The Ultimate Guide to the Sunny 16 Rule – Part 2

So, you read Part 1 of the Ultimate guide to the Sunny 16 Rule and you are hungry for more?

 
That was just the starter, now, onto the main course…
 
Btw, if you have just landed on this page, you probably want to read Part 1 of this guide first, or even my Exposure 101 Guide before you tackle this article.
You have pretty much all information you need to get started using the Sunny 16 Rule  in Part 1. Part 2 is the advanced course for those who types who want to know everything and want to nail their exposures every time, without using a light meter. This is probably complete overkill for most people, but here we go…

Let’s Geek Out

We I skipped an incredibly fundamental point in Part 1. We never discussed what units light is measured in! It’s seems pretty basic, right? It’s not crucial to know this to learn how to guess exposure well but who knows,  it may come in handy one day.
Light (or should I say, the intensity of light) is measured in various units. We have Foot Candles, Candelas and Lumens.Foot Candles are the traditional way of measuring light. One Foot Candle is the amount of light that a candle produces 1 foot away from the candle. To me, this doesn’t seem particularly helpful.

Candelas is actually a measure of how much light a certain light source produces. This is measure from the source itself, unlike with Foot Candles. The full definition of a Candela is the following:

luminous intensity of a light source producing single-frequency light at a frequency of 540 terahertz (THz) with a power of 1/683 watt per steradian, or 18.3988 milliwatts over a complete sphere centered at the light source.

I’m not even going to pretend to know what the hell that means!

The easy way of looking it at it that  Foot Candles are a measurement of light at a particular illuminated object while Candela is how much total light is coming from the source.

Lumens is a measure of the total “amount” of visible light emitted by a particular source. You may also have heard of the term Lux, all that means is lumens per square meter.

PS: If you REALLY want to geek out, read the Wikipedia entry on light.

Making Things Simple Again

Fortunately, we can leave all that rubbish to the scientists. As photographers, we have our own simplified scale.
We can plot this scale out using Exposure Value (EV) numbers. All that an Exposure Value number tells you is what combination of Aperture and Shutter Speed to use for any given scene.Exposure Value (EV) is often confused with Light Value (LV). While Exposure Value tells you how much light is allowed into the camera, Light Value (LV) tell you how much light there is in the scene. At ISO 100, LV and EV are equal to each other, while for other ISO speeds you need to add or subtract. We won’t cover this in detail as it’s fairly redundant and we really only need to deal in EV Numbers. Just be aware that when I talk about the Exposure Value of a scene, it’s technically only correct for ISO 100.

These numbers range from -6EV to 23EV.  -6EV is virtually pitch black, while +23EV is so bright it’s not even found in nature. Unless you working at a Nuclear power plant and something goes horribly wrong, you will never see anything brighter than 16EV. Well, you might, but I doubt you will be photographing it.
The Ev scale is logarithmic. This means that each time the Ev number increases  by 1 the amount of light is doubled. Thus, 14Ev is twice as bright as 13Ev, but only half as bright as 15Ev. Here is a lovely graphic comparing the most commonly used Ev numbers and their relative brightness:Just a quick note, different Ev numbers describe different brightnesses if you photographed them with the same aperture and shutter speed. Obviously you change your shutter speed and aperture as and when needed. 

Typical Ev numbers encountered in everyday life

Typical Ev numbers encountered in everyday life

 

If you think about it, 23Ev is over 500 Billion (2 to the power of 29) times brighter than -6Ev!
Get your Ray Bans out! 

 

So, let’s take a look at what kind of scenes correspond to the various EV numbers

-6

This is when you are out in the countryside, far away from the city and the only light source are the stars in the sky. How romantic ^^

-5
Dreamworks Studios Logo
This is the same as above, but there is also a sliver of the moon visible, just like in the DreamWorks logo.

-4

Again, you’re away from the city with only stars in the sky but this time there is half a moon visible.

-3

Same old story, but with a full moon. It’s highly recommended to use a tough-as-nails SLR camera like a Nikon F or Pentax K1000 so you can use it to fight off the werewolves.

This is what happens at -3EV

This is what happens at -3EV

-2

Same as -3Ev, but you’re in the snow. Sounds horrible!

-1Ev & 0Ev

Enough about the moon, I won’t mention it again. These two Ev numbers are for subjects which are lit by dim ambient artificial light. An example of this is a lamp on a table or a fixture on the ceiling.

+1

This is for a lighted skyline which is at a distance

+2

I actually lied when I said I wasn’t going to mention the moon again. I totally forgot about total eclipses of the moon! This is when the earth goes between the Sun and the Moon. The moon goes red, it’s pretty cool. You can also use this setting to capture lighting, as long as you have a long enough exposure time.

+3

Fireworks! :) Again, you need to have a long enough exposure time for these!

+4

This is great when you want to take romantic candle lit close-up portraits of your girlfriend/wife/mistress. It’s also good for taking photos of all those horrible Christmas lights that get put up each year as well as floodlit monuments, fountains and buildings.

+5

This is useful for taking portraits of people around a camp fire and also for home interiors at night , with normal house lights.

+6

This is for brightly lit scenes in a house and at amusement parks.

+7

In the forest, indoor sports, at the theatre, and brightly lit street photography.

+8

This is when you want to take pictures of people telling stories by the campfire and also for sports at night.

+9

Landscapes about quarter of an hour after sunset

+10

Landscapes just after sunset

+11

Sunset or subjects which are heavily shaded

+12

Heavy overcast day or a subject in the shade.

+13

A bright, cloudy day with no shadows

+14

For a day with a weak sun, or when the sky is hazy

+15

Subjects on a sunny day (hence the Sunny/16 rule!)

+16

Subjects on a sunny day at the beach, desert or on snow.

+17 to +23

You will most probably never encounter this type of intense light, except in a nuclear meltdown or other man made event.

The Charts

You can find a more boring serious Exposure Value chart that you can actually print out and take with you at Fred Parker’s website.

You can train yourself to use the EV scale by carrying the chart around with you, then consulting the following chart which is the EV to f/stop & shutter speed chart and you’re done!

(There is also an easier way which I’ll share a little later on..)

Note: This is for Iso 100

Exposure Value Chart Iso 100

 

Because I am absolutely incredible, I have also redone the chart for all the other common Iso settings too!

Get them here:

You can thank me in the comments later ;)

A quick pointer on how to use these charts.

Find Ev number and look it up and then choose best shutter speed/aperture combination for your scene. It’s all about YOUR artistic interpretation of the scene. When shooting film, I would think more about areas of the chart than specific boxes.. you can often get away with murder if you overexpose. If you underexpose, you are the one getting murdered.

I wouldn’t recommend trying to commit any of these to memory, that sounds like far too much work!

Reach the point where you just know the correct exposure…It’s much easier :)

Just in case you are a genius, here are ALL of the Exposure Value Charts rolled into one!

This is truly the Mother Of All Exposure Value Charts! I recommend that you right click and save this to your computer so you can view it full-size.

I don’t actually think this table is needed because you should be shooting the same film/Iso (and yes, you really should be shooting film) while you are learning the Sunny 16 Rule.

 The Mother Of All Exposure Value Charts

massive exposure graph

 

The Ultimate Sunny 16 Rule Cheat Sheet 

Ok, if you found all those charts up a bit too difficult, here is a great little cheat sheet that you can print out and carry with you and it will be good enough 97.38% of the time.

Alternatively, you could just stick the Sunny 16 Rule cheat sheet found inside every box of Kodak onto the back of your camera. That’s what I did when I was learning. You can find a copy of Kodak’s cheat sheet at the beginning of Part 1 of this guide.

Sunny 16 Cheat Sheet

 

Note that I’ve included a description of what the shadows should look like. This is often the easiest way to know what setting your camera should be on as you walk around and then you can adjust for each individual subject as you see fit.

A word of warning: remember to expose for the shadows and the highlights will take care of themselves! This is especially important when shooting film (which, as always, you should be). As the overexposure latitude of colour negative and black and white film is so large, you are better off exposing a little too much by calculating your exposure from the darker parts of your subject and relying on this enormous latitude to not “blow” the highlights. If all this sounds like Greek to you, you probably need to read my guide to Exposure.

Check Back soon for Part 3 where we will discuss after-dinner photography and how to guess exposure during the night!

Join Tens of Thousands of Readers Every Month

Comments

  1. Anonymous says

    Great article for beginners and others alike. I just wish you would stop harping on about how we should all be shooting film.

      • Marcus says

        I started with a digital camera and kept buying better ones as I tried to shoot in lower and lower light…but then, my digital camera malfunctioned and I had to send it in for repair. In the meantime, I switched to a manual focus film SLR (OM2N). I had spent the prior 2 years using mostly aperture priority or program mode on the digital cams to set the exposure.

        Now, after only 2 months with my film camera I’ve made huge leaps and bounds in my ability to set the exposure I want and to get miles closer to the result I had in mind. I’m pretty sure the layout of the film camera, the cost of film, processing, and the wonderful feel of the process pushed me along way faster than any digital I’ve used. For me, film created a superior environment to learn and create. I totally “get” why you would recommend film…and I second it!

        Great writing. Thanks.

    • Anonymous says

      I bought my DSLR mostly for video, but also use it for timelapses and the occasional hobby photography, so you can see why I wouldn’t shoot on film. Of course nothing can replace that film look at the moment, but I think the most important thing is what you do with your tool, rather than what tool it is.

      That said, I loved your article, and even for people who knew most of this stuff, there are still things that can be learned from it.

      Great work!

    • says

      Heya,
      In the end it’s always a compromise. If the dynamic range of the scene is greater than the dynamic range of your chosen medium (35mm film, 35mm digital, medium format etc) then you will lose information somewhere.

      They reason why I recommend that you expose for the shadows when shooting film is that if you do happen to slightly blow the highlights it won’t look too bad as film tends to gracefully fade into complete white. If you try to do this with digital you will often get a large block of white instead of the sky. On the other hand, digital “sees” into the shadows far better..

      Alternatively, you could look into HDR photographer. This is where you take multiple images at different exposures and then combine them into one. Of course, this opens up a whole lot of other possibilities (and problems).

      Hope that helps,

      Emanuele.

    • Anonymous says

      Thanks for the answer. I’m shooting film but haven’t explored what can happen in a darkroom yet. I suppose another answer would be to bracket. HRD has it’s place for those who enjoy it but I can’t say I’m one of them.
      I appreciate the website and keep the photo stuff coming!

  2. says

    …sorry, also meant to add I’m hugely appreciative of the information on this site. I love film, pretty novice user at this point, but have tried some alternative processes like caffenol which I’m a big fan of, but am currently working on my sunny 16 mastery! Thanks for the information and for being a film champion.

    • says

      haha thanks Janet! Everytime I half think about buying a digital camera I just convert the expenses into rolls of film and then realise that I could shoot film for at least a year or two..

      Once you “get” Sunny 16 it just seems so easy it’s difficult to explain. I’m still a long way off writing Part 3 as I try and write about all kinds of things on here.

      Thanks for reading, and remember to “like” us :)

  3. says

    Thanks for this great article. I’m wondering if you can help clarify something. Within these charts, the numbers ranging from -6 to +23 are LVs and not EVs right?

    I believe this would make a practical difference since the latter is at ISO 100, so if I were to choose ISO 50 film then my EV would be the LV minus 1 and I would then be selecting a different value to determine shutter and aperture.

    If the values in the charts are LVs, then I just choose the appropriate LV and don’t have to do any subtraction to compensate for ISO.

    Regards, Rachel

  4. karen cooper says

    Thank you so much. Had a great time geeking out. So much so I’m going to ‘re read several times to allow it all to marinate. I’m buying an film camera soon ” must get good” or its going to be a costly exercise.

    • says

      Shooting film is not straightforward at first but the results are worth it. I still look at the first roll of film I ever shot and smile :)

      Glad you found this article helpful!

      Emanuele.

      • SteveF16 says

        I love it, glad I stumbled on to your site…Being a bit pre-historic myself I learnt on film all those years ago…Velvia 50 for landscapes and B&W for portraits. Of course you can also meter for the highlights and let the shadows fade away to nothing if you like a more “dramatic” look. Looking forward to “part 3″ :)

        • says

          Hey Steve,

          Yeah Part 3 is coming but it will be a while before I finish it.. haven’t really shot any photographs in the last two months! :(

          Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed it, took me a while to write!

          All the best,

          Emanuele.

  5. Rajasekar says

    I am very much thankful you have provided everything in a nutshell. The charts are really useful for a beginner like me.

  6. Toby Madrigal says

    Thank you for this update on part 1. When I bought an ancient Nikon F Photomic FTN with non-working metering head about a dozen years ago, I had to guess/estimate exposures. Of course, walking round with this legendary SLR I did not want anyone to guess that it did not work properly! In one of Roger Hicks’ books, he mentions old cameras with defunct meters. He also states: “what ain’t there can’t go wrong.” Friends have suggested tracking down an old plain-prism head to reduce the size of the camera. I’ve resisted this. I like the look of my old F.

  7. Toby Madrigal says

    I recall seeing a comment on a guy’s website, might be Ken’s review of the Leica M3, that you only need a light meter for colour films. He goes on to say that the latitude inherent in mono films means that it’s quite safe to estimate. Certainly Roger Hicks says that despite any metering errors he makes on mono, Frances will be able to salvage something in the darkroom. Me? I’ve just started street photography in one or two towns and cities here in the UK. I have Leicas but am reluctant to expose them to any possible confrontation. I’ve put together a dedicate ‘street photography’ outfit. It consists of a Nikon F2 body fitted with a waist level finder and 50 or 28mm lenses. Together with a handheld meter and a small Gitzo monopod, all fits in a Billingham Hadley pro bag. As I tend to wear a lot of ex-army surplus clothing -lots of greens and muddy beiges – I selected the Sage colour with brown trim. This blends in with my clothes better than an all black one. As I am quite short-sighted, having the camera strap adjusted so that the screen is at lower chest level, I can take my glasses off and clearly see the screen at this point. I use a Gossen Luna-pro meter that allows me to the quick readings. Unless the light changes or I go under the canopies of Market stalls, I can keep the settings untouched. I use Ilford XP2 Chromogenic film, C41 process and get my developing done in a local shop. Film developed and scanned onto a CD that makes my very primitive outfit digital!

  8. says

    Hoping Part 3 is still oncoming. I was shooting in bright sun today with no clouds and various meters were all agreeing I shoot (ISO 200) 1/250 at f14, so I shot at f11 since I still haven’t been able to determine if my contessa’s aperture is continuous or not (I think it is but I set it on full stops to be sure). This is of course 1/2 stop over sunny 16, shot at 1 stop over. Any thoughts?

  9. says

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this and thanks for the useful reference tables. Just moved to Fuji system which makes shooting manual so much nicer as everything is in stop etc. keep up the excellent posts!

    • says

      I’ve been looking into the Fuji systems myself, but I just can’t get away from my Leica M3 and film. Initially I created those reference tables for myself, but then I realised that there must be so many people out there who would find them useful…

      Enjoy your new camera and happy shooting!

  10. says

    Wow! Can’t wait to practice the things I learned in your articles. You got me so convinced that I’m planning to get a K1000 for myself and learn film photography. I give you my thanks. :D

    Waiting for part 3.

Leave a Reply