What Is the Sunny 16 Rule in Photography?


https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=34FXnX_0YICwHYu00Photo by Charles Postiaux on Unsplash

There are a lot of rules in photography; the rule of thirds, expose to the right, and many others. But one that has been around for many years and most new photographers don’t know, is the Sunny 16 rule. This article will explain what it is and how you can use it in your photography.

The Sunny 16 rule goes back to the days of film photography and even before cameras came with a built-in light meter. Many professional photographers carried a hand-held light meter with them, but they were expensive, and most amateurs and hobbyists couldn’t afford them. So they invented the Sunny 16 rule. This formula was an easy rule to remember for calculating the proper exposure settings if you didn’t have a way to meter the scene.

As you can probably guess, they made the Sunny 16 rule to use on sunny days, and the 16 referred to the aperture, f16. You then set the shutter speed to the closest one on your camera to the reciprocal of your ISO, or as they called it in those days, ASA. As in today’s digital cameras, ASA referred to the speed of the film. So putting this in practical terms, if you were shooting on a sunny day, with ASA 100 film, you set the aperture to f16 and the shutter speed to 1/125th. ASA 200 required 1/200th, and so on.

With this as a starting point, an experienced photographer could adjust their settings according to their desired results. If they wanted a narrower depth of field that required f4, they knew that this was a four-stop difference, so they needed to speed up the shutter speed by an equivalent amount, in this case, to 1/2000th. In the film days, changing the speed of the film wasn’t as trivial as turning a dial. You had to remove the roll of film, losing the rest of the exposures, and put in a new roll at a different speed. Few people went to this expense, and then only rarely.

But what if it wasn’t sunny? Again, experience taught the photographer how to judge the light and make adjustments. If it was partly sunny, or you were in the shade, you would go to f11. Cloudy or overcast meant f8, and so on. Many photographers, citing another rule of the day, “F8 and Be There,” would adapt the Sunny 16 to their preferred aperture of f8. They knew that they just needed to change the shutter speed to 3 stops over the ASA reciprocal. For ASA 100 film, this meant a shutter speed of 1/1000th.

Modern cameras have all but eliminated the need for light meters, much less arcane rules such as these. But one day, you may find yourself in a situation where you need to calculate your exposure yourself. On that day, remember the Sunny 16 rule and nail the proper exposure.

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I am a writer with over 16 years of experience and hundreds of articles. I write about photography, productivity, life skills, money management and much more.

Alpharetta, GA

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