as a bundle, including two Sony kit APS-C lenses: the Sony 55-210mm telephoto lens and the Sony 16-50mm zoom lens. This was the most cost-effective way to go.
Additional costs were a couple of extra batteries, a battery charger and a memory card. Otherwise, I had all the photography gear I needed.
The Sony a6000 is a do-it-all type of camera for portrait, landscape, Astro, macro or, my favourite genre, wildlife photography.
The Location for this Sony a6000 Astrophotography Shoot
We were staying in the iconic Norwegian village of Skudeneshavn. I was about to shoot the rise of the blood moon over the iconic Vikeholmen lighthouse. Yes, of all places, beautiful and mystical Norway.
I had already taken some daytime shots of the lighthouse (see below), so I had a reasonable idea of the end result. I’ve included my Sony a6000 settings in the EXIF data for each of the images in this post.
My Cameras and Lenses mentioned in this post:
Equipment for Sony A6000 Moon Photography
For this shoot of the Blood Moon, I was using the Sony a6000 with the telephoto Sony SEL 55-210mm lens on a borrowed tripod. The Sony 55-210 is no super-telephoto lens, meaning it won’t provide up-close fine details of the moon.
Regardless, the lens achieved good results in depicting the moon’s colour transitions. The variable focal length of the lens enabled me to frame up the image to include both the lighthouse and moon, thereby avoiding any cropping of the image.
For those not aware, a blood moon is a lunar eclipse caused by the Earth passing between the moon and the sun. At just the right time, the moon is in full shadow, without its usual bright reflected light but with a deep red colour.
This red colour is a result of sunlight being refracted by the Earth’s atmosphere. Red wavelengths are bent into the space behind Earth, whilst blue wavelengths are scattered away.
The below image shows the distance from the tripod to the lighthouse taken with the Sony a6000 with my Samyang 2.0/12mm at sunset.
My method of triggering the shutter was to use a wireless shutter release to minimise any camera vibrations from me touching the shutter button. I would use the Sony a6000 back LCD screen to track and follow the moon ensuring it was always in the frame as it moved across the sky.
The plan was to maintain the vertical position of the tripod so the lighthouse was always in the part of the frame I wanted and simply to pan the tripod head to follow the moon over time.
Sony A6000 Moon Settings: Behind-the-Scenes Planning
How to Photograph the Moon – Foreground and Moon Trajectory
I didn’t want the final images to be only moon shots. A bit boring for me. I was aiming to have an interesting feature in the foreground to set the scene and tell a bit more of the story.
I scouted the immediate area and found a fitting location, the Vikholmen lighthouse, in an area with minimal light pollution. At this spot, I would be shooting over an expanse of still water, which meant I could get some nice reflections.
Next up, was calculating the moon’s trajectory in the sky along with corresponding times. Knowing where the moon was going to rise and the path it was going to take was critical. I used the MoonCalc website, to retrieve the azimuth and elevation plus times.
I then used my phone’s inbuilt compass to plot the azimuth where the moon would rise above the horizon line. Having located my tripod in the exact position I intended to shoot from, I then placed a stone on the ground at this same azimuth from the tripod. This stone acted as a marker.
I didn’t need to pinpoint the exact elevation of the moon but an estimate of the moon’s trajectory would be enough. Knowing the azimuth, elevation and times, I could plan the foreground composition.
The white Vikeholmen lighthouse was to be a fitting subject.
How to Use MoonCalc
Here’s a quick rundown on how to use and where to add values to MoonCalc.
Open the website. Add your location and the date you want to photograph the moon, to the top left of the table. The table will automatically update the moon information (Rise, Culmination, Set, Distance).
These values will be fixed for the day you have selected and shown as different coloured lines on the map. Moonrise (above the horizon) is the light orange coloured line at time 22:05 whilst moon set is a dark orange coloured line at time 04:40.
The slider at the top of the map allows you to change the hour of the day. Shifting this slider gives a corresponding value to the Moon Azimuth and Moon Altitude values and a different moon position.
The Moon Azimuth is measured as an angle from 0 to 360 degrees (N, S, E, W) and Moon Altitude is an angle from -90 to +90 degrees. We are interested in the azimuth value where the moon rises just above the horizon.
The above image indicates the moon is above the horizon at an azimuth of 140 degrees and elevation of 3.5 degrees at an hour-of-day slider value = 2300 hrs.
It’s important to note that to have any chance of seeing the Moon, its Altitude value must be positive to indicate it is above the horizon.
Now to get the exact times when the moon would be fully shadowed by the Earth, I had to revert to Google and it indicated I had 103 minutes to grab a shot.
Sony A6000 Moon Shot Settings
The plan was to shoot the moon as a long exposure. I was guessing that the shadowed moon would not be bright so I needed to increase exposure time so the camera could receive more of its reflected light.
I intended to keep the ISO low (since I had a long exposure) and let the focal length float between F8 to F13 to have a good depth of field and play with the shutter speed. Using a low ISO, I should be able to keep the image noise low.
I would manually focus on the lighthouse (about 500m away), using the camera focus magnifier to fine-tune the focus then make sure that I didn’t bump the manual focus ring on the lens. In hindsight, I would have taped the focus ring down to prevent any movement.
Not sure about manual focusing? Take a look at this video by Jason Vong.
The tricky part would be getting the correct exposure when shooting the moon’s transition from fully shadowed with little reflected light, to a partially visible full moon and finally to a bright, full moon. Reducing the exposure time during this phase would certainly be key.
I would be controlling the exposure by shooting in manual mode. The beauty of using the mirrorless Sony a6000 camera is that the scene you see will be the same as the final image when looking through the viewfinder. So basically, what you see is what you get.
A dark scene will result in a dark image and vice-versa. So, adjusting the camera settings will ensure the correct exposure. Manual mode allows individual shutter speed, ISO and lens aperture adjustments, which all impact exposure.
First Glimpse of the Blood Moon
The predicted time of moon-rise was 10:05 pm but it teased us by making a late, grand entrance at 11:00 pm due to horizon cloud cover.
Over the next two hours, we watched the moon transition through its lunar eclipse. Even Mars shrugged off any initial shyness to join us on this auspicious occasion.
If you look at the image below, just to the right of the house is a small red-ish speck of light — yep, that’s Mars.
What I’d do Differently— Sony A6000 Moon Photography Settings
- Use tape on my lens to fix the manual focus position of focus and prevent the lens from moving if bumped
- Once the moon started to reflect more light I could have tried the Moony 11 rule. The camera settings are f11, you set the ISO you want and then select the shutter speed at 1/ISO.
- As the moon became brighter with ISO at 100, I should have stopped down (increased my focal length) and decreased the shutter speed so the image didn’t over-expose with the bright reflected light from the moon.
- The Sony a6000 has the best ISO range between 1600 and 6400 for low light photography where noise is least visible in an image. (A comparison is made in this article by LonelySpeck). It would have been better when the moon was completely shadowed by the Earth that I increased the ISO into this range.
- For post-processing of the image, I used Photoscape, a neat, free imaging processing software. I’ve since upgraded to Adobe Lightroom, which has some fantastic de-noising algorithm that is being well-received in the photography community.
- Using a professional lens could only help image quality; something like Sony’s top performer, the Sony FE 4.5 to 5.6 GM OSS 100-400mm lens.
If you have any tips or techniques that work well for you, I’d be keen to hear them in the comments section below. You never stop learning about photography and it sure is a fascinating journey.
My next challenge? Capture the Milky Way.
*Update: New Sony A7III + Moon and Milky Way Shots
Below I talk through the hardware setup of my full frame Sony a7III with the Sony FE 200-600 f5.6/6.3 G and test it out on some moon shots plus later use the Sony a7III with the Sigma 16mm APS-C lens for images of the milky way.
Sony A7III Paired with Sony FE 200-600 F5.6/6.3G
I have now sold my Sony a6000 and added a new filly to my stables, a Sony a7III. It’s fair to say that this Sony a7III is a real workhorse and good for any type of shooting plus it’s a reasonable price. What attracted me was the low ISO wide dynamic range, great auto-focus speed, fast frame rate burst shooting and a large number of auto-focus points covering 93% of the sensor.
A great camera is not complete without a great lens: the Sony FE 200-600 f5.6/6.3 G OSS lens. This internally focusing lens is not lightweight, weighing in at 2.1kgs, but I don’t mind as the glass is outstanding.
I also decided to invest in a Peak Design carry strap which I attach to a couple of Peak Design anchor connectors via a 3/8″ D-ring screwed into the Kirk Replacement footing on the lens. It means I carry the lens and camera upside down.
It’s a very comfortable set-up and carrying like this means I can walk long distances with the camera remaining accessible.
Why choose an after-market lens footing?
I found that hand-holding the lens with the original Sony footing did not give me enough purchase on the footing itself. Handholding was not particularly easy.
The additional length of the Kirk footing gave me the added purchase to steady the lens, which also assisted when I needed to use the manual focus ring and hold the lens with the same hand. The Kirk footing is also dove-tailed, so it can quickly mount directly to my ARCA Swiss-style tripod clamp.
The neoprene cover on the lens is made by LensCoat.
Moon Shot: Sony A7III With Sony FE 200-600 F5.6/6.3G
The Sony 200-600 astrophotography moon image below was captured hand-held at the maximum focal length of 600mm, ISO 640, shutter speed 1/1,600 using Spot Metering, DMF (direct manual focus) and then processed in Lightroom. Mode 1 was selected on the Sony lens.
This camera/lens combination is brilliant during bright daylight, and I have to say that I am more than pleased with this nighttime result.
Below is a shot of the full moon with the a7III and 200-600mm lens at f/9.0 and 600mm. It was shot with a tripod, bracketed three shots (-1, 0 +1 EV) using a remote shutter release to reduce potential vibrations.
The three images then underwent an HDR merge in Lightroom. Manually focussing on the moon at a focal length of 600 mm with the telephoto lens whilst mounted on the tripod was the most challenging part.
Even though the Manfrotto tripod has a 6kg load rating and the camera with lens total weight is about 3 kg, just my touch on the manual focus ring when focussing would induce wobble.
I believe the below image could be better, but was the best of these shots.
Milky Way: Sony A7III with Sigma 16mm APS-C
The below image was captured at a 20s exposure, f/1.8, ISO 1600 in our backyard. No giveaways here. The APS-C lens achieved a natural vignetting on the image, and Lightroom was used to fine-tune the image.
Here are the before and after images.
I’d have to say that using Lightroom to tweak the image was a challenge, but the result is passable. Milky Way shooting will need a better quality lens and location with less light pollution. It’s a start at least.
Do you have any tips or tricks you swear by? Let me know.
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