Skip to content

The Sunny f/16 Rule

February 24, 2010

What? You’ve never heard of the sunny f/16 rule? I didn’t either until about a year after I started taking photography more seriously. Here’s the Wikipedia article on it.

To be honest, even after I heard about it, I didn’t use it that much. Mainly because I let the camera think for me. This isn’t a bad thing, but honestly, it made me kinda stupid mainly because I relied on my camera for ALL my lighting decisions. Understanding correct exposure helps you take better pictures on the spot and less in post-production.

The Sunny f/16 Rule is ideally used for estimating the correct exposure in sunny conditions. It’s best used when you don’t want to rely on a light meter, like when you have a lens that just isn’t cooperating with your camera’s meter, or your meter is broken. It’s also best used to properly expose your subject in difficult conditions. Say for example you have a subject in your frame that’s fully lit by the sun, mid-day, but the 90% of the rest of the frame is dark shadow. Maybe your camera gets it right, maybe it doesn’t but you can use this rule to double check.

So the basic rule states that on a sunny day you set the aperture to f/16 and then set the shutter speed to the reciprocal of the ISO film speed. So, mid-day, sun pouring down, nothing but blue sky, I set my aperture to f/16. If my ISO film speed is at 100, my shutter speed should be 1/100. If ISO is 200, my shutter speed is 1/200 ans so on. If the reciprocal of the ISO you’re using doesn’t exist on your camera, use the closest available shutter speed.

Hop into manual and test it out some time on a sunny day. It works as expected. Keep in mind this is just a general rule. You may find that sunny f/16 works well in a tropical and temperate zones, but not so well in polar regions so take it with a grain of salt.

The same ‘reciprocal’ rule can apply for different lighting conditions. A hazy sun with soft shadows, instead of f/16 use f/11. When it’s cloudy with barely any shadows, use f/8. On an overcast day with no shadows, use f/5.6. Play with these and get familiar with different lighting conditions and you can use this rule in a pinch for correct exposure.

Cool so then what? What if I want my depth of field to be shallower? What if I want my shutter speed to be longer? Well, that brings us to the next post. The Exposure Triangle…..

One Comment leave one →
  1. Denton Green permalink
    March 2, 2010 3:41 pm

    Ahh……the old sunny 16 rule. I do remember it with fond memories. I’m glad someone in our family is still active (and passionate) about photography! What’s nice today is you can actually test it on manual and immediately see if you were successful. Back in the old days….when I use to walk a mile to school in foot deep snow……you would have to wait for your film to be developed and printed. How archaic!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: