Sunny 16 Rule for Flawless Exposure Settings

June 29

5 min. to read

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In this Skylum article, we cover the Sunny 16 Rule — a basic rule of photography that helps to ensure correct exposure settings for flawless photos.

The Sunny 16 Rule has been playing its part in the world of picture-taking and image-making for quite a while now. And it’s held its ground through a surge of technological advancements and digital breakthroughs.

Back in the day, film photographers would bring along light meters to read their exposure — so as to not worry about the expense of experimenting on scene. During that time, the Sunny 16 rule was developed as a basic principle of photography. 

Though as modern photography progresses, the rule may not be discussed as frequently — it’s still a great one to keep in your back pocket for upcoming photography adventures. 

Sunny 16 Rule for Flawless Exposure Settings Image1

In essence, it’s a simple method that helps ensure the right exposure settings for pictures taken outdoors without using a light meter.

Not only is it easy, but it helps to give you flawless photos. We’ll break it down below.

First, Let’s Cover the Basics.

The basic idea is that if you have a sunny day with a clear sky and an aperture set to f/16 — the ISO you are using will be reciprocated in the value of your shutter speed (it will become the inverse). 

If you’re one for math equations, here it is: ISO X = 1/X seconds shutter speed.

So, for example, if you set your ISO to 200 at f/16 — your shutter speed will be 1/200. If you set your ISO to 400 at f/16 — your shutter speed will be 1/400. 

Sunny 16 Rule for Flawless Exposure Settings Image2

And so on, and so forth. Sounds fun and easy, right?

But Why Should You Use It?

The Sunny 16 Rule helps you make sure your camera’s exposure is in check. It’s based on the brightness of light rather than how that light is being reflected off your subject and into your camera. This is unlike you camera’s metering system, which can get thrown off by light or dark subjects as well as light or dark backgrounds.

Now, How About Other Apertures?

Although f/16 seems to be the star of the Sunny 16 Rule, you can also use the rule as a base to calculate other aperture values. 

However, in this case, your rule won’t be “The Sunny 16 Rule” but rather — 

  • The snowy/sandy F/22 rule
  • The slightly overcast F/11 rule 
  • The overcast F/8 rule
  • The heavy overcast F/5.6 rule
  • The sunset/open shade F/4 rule

As you do in the Sunny 16 Rule, use your aperture to keep your ISO and shutter speed at the same value. 

Sunny 16 Rule for Flawless Exposure Settings Image3

Although modern metering systems have come along way, the Sunny 16 Rule is still a useful one to keep in mind. Consider it a good trick to keep in your hat on your upcoming photo explorations. 

Above all, it’s a simple method that will help you get that just-right exposure setting.

In the end, most of us want flawlessly exposed photos. But sometimes, it’s fun to remember: you can always throw the rules out the window and enjoy the art of experimentation, too.

From all of us at Skylum, we hope you dive into your photo-taking journey, discovering your own unique style along the way. 

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