The Sunny 16 Rule

I read a number of photography forums and I regularly read questions to the effect, “I’ve decided to shoot in manual mode.  What do I do now?”

Shooting in manual mode is good because it gives you the greatest possible control over you images.  By understanding the relationship between aperture and shutter speed you can either show motion in a photograph, as in waterfall photography or manipulate depth of field.

The_Exposure_Triangle1 copyBefore we get into the Sunny 16 Rule, you need to understand the relationship of ISO, aperture and shutter speed.  When all are perfectly balanced, you have a well exposed photograph.  If they are not balanced, you photos will either be under or over exposed.  Not enough or too much light will hit your camera’s sensor.  Many photographers will fix the problem in postprocessing.  I don’t believe that’s really an adequate option because there is a craft (not only an art) aspect to photography.  By mastering the craft of exposure, you control the photo.

Now don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing wrong with postprocessing.  Photos fresh from the camera are seldom “perfect”.  I finally sprung for the cost of Photo Shop Elements.  When I used the PSE presets to “fix” my camera fresh photo for the first time, I couldn’t believe the difference as I thought, “That’s the way this photo was supposed to look!”  From that moment on I decided to shoot in RAW and JPEG.  What’s my point?  There is a place for postprocessing in photography, just not as a fix-all (or an excuse) for poor photographic craftsmanship.

Simply put, the Sunny 16 Rule is “On a bright, sunny day set your shutter speed to the number closest to your ISO setting and set you aperture to f/16.”  The following exposures will give you well exposed photos (and the exposures will be close to identical).

ISO        Shutter Speed    Aperture
100        125                       f/16
200        250                      f/16
400        400                      f/16

exposure guideThe exposure guide gives you the aperture setting for a given outdoor lighting situation.  (The shutter speed and ISO will remain constant).  Click on the exposure guide, download it to your computer, print a copy of it and bring it with you when you go out.  I keep my exposure guide with me and consult it regularly to determine lighting conditions and the proper aperture setting.

  • On a bright sunny day, my aperture is f/16.
  • On a slightly overcast day:  f/11
  • On an overcast day:  f/8
  • On a heavily overcast day f/5.6
  • In the shade f/4
  • the exception?  On a sandy beach or in snow on a bright, sunny day  f/22

When you master the Sunny 16 Rule, you are prepared to manipulate the three aspects of the Exposure Triangle to give you the photo you really want.  By mastering the craft of exposure, you will improve the artistic aspect of your photography.  But that is my next blog entry.

Jim the Photographer
Manchester CT


About Jim The Photographer

I am a photographer from Manchester, Connecticut. My photographic interests are many and varied.
This entry was posted in aperture setting, exposure, Exposure Triangle, f/stop, ISO, photographic lighting, photography, shutter speed, Sunny 16 Rule and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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