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Photography Essentials: The Sunny 16 Rule

By fotosiamo on October 26th 2012

Sunny-Day

With all the sophistication of modern metering system, it seems like the good ol’ Sunny 16 Rule can be dismissed as one of the old relics of the film era. But it is still a valid and useful rule nonetheless, and one that can teach growing photographers about the principles of metering.

So if you haven’t heard about the Sunny 16 Rule or just need to brush up on it again, here’s a quick primer on this classic metering rule.

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WHAT IS THE SUNNY 16 RULE?

The Sunny 16 Rule is a way to meter for correct exposure during daylight without using the camera’s meter.

The basic rule of thumb states that if you have a clear, sunny day and your aperture is at f/16, whatever ISO you are using, your shutter speed will be the reciprocal value of that ISO value (ISO X = 1/X seconds shutter speed)

So for example, if your ISO is 200 at f/16, then your shutter speed will be 1/200 seconds. If your ISO is 100, then your shutter speed will be 1/100 seconds.

Simple, right?

WHAT ABOUT OTHER APERTURE VALUES?

Ok, so now that we have f/16 out of the way, how can we use the Sunny 16 Rule to calculate shutter speed values with other aperture values?

If you recall from my tutorial on exposure, you may remember that aperture, shutter speed, and ISO make up the three-way balancing act in determining exposure. So the way this works is that if you increase/decrease one variable, you have to increase/decrease at one of the other variables in order to keep the exposure the same. If one factor goes up by one stop, another factor should go down by one stop, and vice versa.

So let’s say that your aperture is f/16, your ISO is 200 and your shutter speed is 1/200. If you want to open up your aperture by a stop by going from f/16 to f/11, then you have to go down a stop in either your shutter speed to 1/400 sec or ISO to ISO100.

So here’s a quick run-down of what shutter speed that you will need if you open up your aperture one stop at a time. The ISO is kept at ISO200.

Change in Aperture Stop Difference Change in Shutter Stop Difference
f/16 0 1/200 @ISO200 0
f/11 +1 stop 1/400 @ ISO200 -1 stop
f/8 +2 stops 1/800 @ISO200 -2 stops
f/5.6 +3 stops 1/1600 @ ISO200 -3 stops
f/4 +4 stops 1/3200 @ISO200 -4 stops
f/2.8 +5 stops 1/6400 @ISO200 -5 stops

WHAT ABOUT OTHER WEATHER CONDITIONS?

Lone Cypress by Joe Gunawan | fotosiamo.com for SLR Lounge.com

For other weather conditions besides clean and sunny, you can also compensate with the aperture in order to keep ISO and shutter speed at the same value. Here is a table from James Martin’s Digital Photography Outdoors: A Field Guide for Travel and Adventure Photographers.

Weather Condition Shadow Detail Aperture
Snowy/Sandy Dark with sharp edges f/22
Clear & Sunny Distinct f/16
Slightly overcast Soft around edges f/11
Overcast Barely f/8
Heavy overcast No shadows f/5.6
Open shade/Sunset No shadows f/4

 

HOW IS THE SUNNY 16 RULE USEFUL?

First of all, the Sunny 16 Rule is a good way to check if your camera is spot on with exposure or does it consistently under or over expose. Some cameras have a tendency to slightly under expose, and this is a good way to test that camera.

Additionally, unlike the camera metering system, the Sunny 16 Rule is based on incident light instead of reflected light, which means that it’s based on the brightness of the light only, and not how the light that is being reflected off the subject and into the camera.

I wrote an extensive test on the advantages of incident light metering versus reflected metering before, but to sum it up, incident light metering cannot be fooled by very light or very dark clothing and very light or dark background. So as a quick example, a bride’s white wedding dress can throw off a camera’s reflected light metering the more and more of that dress fills the frame.

So the Sunny 16 Rule is can help you double check your camera’s metering to make sure it’s not getting thrown off.

That’s all there is to it for the Sunny 16 Rule! It’s another good tool to have in your photography knowledge bag.

Sunny 16 sticker by CafePress
If you want a nice cheat-sheet sticker to have with you, you can get the Sunny 16 sticker by CafePress

Keep on shooting and stay creative!

About

Joe is a rising fashion and commercial photographer based in Los Angeles, CA. He blends creativity and edge with a strong style of lighting and emotion in his photographs. Be sure to check out his work at www.fotosiamo.com and connect with him on Google Plus and on Facebook

12 Comments

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  1. Kaushik Biswas

    great article. however, how do i use higher shutter speed for my hasselblad 500cm?

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  2. Joseph Prusa

    Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Ed Rhodes

    great tips

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  4. Stewart Richard

    The Sunny 16 rule was just amazing. By reading this, I came to know about this photographic rule and it was just flawless. By following these rules we can capture gorgeous pictures in sunlight or in other weather condition and it will work.

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  5. Chris Jones

    It’s taken me a couple of years and countless trips to interesting cities to finally get round to studying these essential ruls of photography. Sadly this has resulted in thousands of not-as-good-as-they-could-have-been images! I have the sunny 16 rule guide image on my iPhone, and I can refer to it in an instant and save time compositing shots instead of fighting with the histogram.

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  6. if the baby won’t come, the camera will have to do | behind the gate

    […] in harsh light. It was overcast and noon. But it made me realize that the camera follows the “Sunny 16 rule” almost […]

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  7. Carl

    When using the sunny 16 rule it is best to use print (negative) film versus slide (positive) film. Print film has a much greater exposure latitude which means when your photos can still turn out okay if your exposure isn’t spot on.

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  8. Chasing the sun up on Moel Fenlli –> Clwyedian Range, North Wales | van plus 4

    […] see how the sunny F16 rule translates into real pictures, I schlepped Mr. B & the hounds back to Moel Fenlli yesterday to […]

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  9. Useful Photography Tip #82: The Best Skill You Will Learn As You Become More Advanced Is Metering – The Phoblographer

    […] reviewers on the Phoblographer staff are required to be proficient in the tried and true Sunny 16. It’s how we test the metering of cameras. According to this rule: in a bright sunny scene […]

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  10. The Sunny 16 Rule | DmartienJ Space

    […] https://www.slrlounge.com/photography-essentials-the-sunny-16-rule Share this:ShareEmailPrintFacebookTwitterGoogle +1LinkedInJ'aime ceci:J'aimeSoyez le premier à aimer ceci. Cette entrée a été publiée dans photo par vaillantmartien, et taguée exposure, guide, Joe Fotosiamo, photography, rule, sunny 16. Ajouter aux favoris ce permalien. […]

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  11. AndyO

    I first heard of the Sunny 16 rule from http://fredparker.com/ultexp1.htm
    I found it incredibly useful in understanding some of the basics of photography and I wish I’d stumbled across it earlier.
    Apologies to SLRLounge for linking to another site but I don’t think there’s any direct competition.

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  12. Eric Gould

    The Sunny 16 Rule is a fun way to look back at the great film days. Now we have digital cameras with histograms to tell us if our exposures are correct. Imagine not knowing if your got things right in camera for several days or even weeks. Now we have the “right stuff” in an instant on the back of our cameras…That said I proudly wear, from time-to-time., a t-shirt with The 16 Rule printed boldly on the front and back. 

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