Sunny 16 Rule – Photography Tips & Tricks

sunny 16 rule landscape

Sunny 16 Rule Example

sunny 16 rule modified landscape

Sunny 16 modified to f/13 to lift the shadows

Photography Tips & Tricks Tip – Sunny 16 Rule

This tip is all about the Sunny 16 Rule.

If you’re new to Photography you may have heard the term ‘Sunny 16’ which sounds like a new Sunny Delight flavour but actually is a ‘photography tip’ (note the apostrophes) of sorts. The reason we don’t say it’s an absolute technical requirement is because it’s not a perfect rule, but before we get to that lets rewind and explain what the Sunny 16 rule actually is.

“In photography, the sunny 16 rule (also known as the sunny f/16 rule) is a method of estimating correct daylight exposures without a light meter.” – Wiki

This is the Sunny 16 rule in nutshell. Basically back when Photography was film based and light meters weren’t anywhere near as sophisticated as they are today you would take your SLR camera outside when it was sunny (a day like today if you’re in the West Midlands and it’s 5th June 2015) and you could estimate to get a balanced exposure you would use 100 Film (ISO 100 setting now we have digital), f/16 and a Shutter Speed of 1/100 (100th of a Second – quick enough for most people to hand hold and get a sharp image).

This is a great guideline to get started and one that in a test (see above image) still holds true for the most part. The image is balanced and because of it being f/16 everything we would want in focus is nice and sharp. Personally it’s a little underexposed for my preference, but that could be resolved with a stop difference down f/13 to bring the shadows up a little (see image above).

So, is that the end of it? we should all shoot f/16, 1/100/ ISO 100 on sunny days, day in – day out?

No, absolutely not, there is very little control over the depth of field with f/16 as it is a very small aperture and so if you want a subject in focus and the background out of focus (narrow depth of field) then you will struggle unless there’s a large distance between your subject and the background.

I took this rule and applied it to a smaller subject, a set of wooden rails that I wanted to have a shallow depth of field on and the Sunny 16 rule did get a fairly good exposure (a bit underexposed – see image to the right) however the entire set of rails were in focus, great overall but not what I was after.

Changing the settings to f/3.5, 1/1600 & ISO 100 yielded the results I was after (see images).

I hope this has helped and as always please feel free to subscribe to get notified when new Tips & Tricks go live or drop me a comment below with any feedback or questions for future Photography Tips & Tricks.

Take Aways

– Sunny 16 is great as a starting point for Landscapes

– f/16 makes it difficult to change the background focus (narrow the depth of field) within the image.

– Sunny 16 uses a base of settings at f/16, 1/100 shutter speed & ISO 100

wide depth of field

Sunny 16 rule applied to wooden railings

shallow depth of field

Sunny 16 settings changed to narrow the depth of field and produce a personally more professional image.

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