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How the Sunny-16 rule helps

With the digital camera’s of today, we tend to forget that photography exists for ages until the arrival of the digital camera. Photographers used light meters to measure light to set the correct exposure for their camera.

The light from the sun is the same for millions of years. A long time ago before light meters existed, someone discovered the sunny-16 rule.
When looking at a film box, there would be a bit of advice on how to light the film correctly. It is the sunny-16 rule.

What is the Sunny-16 rule?

The sunny-16 rule tells you that on a sunny day without clouds that the correct shutter speed at aperture f/16 is the same as 1/ISO seconds. So if you set your camera at ISO100, the shutter speed is 1/100 seconds, or in the correct stop. 1/125 seconds.

But what about the rest of the ISO values?

Exposure Value – Sunny Day


How can I use the Sunny-16 rule for street photography?

The street scenes change all the time while we are photographing on the street. The ever-changing light conditions mean that you have to be able to adapt quickly.

It could happen that at one point you are photographing in bright sun on a square in the city and 5 minutes later you walk into an alley, and there is only shade. Then you are happy that you mastered the sunny-16 rule.

You can shoot on the aperture priority mode of your camera or even the full automatic P setting. But that means you are not in control. You are not able to make the image you want to make.

For slightly overcast weather use f/11 of the Sunny-16 with 1/125 shutter speed and ISO100 to meter correctly - Let's fly away Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Using the Sunny-16 rule is not set in stone. It depends on the scene you want to shoot. It is a guideline.

Not all the weather is the same. On days when there is no sunshine, different settings apply. Use a different Aperture setting for a slightly overcast day. Use the table below to change the aperture according to the weather that you see outside.

Weather typeShadeF-Stop
Snowy/SandyDark with sharp edgesf/22
Clear and sunnyDistinctf/16
Slightly overcastSoft around the edgesf/11
Heavy overcastNo shadowsf/5.6
Open shade/SunsetNo shadowsf/4

So for a slightly overcast day use f/11 instead of f/16. It would be f/11 – ISO100 – 1/125 shutter speed.

Use it as training to ‘guess’ the camera settings. When you can, it is possible to foresee a situation and before it unfolds, set the correct settings. It is always quicker than focus, change the settings and shoot.
It is even better if you would use the zone focusing technique in combination with the sunny-16 rule. You zone focused already, and you know what part of your image is sharp. Then if you would use the sunny 16 rule, the only thing you need to do is change the aperture or shutter speed.

Shutter Speed/ISO5010020040080016003200

When using cameras like the X-pro series, you want to use the Aperture ring to change the settings quickly. It is because of the combined ISO/Shutter speed dial at the top. You can set it o automatic so that you can use the front and back dial. But you have an aperture ring. This chart below will help you set it correctly.

Watch out with the focus ring. It will change your zone-focus setting.

Using the Sunny-16 rule to light the scene correctly. Alfa romeo in Hoorn, The Netherlands


The modern digital street photographer would not memorize the sunny-16 rule. But when you want to be quick, use zone-focusing and want to be a ‘pure’ photographer. It is something you want to master.

If so nobody can stop you from photographing quickly on the street.

Daily Observations Street Photography Workshops

By Guillaume Groen
On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in June a boy was disconnected from reality and totally absorbed by his smartphone. 16-6-2018, Only the smartphone, disconnected from reality... Amsterdam, The Netherlands - As we street photographers roam the streets, observing and recording the fleeting moments that we encounter. Those Daily Observations go into photo books or as fine-prints on the wall as Street Photography grows as a profession and a medium.

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