Learn Photography – The magic sunny 16 Rule

sunny 16 rule

Would you like to be able to go out on a sunny day and know what would be an appropriate exposure without having to use a light meter or your cameras built-in meter to calculate the correct exposure? Well there is a little rule which will help you do just that. One of the best and easiest to memorise and as simple as it is, it can really help you out if you find yourself without a light meter. It’s a great learning aid too. Here is what the rule says

if it is a bright sunny day (mid day is usually the brightest part of the day with the sun at its highest point, noticeable by the shadows having well defined edges) match your shutter speed (1/125 of a second with your ISO setting (or as close as you can get it ISO 100) and your aperture should be F16.

  • shutter = 1/125, ISO = 100, aperture = F16
  • shutter = 1/250, ISO = 200, aperture = F16

I have never come across a situation here in the UK where you will overexpose your photograph when you stick to this rule. This is only when you’re shooting subjects in the full exposure of the sun of course, you will have to adjust settings if shooting in darker shadow areas. Sometimes it can be difficult to see your camera display settings clearly in bright sunshine and having a rule like this helps a lot I have found, repetition through practice will help you lock this into your memory.

A slight adjustment on this rule I use when I am wanting a shallow depth of field (to blur the background more) is to set my aperture at F5.6 and set my shutter to either 1/1000 if shooting at ISO 100 or
1/2000 if shooting at ISO 200 or
1/4000 if shooting at ISO 400

this is effectively the same settings as the sunny 16 rule as you move through the various setting

  • 1/125 f16 ISO 100 is the same exposure as
  • 1/250 f11 ISO 100 is the same exposure as
  • 1/500 f8 ISO 100 is the same exposure as
  • 1/1000 f5.6 ISO 100

This setting is a little bit more advanced, so if you’re just starting out forget the last bit of this article and practice using the earlier example. Once you have this technique memorised and well practiced move on to the later example. Hopefully you have a better understanding of the sunny 16 rule and it will help as a guide if you are without a light meter or your camera meter is playing up.

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