The Sunny 16 Rule


Got an older Lubitel, bought an antique camera with a broken light meter or none at all? Don’t rush out and buy an expensive new light meter, give Sunny 16 a go first!

Credits: adam_g2000

Sunny 16 is a rule of thumb photographers have been using for decades with great success, and with modern films having wider exposure latitudes (you have more room for error if you under or over expose), perhaps even more relevant today.

The rule is very simple, though can be described quite complexly. I’ll take the easy route. If it is a sunny day, set your aperture to f16 and set your shutter speed for the closest number to the ISO or ASA value of your film.

By way of example:
I’m outside, it’s a nice bright day. There are next to no clouds in the sky and I loaded the camera with ISO 100 film. I set the aperture to f16, the shutter speed to 1/125, focus and shoot. I pick up the film from the lab and it is perfectly exposed! Now you may know that different apertures cause different effects, change the depth of field etc. If you know what I’m talking about and are interested, read on, if not, then skip to after the photos for the really useful part.

Let’s say you want to use f11 on a sunny day and not f16, then the rule tells you to compensate for letting more light in (which is what happens when you lower your aperture value), by increasing your shutter speed one notch on your dial (or one stop – the technical term). See the compromise? So I set the aperture to f11 (down a number, in comes more light), and the shutter to 1/250 (higher number, shutter is open for less time). And this goes on, change your aperture down two stops to f8, increase your shutter speed two stops up to 1/500 (though not on the Lubitel)

Unfortunately, the day I shot these photos, it wasn’t that simple, there was a cloud cover and wind, so the light kept changing dramatically and the film I had was Kodak Ektacolor Pro160. What’s great about Sunny 16, is that it helps you figure out what to do if things are not perfect. It’s a sliding rule (every pun intended).

I’m not great with math, so the easiest way for me to cope is to memorise a few types of conditions, and the relevant aperture and keep a consistent shutter speed.

f/22 = Snow/Sand
f/16 = Sunny
f/11 = Slight Overcast
f/8 = Overcast
f/5.6 = Heavy Overcast
f/4 = Open Shade/Sunset

So I’ve got Ektacolor 160 ISO, set my shutter speed to 1/125 and dial in f/8 cock the shutter and I pointed my lens up into the trees with light streaming almost directly into the lens. f/22. It almost always works. Almost, I think it’s safe to say this is a little overexposed.

Credits: adam_g2000

One final word on Sunny 16. When using colour negative, you do have quite a wide margin of error, remember that with slide film for cross processing, this isn’t as true, and you might want to stop down, though that’s another tipster for another day. Class dismissed.

For more information visit Wikipedia - Sunny 16 Rule and Guide to Film Photography

written by adam_g2000 on 2011-12-07 #gear #tutorials #light #camera #tutorial #aperture #tipster #setting #guideline #shutter-speed #sunny-16 #lubitel-b


  1. vicuna
    vicuna ·

    Essential rule to have always in mind, for sure! And a very clear explanation of it! :)

  2. simonh82
    simonh82 ·

    Good explanation and a very useful rule. I feel likeil sunny 16 works most of the time, but I really struggle at dusk, especially in the winter.

  3. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    It has it's limits, and dusk is certainly a hard one to gauge. It's most useful in the range suggested in the list above.

  4. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    @vicuna thanks for the positive feedback!

  5. welland
    welland ·

    Ive just recently bought a lubitel so have been trying out this rule. Its really helped

  6. herbert-4
    herbert-4 ·

    Very good explanation!!

  7. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    Thanks so much everyone for all the likes! In retrospect I should have added that another use for this is that we dabble in very old cameras on which the light meters start to loose their accuracy. If we remember this, then we can notice when they start to fail.

  8. dearjme
    dearjme ·

    Great and clear explanation!

  9. kelly_panda
    kelly_panda ·

    Really useful article, thanks! Just bought a camera with a broken light meter so I'm trying to get used to the sunny 16 rule.

  10. maxwellmaxen
    maxwellmaxen ·

    besides that, android has a pretty cool light meter app. you can use it as a reference as well, because it does not always work properly, but two opinions are often better than one.
    the tipster is great! mostly when you don't really have that much time to take a shot :)

  11. placidcasua1
    placidcasua1 ·

    one of the best explanations of the rule i've read. chapeau

  12. dabai
    dabai ·

    there's a free lightmeter app on the iphone and i've been using it when i shoot with the lubitel and horizon perfekt. it's been quite accurate too :)

  13. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    @placidcasua1 thanks for that! Great to get such good feedback.

  14. dinospork
    dinospork ·

    @maxwellmaxen What app do you use? There seem to be a lot out there, but I've been using "beeCam LightMeter" with pretty decent results.

  15. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    @dinospork & @maxwellmaxen, I tried using an app with the lubitel, phone in one hand, camera in the other, you need a third hand for adjusting the camera's settings. That's when I decided to really give this a go. Well worth it!

  16. maxwellmaxen
    maxwellmaxen ·

    @dinospork i use the exact same app! it is easy, accurate and free. but i want to get away from light metering, so i will print out the sunny 16 chart and stick it on the side of my lubi :)

  17. maxwellmaxen
    maxwellmaxen ·

    @adamg_2000 i really never thought of anything so easy and cool to use! i will really start using this chart because the light meter is cool when you have a tripod, which i do not carry around that often. so freehand will be nice sunny16, tripod lightmetering app :D
    but this app is nothing compared to a real lightmeter, by the way

  18. dinospork
    dinospork ·

    @maxwellmaxen & @adamg_2000 The difference between using a light meter or app (it's all the same to me as long as it gets the job done) and using sunny 16 is actually quite small. In either case, you really only end up using it when you're not sure if you have the right light for the shot you're trying to take.

    The downfall of sunny 16 is that there are a lot of different conditions between "Sunny" and "Overcast," especially where I live, and they're all subjective. For example, it can be completely clear, but if you're in the heart of the city, which I frequently am, you have to shoot like it's overcast sometimes because the street is so heavily shaded by buildings.

    You shouldn't need to hold the light meter constantly, by the way, you can just take a measurement of either best- or worst-case conditions at the moment and adjust down or up, Sunny 16-style, based on changes in your location or the weather. I think of it as a way of refining my ability to judge conditions without having to screw up a bunch of film.

  19. fendyfazeli
    fendyfazeli ·

    thanks for the info!!

  20. superlighter
    superlighter ·

    very well explained! I use it often and it work! Sometimes automatic exposure can fail! see the difference, same landscape, same time, first photo using the f16 rule:… and the second one using the LCA in Auto mode:… the first one is what I really saw with my eyes!

  21. carsten-schmitt
    carsten-schmitt ·

    Hey, great article for a noob like myself. Well explained, short&sharp essential knowlegde. Kudos for that!

  22. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    @carsten-schmitt thanks for the comment, glad I could help!

  23. carsten-schmitt
    carsten-schmitt ·

    @adam_g2000: Yeah, keep those articles coming! ;-)

  24. abbsterocity
    abbsterocity ·

    Great explanation. I have a Yashica lynx 5000 that I just fixed but I cant use the CdS light meter because it requires the now obsolete mercury battery! So up until now, I was kind of making educated guesses. Thanks!

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