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How to Use the Sunny 16 Rule in Your Photography

There are many ways a photographer can adjust exposure. Some try to understand the exposure triangle in practice, changing their aperture, shutter speed, and ISO until the desired results, and others rely on a light meter. There are also some photography rules you can follow to quickly choose the settings when you don’t have enough time and then adjust them later. One of them is the Sunny 16 rule. While it might sound hard for a beginner, it is actually quite easy to understand and use in your photography. This article explains the Sunny 16 rule and how to implement it when you set your exposure.

What is the Sunny 16 rule?

Back in the days of film photography, there was no option to check your image on screen after the shot. Photographers had to work very carefully with exposure and set it with the help of external light meters. These separate devices measure the amount of light at a scene and suggest the needed aperture and shutter speed (in film photography, ISO is fixed because it indicates the light sensitivity of the film you put in your camera). But what would you do if you forgot your handheld light meter? Well, there is the Sunny 16 rule which helps photographers easily calculate settings for exposure. As the name implies, the Sunny 16 rule is used on sunny and clear days. When you shoot a well-lit scene with no clouds and harsh shadows and use aperture f/16, your shutter speed is inverse of your ISO level. For instance, if you choose ISO 200, the shutter speed will be 1/200. Setting ISO at 100 will make you change the shutter speed to 1/100. Using the Sunny 16 rule doesn’t guarantee perfect exposure. However, it is a great starting point even at the times of digital photography. You can easily choose your settings according to lighting conditions and then fix it further after you’ve made some shots and checked them out on your screen. what is the sunny 16 rule

Sunny 16 rule in the exposure triangle

The Sunny 16 rule is based on the correlation between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Together, they are called the exposure triangle. Understanding how to adjust the three settings responsible for exposure is crucial for any photographer.  These settings are interconnected, and adjusting just one is not an option in most cases since all of them influence how much light exposes your camera’s sensors. Aperture is a ‘hole’ in your lens that lets light through it. Shutter speed indicates for how long your shutter curtain is open, allowing light to reach the sensors. ISO level shows the light sensitivity of your sensors at a certain moment. Although any digital camera has a built-in light meter these days, it might be quite hard for a beginner photographer to adjust these settings so that they bring in the correct exposure together. The Sunny 16 rule is something that can help them a lot to understand how shutter speed, ISO, and aperture are interlinked. sunny 16 rule in photography

How to use the Sunny 16 rule in different lighting conditions

As mentioned above, the rule is suitable for very sunny weather. Once the sky changes or gets more cloudy, you can use rules that are relative to the Sunny 16 rule. There are also the Slight overcast 11 rule, Overcast 8 rule, Heavy overcast 5.6 rule, Sunset 4 rule, and Snowy 22 rule. They all work just the same as the Sunny 16 rule. For example, you shoot on a rainy and very cloudy day and use aperture f/5.6 according to the Heavy overcast 5.6 rule. Your shutter speed will still be the inverse of the ISO you use for a scene. For instance, if you set ISO 200, you will be able to shoot with a shutter speed of 1/200. If you need to use faster shutter speeds, you will have to make your ISO higher, like ISO 400 and shutter speed 1/400.

An afterthought 

The Sunny 16 rule is something many beginner photographers are unaware of, although it is an easy and useful rule even when we shoot with DSLRs. It might serve as a start even for more advanced photographers when they are in a rush to shoot a scene. Hopefully, this article has helped you understand what the Sunny 16 rule is and how you can use it even today.