New To Photography:Sunny 16 and exposure guides

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This page is a chapter in the book Appendix C - Camera Metering (measuring light) and Sunny 16 rule.


For any number of reasons you will end up shooting in Manual mode.
When this happens it is handy to have a way to set your exposure simply by being aware of the ambient light.
The first rule that has been around for nearly 100 years is the Sunny 16 rule.
We have included some other exposure guides for common situations you may face.

[top]Sunny 16

The traditional Sunny 16 rule is used for estimating exposure manually.

The basic rule is, "On a sunny day set aperture to f/16 and shutter speed to the [reciprocal of the] ISO speed." For example:
  • On a sunny day and with ISO 100 set in the camera, one sets the aperture to f/16 and the shutter speed to 1/100 or 1/125 second
    (on most cameras 1/125 second is the available setting nearest to 1/100 second)
  • On a sunny day with ISO 200 and aperture at f/16, set shutter speed to 1/200 or 1/250
  • On a sunny day with ISO 400 and aperture at f/16, set shutter speed to 1/400 or 1/500

A more comprehensive set of values is given in the following table.

Sunny 16 Rule To Determine Exposure: Under Normal Bright Sun, These are approximately Equivalent Exposures
f/22 f/16 f/11 f/8 f/5.6
ISO 100 - Speed 1/60 ISO 100 - Speed 1/125 ISO 100 - Speed 1/250 ISO 100 - Speed 1/500 ISO 100 - Speed 1/1000
ISO 200 - Speed 1/125 ISO 200 - Speed 1/250 ISO 200 - Speed 1/500 ISO 200 - Speed 1/1000 ISO 200 - Speed 1/2000
ISO 400 - Speed 1/250 ISO 400 - Speed 1/500 ISO 400 - Speed 1/1000 ISO 400 - Speed 1/2000 ISO 400 - Speed 1/4000
Adjusting Your Aperture In Variable Weather Conditions (ISO & Shutter Speed Constant eg. ISO 100 1/125)
Snow or Bright Sand Bright Sun (Normal Subject) Hazy Sun Cloudy Bright Overcast or Open Shade
f/22 f/16 f/11 f/8 f/5.6
Distinct Shadow and Glare Distinct Shadow Shadow Soft Around Edges Shadow Visible, But Barely No Shadow At All

[top]Other Exposure Settings

While we are at it, here are some other handy guides for setting exposures.


For obtaining a proper exposure of a full moon is to set the aperture at f/11 and shutter speed at one over the ISO setting (eg. 1/125 for ISO 100). For pictures of a half moon, use the same shutter speed at f/8. For a quarter moon, f/5.6.

[top]Camera Shake

Lenses and cameras never used to have anti-shake systems built into them.
As shutter speeds got slower, camera shake was likely to blur your image, and you had to know what you could safely get away with!
As a rule-of-thumb, the slowest shutter speed at which you could safely handhold a 35mm camera was usually considered to be one over the focal length of the lens.
So, if you're using a 50mm lens, you could generally shoot at 1/60 sec or faster. A 100mm lens needed at least 1/125 sec.
Not enough light to do that? Then you had to use flash, a tripod, or brace your camera (and yourself) against a solid object.
For cropped sensor cameras which are typically a 1.5 focal length multiplier you should factor that into your calculations.
So a 100mm on a 1.5 crop will need at least 1/150 shutter speed to avoid camera shake.
If your camera has Shake Reduction (Pentax & Sony) or your lenses have IS/VR (Canon or Nikon) then these features give you more latitude.

[top]The 'Right' Exposure

The classic advice is, "Expose for the highlights and let the shadows take care of themselves." This works with slide film and digital.
But with negative film, especially colour negative film, you're actually better off overexposing by one stop.

On digital camera's you have a histogram. Expose to the Right (ETTR) simply means exposing such that the histogram
shows as much as possible to the right (bright side) without clipping (the bit that is hard up to the right).

A histogram for a normal good exposure A histogram showing an ETTR exposure A histogram showing clipping (blown highlights)

[top]Action-Freeze Rules

To stop action moving across the frame that's perpendicular to the lens axis,
you need shutter speeds two stops faster than action moving toward or away from you.
For action moving at a 45-degree angle to the lens axis, you can use a shutter speed one stop slower.
For example: If a person running toward you at moderate speed can be stopped at 1/125 sec,
you'll need a shutter speed of 1/500 sec to stop the subject moving across the frame,
and a shutter speed of 1/250 sec to stop him if moving obliquely with respect to the camera.

[top]Sunrise & Sunset

SAFETY FIRST: If you spent any time with a magnifying glass as a kid you've probably harnessed a little solar energy to burn stuff.
It doesn't take much of a magnifying glass to make things burn; so it stands to reason that pointing a camera or telescope, of ANY size, at the Sun is going to quickly and irreversibly burn things if you aren't careful.
And, unlike a magnifying glass, you may not get a little warming to first warn you.

To get a properly exposed sunset, meter the area directly above the sun (without including the sun).
If you want the scene to look like it's a half-hour later, stop down by one f-stop,
or set exposure compensation (if you have it available) to minus one.
Previous: New To Photography:Camera Metering (measuring light) Appendix C - Camera Metering (measuring light) and Sunny 16 rule Next: New To Photography:Exposure Compensation (Ev)

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