Sunny 16, is a rule as old as photography itself. It allows you to make a correctly exposed photo based solely on available light. This technique will work on digital and film cameras giving the user a simple but easy means of exposure. This rule will allow you once mastered to shoot and almost any lighting situation with any camera, including those without light meters. As I mentioned in a previous blog post there is no substitute for a good handheld meter. But understanding Sunny 16 will help when that meter is not available. Sunny 16 will breathe new life into vintage film cameras and will help you hone your skills on digital.
Sunny 16 is an aperture based control dependant on ISO and available sunlight. So picture a bright sunny day, little to no cloud cover. In this case, ISO will determine shutter speed. If you start with 100 ISO film your base shutter speed will be a 1/100. If you load 400 ISO speed film your base shutter speed could vary depending on the camera. But you will always try to match ISO and shutter speed. So 400 ISO should match 1/400 shutter speed, if the camera that you are using only has 1/500 use that, if it stops at 1/300 use that. If your camera does not have anything above 1/200 you should not be using 400 ISO film unless the aperture goes to f/22.
You grab your Kodak Pony from your bag and load a fresh roll of Delta 100. To get a correctly exposed photo the aperture needs to be set at f/16 and the shutter speed at 1/100. This photo will be perfectly exposed. If more shutter speed is needed drop the aperture by one stop to F/11 and this will double the shutter speed to 1/200. If freezing action is key, from f/11 drop down to f/8, and raise the shutter to 1/400. Using the Kodak Pony as an example it has a shutter speed range of 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/300. It was not designed for high-speed photography, so a 1/300 shutter speed is its max. Only having 1/320 is not an issue with film being flexible it will overexpose the image by ⅓ of a stop. This will still make a usable photo.
With bright light taken care of, what happens when the sun starts to fall or it becomes shady/cloudy. With Sunny 16 you start at F/16 when sunny. So as it becomes cloudy with the bright sun you will drop the aperture to f/11 keep the shutter speed at 1/100 and shoot. This will create a correctly exposed photo. Again to get more shutter speed you can drop the aperture by one stop to f/8 then your shutter speed will rise to 1/200. With full cloud cover start at f/8 and with full dark overcast with the gloomiest of gloom looming overhead, set the aperture at F/5.6. The shutter speed will remain at 1/100. Another gauge for Sunny 16 is to look at shadows, distinct shadows start at F/16, soft shadows F/11, shadows that are very light and barely visible F/8, and no shadows what so ever F/5.6. To over or underexpose you would just need to shift either the aperture or shutter one stop. Only change one. At 100 ISO, F/16, and 1/100 shutter to brighten the scene change aperture to f/11, or change the shutter speed to 1/50. To underexpose at 100 ISO, F/16, at 1/100 change the aperture F/22 or change shutter speed to 1/200.
For night photography with the Sunny 16 rule, I bend the rules a smidge. I set my shutter speed based on my ISO, so if you are shooting 100 ISO film you would set your shutter speed at 1/10 and set the lens to the widest aperture. That shutter speed is too slow for people but will work with static objects. 400 ISO film would give you a 1/40 shutter speed and 800 ISO would be 1/80. This will allow for any artificial light to fill the frame but will yield hard shadows.
|Sunny 16||Sunny||Sun/Cloud||Cloudy||Full Shade/Cloudy|
For bright light, high speed photos start with a Sunny 16 base, this chart only applies if it is a bright sunny day with hard shadows.
|Sunny 16 High Speed|
* This shutter speed is only available on select film cameras
** This shutter speed beyond 1/6400 is only available on select professional models or modern digital camera with electronic shutters.
Sunny 16 400 ISO f/16 1/500 with a Canon VT
Bright sunny day with harsh shadows, I could have brightened the shadows by dropping the aperture to f/11
Sunny 16 400 ISO f/8 1/500 with Olympus Pen-FT
Aperture was dropped due to bust being in a shadow.
Sunny 16 100 ISO f/16 1/100 with Olympus Pen-F
Sunny 16 100 ISO f/5.6 1/100 with Olympus Pen-F
Sun setting with some light in the sky, I could have brightened the crane and foreground by dropping the aperture to f/4.