FAQ: What is the “Sunny 16” rule?

More than a fair weather friend for photographers

Here's a simple trick to help you get perfect exposures on bright, sunny days...without a meter!

Spring has always been a wonderful time of year for landscape photographers to find themselves in Holland. Throughout much of the area called West Friesland, the once-frozen dark soil is transformed into an explosion of color as thousands of tulips rise from the many farmers' fields. Although late March singles the beginning of spring, the month of April in Holland is also a reminder that a tug of war is going on between ole' man winter and the much younger and youthful spring. During much of April the battle plays out in the skies overhead where the clouds and sun seem to jockey for position, each claiming victory if only for a few seconds thanks to the constant sharp and biting winds.

But as the wind pushes the clouds, large swaths of sunlight and shadow roll across the landscape below and stunning landscapes await any photographer, from beginner to pro. It's one of those classic lighting situations where NO EXPERIENCE is necessary!

This is truly one of those times where all you have to do is have a "constant finger" on the shutter release and a big enough memory card—16GB, 32GB or heck, lets not mess around and just load up a 64GB card! At the end of the day, you retire to the warm and cozy confines of your room and fire up the laptop and sit back with one of those 'smart-aleck grins' across your face since you are quite certain that on this day you got something really special, and with such little effort!

If there is any doubt about exposures in these kinds of situations let there be no mistake about it: this is time for the Sunny 16 Rule! And what is 'Sunny 16'? It simply means that, when the sun is shining, a correct exposure of a front-lit scene will be found at f/16 and at a shutter speed that equals your ISO, e.g. with 100 ISO the correct exposure is f/16 at a 1/100 second AND as long as it is 90 minutes after sunrise and 90 minutes before sunset.


Sunny 16 at work:



With my 70-300mm lens at f/16, and my shutter speed at a 1/100 second (in manual exposure), I simply fired a number of frames as both shade and sun rolled across this particular landscape before me. Of the three images below, my preference is for image #3. I wish every day of shooting was this easy!



Want to learn more about exposure? Check out Bryan Peterson's class, Understanding Exposure, at Adorama's online learning partner,  PPSOP.


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