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Sunny 16 and Beyond

I. A short rant

On the most fundamental of levels, taking photographs is about capturing and manipulating light through the tweaking of aperture, shutter speed, and film speed. With digital cameras, this concept is easily lost, reformulated, and then regurgitated into a single review button plastered on some area of your camera. Digital photography is akin to the modern food economy. All we see is the final product and have no idea how that slice of beef we have on our plate arrived there, much less where it came from. As we evolve into more sophisticated creatures, we ultimately turn into more sophisticated dumb asses.

Digital photography has allowed street photographers to flub it. Screwed up a shot? Don’t worry about it. Just check the other 235 shots on your memory card that you took in the last thirty-five minutes

. One of them must have worked. You don’t really need to learn anymore . . . just keep pressing the shutter button. Preferably on burst. Because, I guess, in the end, as some say, it’s not how you got there but rather what you arrived at that truly matters. Isn’t that what Winogrand said? I mean, he shot quickly, didn’t he? But there’s only one Winogrand. And what worked for Winogrand doesn’t work for 99.9 percent of the world’s population. Sure, you can get the same M4 off ebay and buy the old tri-x he used and carry the same Billingham bag around your left shoulder but what you don’t have and can’t have is that right eye of his.

For mortals, I suspect, you will want more of your shots to count when you realize that when you snap away with the attention span and intelligence of a three year old (but thinking you are Winogrand), you are missing shots that do matter. Or the image that you are looking at in that small box on the back of your digital camera isn’t quite exactly what your eye and brain had in mind. Or, even worse, that small image on the back of your camera is tricking you into thinking that you don’t have anything else to learn because, well, you just got it right.

II. Measuring Light With Your Eyes

The most obvious way of controlling light is by measuring it. How much light is falling on your subject? How much light is getting reflected back from your subject toward your camera? You can use an incident light meter to answer the first question and the fancy reflective light meter in your camera to answer the latter. But what happens if you have a meterless camera or don’t have enough time to take a light reading? 

Enter the “Sunny 16” rule, which is a method for estimating exposure without a light meter. More precisely, the “Sunny 16” rule is an incident (light falling on the subject) ambient (any light source other than a flash) light estimator. And, contrary to the title of the rule, you can estimate exposure even when the sun is not sunny. I’ll talk more about this later but keep this in mind: the Sunny 16 rule is about finding the “base crux.” I know that probably makes no fucking sense right now but just keep reading.

There are three basic steps to determine exposure using the “Sunny 16” rule:

Step 1: Start with a shutter speed of 1/ISO SPEED, rounding to the highest full shutter speed.

For example, if you are using ISO 400 film like Tri-X, you’re starting value is 1/500. If you are using ISO 160 like Porta, you’re starting value is 1/250. Just for clarity (and again this will make more sense later), use full shutter speeds, not the intermediate shutter speeds that your digital camera has available, such as 1/400.

Just for reference sake, here is the list of full shutter speeds to 1/1000th of a second:
B (Bulb), 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000.

And here is a list of the full aperture or f-stops up to f/22:
f/1, f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22

What’s the relationship between f/stop and shutter speed? You can find a long list of explanations on google, but here’s an easy term to remember: twice. Just remember “twice” and you’ll be fine. When you don’t know where to start, just say “twice.” When you get confused with the stupid mnemonics you see on google and elsewhere, just say “twice.” Here’s how “twice” applies:

*each progressive shutter speed is twice as fast as the previous one.

For example, 1/60th of a second is twice as fast as 1/30th of a second. Your shutter will fire twice as fast when it’s set to 1/60th as opposed to 1/30th. Similarly, 1/125th of a second is twice as fast (okay, just about twice as fast) as 1/60th of a second. 1/250th of a second is twice as fast as 1/125th of a second. And so on and so forth.

*each progressive f-stop (starting with the lower number and working up) allows twice as LESS light than the previous f-stop.

For example, f/2 will allow twice as much light as the next f-stop, f/2.8. Similarly, f/2.8 will allow twice as much light as the next f-stop, f/4. F/4 will allow twice as much light as f/5.6. F/5.6 will allow twice as much light as f/8. And so on and so forth.

Assuming your f-stop remains constant, as the shutter speeds go up, the camera will let in twice as less light as the previous full shutter speed. Conversely, as the shutter speeds go down, the camera will let in twice as much light as the previous shutter speed.


-f/5.6 at 1/60th of a second will let in twice as much light as f/8 at 1/60th of a second;
-f/8 at 1/60th of a second will let in twice as much light as f/11 at 1/60th of a second;
-f/11 at 1/60th of a second will let in twice as much light as f/16 at 1/60th of a second.

I’m going to come back to this later when I talk about manipulation, but keep in mind that the relationship between f-stop and shutter speed is one in which neither can keep their hands off from one another. Just remember that. They’re like psycho jealous ex-girlfriends. No matter what you do, if you mess with one, the other one is going to try and figure out how it can slash your tires.

Step 2: Use your eyes to identify the lighting conditions and then attach the corresponding f-stop.

Here are the typical lighting conditions you will encounter: 

a) Are you at the beach or on the top of a mountain with snow and it’s sunny as all hell? Is there a shitload of glare that makes your eyes want to burn out of their sockets? Are you on the sun itself? Corresponding f-stop: f/22

b) Is it a typical sunny day, maybe with a cloud or two in the sky? Are the shadows strong? Is it summer time? Corresponding f-stop: f/16

c) Is it a sunny hazy day with more than just a cloud or two? Do the shadows have soft edges? Corresponding f-stop: f/11

d) Is it a bright but cloudy day with barely visible shadows? Is it fall in New York City? Corresponding f-stop: f/8

e) Is it a very cloudy day or heavily overcast with no visible shadows? Is your subject in open shade? Is it drizzling? Is your subject in the partial shadows of buildings? Corresponding f-stop: f/5.6

f) Is your subject in deep shade? Is your subject covered in shadows by tall buildings?  Is it really, really cloudy? Are you in Seattle? Does it look like vampires might come out of the sky? Corresponding f-stop: f/4

Step 3: Put the shutter speed (step 1) and f-stop (step 2) together to get your exposure value

*Super Duper Sunny 22 Rule: If you are at the beach or in snow or stranded in the desert in the Sahara at high noon and the sun is super duper bright or you are getting sunburnt after five minutes, you will set your camera’s f-stop to f/22 and a shutter speed of 1/ISO. If you are using Tri-X, you will choose f/22 with a shutter speed of 1/500.

*Sunny 16 Rule: If it’s a typical sunny day, usually summer, with a cloud or two in the sky with strong shadows, you will set your camera’s f-stop to f/16 and a shutter speed of 1/ISO.

*Sunny Hazy 11 Rule: If it’s a sunny hazy day with more than just a cloud or two and the shadows have soft edges, you set your camera’s f-stop to f/11 and a shutter speed of 1/ISO.

*Cloudy But Bright 8 Rule:   If it’s a bright but cloudy day with barely visible shadows, you set your camera’s f-stop to f/8 and a shutter speed of 1/ISO.

*Heavy Overcast or Open Shade 5.6 Rule: If it’s very cloudy day and there’s no visible shadows or your subject is in open shade, you will set your camera’s f-stop to f/5.6 and a shutter speed of 1/ISO. In NYC, this is a common light reading when you’re in the shadows of buildings.

*Holy Suicidal 4 Rule: If your subject is in deep shade (generally this does NOT include subjects under scaffolding) or it’s cloudy as all hell and it’s not nightime and you feel like jumping off a bridge because it’s so depressing and moody dark outside and it’s still 11 a.m., you set your camera’s f-stop to f/4 and a shutter speed of 1/ISO.

III. Manipulating Light: F-Stop and Shutter Speed (and ISO)

Understanding the relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and film speed will allow you to quickly manipulate the “Sunny 16” rule  to effect, for example, depth of field or whether you want to freeze or drag action.

For example, let’s say you have Tri-X 400 loaded in your camera and it’s overcast with no visible shadows. You pop a mental image of the typical lighting conditions and you put your base crux at f/5.6 at 1/500 (Heavily Overcast or Open Shade 5.6 Rule). From here, you can start firing away on that camera with that exposure value. But what if you want more depth of field? This is often useful in street photography, because you don’t always have the time to focus. Pre-focusing your camera to a set of values that give you a depth of field from 7 to 15 feet would be extremely useful. How would you do this if your base crux number is f/5.6 at 1/500?

You can close down (even though the f-stop number is going “up,” it’s called closing “down,” because the larger the f-stop number gets, the smaller the hole opening in the lens becomes) your aperture one stop, from f/5.6 to f/8, to get more depth of field (i.e., more things will be in “focus”). But like the psycho jealous ex-girlfriends that aperture and shutter speed are, you have to adjust your shutter speed so that you can get an “equal” exposure value as f/5.6 at 1/500. Remember, f/8 at 1/500 will let in twice as less light as f/5.6 at 1/500. If you were to expose your image at f/8 at 1/500, your image would be underexposed by 1 stop. There’s nothing per se wrong with your image being underexposed as that may be what you are going for. But on a purely objective level, the image would be underexposed by 1 stop, i.e., you didn’t let enough light in through the lens and, to be specific, you needed twice as much light, or 1 stop, for a “proper” exposure.

To get an “equal” exposure value at f/8 under a f/5.6 at 1/500 base crux, you need to slow down the shutter speed one stop (so you can get more light into the camera), from 1/500 to 1/250. F/8 at 1/250 is the same exposure wise as f/5.6 at 1/500. Under the same reasoning, you could get more depth of field by setting your aperture to f/11 at 1/125 or f/16 at 60. As a general matter, the higher the f/stop, the slower your shutter speed is going to be so that it can compensate for the smaller hole in your lens capturing the same amount of light as f/5.6 at 1/500. In that way, you can have an enormous depth of  field, but your shutter speed may slow down so much that your camera is not going to be able to freeze moving action. Again, this is what you might be going for.

Here are some charts that will help you visualize the relationship between shutter speed and aperture better. For each lighting condition, I’ve listed “equal” exposure values, from a maximum aperture of f/1.4 to a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000 (whichever comes first). The main assumption is that your film speed is ISO 400.

Super Duper Sunny 22 Rule:
f/22 @ 500 (base crux)
f/16 @ 1000
f/11 @ 2000
f/8 @ 4000
f/5.6 @ 8000

Sunny 16 Rule:
f/22 @ 250
f/16 @ 1/500 (base crux)
f/11 @ 1/1000
f/8 @ 1/2000
f/5.6 @ 1/4000
f/4 @ 1/8000

Sunny Hazy 11 Rule:
f/16 @ 1/250
f/11 @ 1/500 (base crux)
f/8 @ 1/1000
f/5.6 @ 1/2000
f/4 @ 1/4000
f/2.8 @ 1/8000

Cloudy But Bright 8 Rule:
f/16 @ 125
f/11 @ 250
f/8 @ 500 (base crux)
f/5.6 @ 1000
f/4 @ 2000
f/2.8 @ 4000
f/2 @ 8000

Heavily Overcast or Open Shade 5.6 Rule:
f/16 @ 60
f/11 @ 125
f/8 @ 250
f/5.6 @ 500(base crux)
f/4 @ 1000
f/2.8 @ 2000
f/2 @ 4000
f/1.4 @ 8000

Holy Suicidal 4 Rule:
f/16 at @ 30
f/11 @ 60
f/8 @ 125
f/5.6 @ 250
f/4 @ 500 (base crux)
f/2.8 @ 1000
f/2 @ 2000
f/1.4 @ 4000

Moving Up and Down the Scale

If you’re a Type A personality, don’t worry, you don’t have to memorize all these numbers. You certainly can if you want to but that’s kind of a waste of time. All you have to remember are the base crux values, which are essentially the f-stop values that are associated with a given lighting condition at 1/ISO. If you understand the relationships between aperture and shutter, all you need is your base crux and then you can move up or down the scale depending on what you want, such as more depth of field or displaying more movement or blur in your images. The main point is that YOU are in control. Just remember “twice” and moving up and down the scale goes quick.

The other point to keep in mind is that moving up and down the scale is not as difficult as it may seem, primarily because there are not as many aperture and shutter speed combinations as your digital camera has led you to believe. Digital cameras have a dizzying array of half stops and intermediate shutter speeds like f/7.1 @ 1/737th of a second or some stupid shit like that. Forget about half stops and intermediate shutter speeds. We’re talking here just about full stops and full shutter speeds as described above. Leave the f/7.1’s and 1/737th seconds for the landscape or architectural photographers. Half stops and intermediate shutter speeds are like email and twitter feeds. You will survive without checking them every fucking hour.

For a street photographer, break it down to the bare essentials. The best way to do this, in my humble opinion of course, is to assume that your shutter speed does not exceed 1/1000th of a second. What shutter speed values are you left to work with? 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1, and B.

But when you’re shooting on the street during the day, which ones are you not going to use often, if at all? I’m going to go out on a limb here but say you will unlikely use the following: 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1 and B. So, in the end, you are dealing with only the following shutter speeds: 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, and 1/60. Those are only five shutter speeds that you have to choose from on a regular consistent basis!

And when it comes to aperture when you’re shooting on the street during the day, you are most likely going to be using the following f-stops: f/16, f/11, f/8, f/5.6, and f/4. And yes, that’s only five f-stops that you have to choose from on a regular consistent basis!

The hardest part really is a) identifying the lighting condition and b) remembering which f/stop corresponds with it. 99 percent of your situations will revolve around only five base cruxes. Carry a light meter with you or practice with your fancy digital camera by finding the base crux number that is closest to your film speed or in the case of digital, your designated ISO. The hardest thing for me wasn’t distinguishing between an f/16 at 1/500 or f/11 at 1/500. Rather, it was distinguishing between an f/8 at 500 with an f/5.6 at 500 with an f/4 at 500. City shadows can really mess with your eyes and mind.

And although you’ve seen a lot of numbers here, don’t go to insane on being perfectly exact. After all, you’re there on the street to take pictures not stand there measuring light like you’re Ansel Adams. Do a little practice with identifying the five common lighting conditions you’ll see and then just go with it. And when in doubt, and especially if you’re shooting black and white negative film, my humble advice is to slightly overexpose than to underexpose. Another way to think of it is to expose for the shadows, which always need more light (i.e., more exposure) than the unshadowed parts of your scene. If you’re shooting digital or slide film, then it’s usually best to expose for the highlights and thus you are slightly underexposing the scene.

What does ISO got to do, got to do with it?

The simple answer is however much you want.

The last factor of measuring and manipulating light is ISO. Don’t worry, I didn’t save the best for last or the hardest concept for last. Similar to aperture and shutter speed, ISO also is governed by “twice.” Each progressive ISO value is “twice” as sensitive to light as the former. Here are the full ISO speeds:

25, 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200.

-100 film speed is twice as sensitive to light as 50 film speed.
-200 film speed is twice as sensitive to light as 100 film speed.
-400 film speed is twice as sensitive to light as 200 film speed.
-800 film speed is twice as sensitive to light as 400 film speed.

And so on and so forth. The bottom line here is that the “distance” from one ISO level to another is the equivalent of 1 stop. So think of ISO as the third psycho jealous ex-girlfriend, but this one is hiding behind the tree watching f-stop and shutter speed rumble in the parking lot over who gets to make a stew out of your decomposing body. In the end, all three of these bitches will effect light. Understanding the effect of your film speed is important, particularly if you are pushing or pulling film. If you’re shooting digital, ISO can be a little more prominent as you can change it frame to frame, and is especially useful in maintaining higher shutter speeds when the lights go down.

Since ISO relates to how sensitive your film is to light, you will ultimately have to adjust either the f-stop or shutter speed to compensate. More specifically, each progressive ISO (starting from 25) is equivalent to one stop of exposure.

For example, let’s say you are shooting on your Canon 5D with ISO 400 at a value of f/5.6 at 1/500. Let’s say you like the depth of field, but you want your shutter speed to be one stop faster, because you’re trying to capture Usain Bolt. You could drop your aperture one stop to f/4 at 1/1000 to get an equal exposure value as f/5.6 at 1/500. But you just sacrificed one stop of depth of field. Depending on the lens you are using, the depth of field change between f/4 and f/5.6 could be significant enough. Here’s where manipulating ISO can come into play.

As described, boosting your ISO one stop, from ISO 400 to ISO 800 is going to be twice as sensitive to light, or the equivalent of one stop. In other words, your original exposure value of f/5.6 at 1/500 at ISO 400 is now equivalent to f/5.6 at 1/1000. Or, if you set your aperture to f/4, your shutter speed would jump be equivalent to 1/2000.

You can also use ISO to maintain a larger depth of field with the same shutter speed. For example, f/5.6 at 1/500 with ISO 400 is equivalent to f/8 at 1/500 with ISO 800.

When you are manipulating ISO, you have to either add (push) or decrease (pull) a stop from either the f-stop or the shutter speed. But don’t get flustered with ISO. While it’s true that exposure is much like a triangle (f-stop, shutter speed, ISO), I think it’s better to think of it as a cup of coffee (f-stop and shutter) and creamer (ISO). The triangle analogy is great and all but it makes you think that for every fucking shot you are manipulating all three angles of a gigantic triangle. Shit, no wonder so many people hate shooting manually. It’s the landscape photographer’s approach to shooting.

Yes, in theory you are manipulating all three but in practice you are primarily just manipulating f-stop and shutter. We’re street photographers here. The ISO is that creamer you add in the coffee but it’s not the fucking coffee, you know? But if you screw with the creamer and don’t respect the creamer, it’s going to fuck your coffee up. So . . . leave the creamer on the side if you can. Your coffee is going to taste just fine without it.

Understanding how ISO effects f-stop and shutter will also help with quickly identifying a lighting condition. Let me explain. Above ground, I normally shoot Tri-X 400. Below ground, I normally shoot T-Max 3200. For me, the exposure values in my mind all revolve around ISO 400 regardless of whether I’m pushing or pulling. When I switch to T-Max 3200, I visualize the lighting conditions with ISO 400 in mind and just adjust my f-stop or shutter, for example, three stops (400 – 800 [1 stop] – 1600 [2 stops] – 3200 [3 stops]). I try to keep things simple by just remembering one set of values under a given ISO because that’s what I’m used to. For instance, I know that certain subway stations are going to give me an incident light reading of F/4 at 60 with ISO 400. Depending on the lighting conditions, I often will not rate Tri-X 400 at 400. I may shoot it at 200 or push it to 1600. With T-Max 3200, I will often shoot it at 1600. The point is by having the exposure values in my mind anchored to one ISO, I can easily move up and down the scale as the situation warrants itself as opposed to remembering independently those values associated with a particular ISO.

IV. Incident Light Readings Around New York City

Here are some incident light readings from around New York City that I’ve been taking with my Sekonic light meter. I’m only going to give essentially one exposure value. No, I’m not hiding the other values. I just don’t want to type them all out. You just have to adjust your f-stop, shutter speed, or ISO to get equivalent values.

The main assumption with all these exposure values here is ISO 400.

Scaffolding: f/4 @ 60

Underground Subway Platforms:

a) between 1/60th to 1/125th of a second at f/4 for well lit bright stations like Bowling Green on the 4/5;

b) between 1/30th to 1/60th of a second at f/4 for fairly well-lit stations like Atlantic Center or 14th or 34th Street on the Q/N/R;

c) between 1/15th to 1/30th of a second at f/4 for fairly lit stations like from Flatbush Avenue to Sterling Street stops on the 2/5 or West Fourth on the A/C/E;

d) between 1/15th at f/2.8 for dim, dark gloomy stations like Franklin Avenue and President Street on the 2/5.

Underground Subway Cars (all fluorescent lighting):

a) Q/N/R/B/D/F train (fairly uniform lighting): between 1/30th to 1/60th of a second at f/2.

b) 2/3/4/5/L train (uniform bright lighting): between 1/60th and 1/125th of a second at f/2.

c) A/C/E/S [times square] train (lighting often varies depending on where you are in the car): between 1/15th to 1/60th of a second at f/2.

Times Square (at night): between 1/30th and 1/60th of a second at f/4.

Ascension Church (upper west side): between 1/4th and 1/8th of a second at f/4.


Post a comment
  1. Trevor #
    February 3, 2012

    Great post, well done for anyone looking for a basic introduction to exposure.

  2. V #
    February 9, 2012

    Thanks, very well explained! People that found this useful might also like this

    • Alex #
      August 11, 2015

      Wonderful gadget! Printed and crafted! Thank you!

  3. David #
    March 11, 2012

    After always getting bored to death by sunny16 articles, this one is a true gem! Thanks. I haven’t believed this topic could actually be funny.

    • P.t. #
      August 15, 2020

      The more i read the more questions i have oh my !!! But i will reread reread reread with camera in hand. ✋ 📷

  4. Markus #
    August 12, 2012

    came across your posting here when I was looking into “metering without a light meter” …..I have an TLR and want to get a good exposure when out and about ….any suggestion on what setting to use when I have a 400 iso (Kodak T-Max Pro) f/4.5, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22 – B 15, 30, 60,125, 250 ?

    Thanks for posting!

    • Rufus Mangrove #
      December 6, 2012

      It will all depend on the lighting conditions, whether you want to freeze motion or blur motion, and the depth of field you want. Generally here in Brooklyn, when I am shooting with my Yashica on a typical fall day in the mid morning, I’d have it at f/8 at 125. You generally can’t go wrong with that unless you are doing really specific types of landscape, portrait, or building photography. Hope that helps.

  5. January 10, 2013

    Very nice stuff. Valuable stuff that no one wants to admit they dont know.

    • Rufus Mangrove #
      August 15, 2013

      Holy cow! Sorry I just saw this. Thanks John for commenting. I’ve been watching your videos on youtube for a while now. Love your philosophy and thoughts on the subject. You make me think! Best- rufus

  6. February 8, 2013

    very nice stuff!! May I press it? I will have your credit on the site!

    • Rufus Mangrove #
      February 8, 2013

      Sure, no problem. Hope it is useful.

  7. February 9, 2013

    The subway numbers are generally right, but I know which models youre talking about.
    Easier to put it like this (to the reader living off other’s note-taking, ignore what you don’t “need” to know, by all means, go ahead and suck by thinking that way),

    Go by seat color.

    Staying with ISO 400 (usually use dSLR ISO 1600 or RXP EI1600/3200):

    If all the seats are LIGHT BLUE BENCHES, and there is a prerecorded voice 1/100@f2. Little/no correction *strictly* needed.
    (e.g. R142 IRT, R143, R160 IND)

    If the seats are GREY BENCHES, and there is a conductor, 1/50@f2, add ~2/3rds for daylight balanced film. Expect green cast from lighting panel. Skip the filter.
    (e.g R62 IRT, R32 IND)

    If all the seats are ORANGE, and there is a conductor, 1/30@f2 add 2/3rds, or if the color cast bothers you, add 80A +1.3 stop E-6, 2 stop C-41.
    (e.g. R68 IND)

    If you already use slide film, don’t quibble, make your own notes and choose your own damn curve.

    Bonus. Many platforms, Esp IND stations, have the support beams approx 12 ft apart. Make your notes.
    Bonus. A camera in the lap is about 6.5ft from the center (i.e.the front of the torso of the person directly opposite you.

    For the love of God, know 21 NYCRR Part 1050.9
    Actually, read all of 1050.

    Have serious qualms about the statements on digital – it didn’t make crap, people do and they did it with film – but whatever, you make stuff and take notes, rock on.

    • Rufus Mangrove #
      February 11, 2013

      Thanks Adam. I like the approach on the seat color. And thanks for the bonus info. I usually have it at a shade under 7 feet for the 1/2/3/7/S trains, a shade over 7 feet for the A/C/G/L/N/R/Q lines. For me at least, the C line has the most dramatic light . . . but because it’s darker than the other trains, I still rate it at 1/30 even with the grey benches. You have a link to your stuff? I’d love to check out your underground shots. Peace. Rufus.

  8. February 15, 2013

    Very cool :)
    I’ve switched to film after years of digital, so I’ll try out your techniques today.

    Q: What do you do if you are going to push or pull the film or use colored filters?
    For example, if I set the ISO dial to 200 for 400 film and use a K2 yellow filter, it should equal out, no?



  9. July 2, 2013

    awesome keep on

  10. August 15, 2013

    This was awesome! I found your site while trying to figure out which camera I’m buying, and needing to really know what I needed for aperture (one can do f2, the other only does f3.3) The Holy Suicidal 4 Rule perfectly describes the pacific northwest 9 months of the year, so now I know I don’t need to panic about having f2 and can compare other features.

  11. Lerato #
    January 25, 2014

    Brilliant. funny. and I finally understood. Hands down *the* best explanation.

  12. Susan #
    April 9, 2014

    Hey there, I have found myself in the pickle of buying a camera with a broken light meter so have to do all this exposing myself! This is the most comprehensive explanation I have found so far. Good job man! Alas I doooo have a question albiet it migth be a really stupid one. Here gies: lets say I would like to add that oh so lovely bokeh effect in a portrait. I have a canon 50mm 1: 1.4 FD lens and I feel robbed if I coulnt use tapertures lower than 4. Som my question is lets say its a F8 kind of day and I have a 400 ISO locked and loaded: if I wanted to get the bomeh effect would I be able to open her up to say 2.8 and raise ISO to 1000 ( my camera cant go faster than that) or would it result in a very very over exposed image?

    • Rufus Mangrove #
      May 31, 2014

      I hate to pass the buck, but when it comes to Bokeh and all things Bokehlicious, there’s really only one man that can explain it with panache and style. Kai Man Wong. Check out digirev on Youtube.

      But as to the question of an F8 kind of day . . . if you’re putting your aperture at F/2.8, then raising the ISO to 1000, you are going to be, as you point out, overexposing your image majorly, unless you have an ND filter or something. Perhaps what you mean, if I understand your question correctly, is that you should be raising your shutter speed to 1000 or higher. Since you are letting more light in at f/2.8, you need to compensate somehow, either by lowering your ISO or increasing your shutter speed, or a combination of both.

  13. Chris #
    April 23, 2014

    This is fine for b+w. However, for chromes you should be 1/3 stop accurate. That would mean sunny 16 would look like this at 100 iso; 11 2/3 @ 1/125.
    For anyone who cares..

  14. Tom #
    April 28, 2014

    I pulled out my old Nikon F from its display case for the heck of it, took off the Photomic T finder and threw on the waist level finder. Have not used this combo in about 25 years and now my head is starting to hurt again! :-)

    • Rufus Mangrove #
      May 31, 2014

      On the 3rd day, God created the Nikon F.

  15. Cee #
    May 16, 2014

    This Is PERFECT!! Thank you.

  16. BookOfBokeh #
    May 21, 2014

    I am rolling with the crowd here…excellent article, written with passion, insight and clarity on a complex subject which you reduce to the perfect essentials.

    I have a question, but first some backstory: I used to do a lot of film photography years ago but quit because my images were not Life quality (I said years ago), I was too lazy/poor for a darkroom and besides, I got to thinking what those chemicals were doing to the environment. Then I woke up a year or two ago to just how good DSLRs had got and was re-infected (sort of like shingles) by the shutter bug.

    Anyway, here’s the question: I shoot only in Aperture mode, always have. I use the lowest ISO I can get away with that gives me the f/stop with the DOF I want at the speed that I can hold the camera for, or if on a tripod, for the time the scene will stay still for; what do you see as the advantage of the Sunny 16 rule over this approach that forces me to do more mental gymnastics? (And believe me, at my age, the mental ones are just as hard as picking up the physical ones.)

    I want to ask you this because I would love to get into street photography and your work is cred enough that you know whereof what thou speaketh. So, please, speaketh.

    • Rufus Mangrove #
      May 31, 2014

      What’s going on, BoB? Thanks for the shout out and I appreciate the kind words. You are absolutely right that going fully manual, and perhaps fully manual without a meter, is a little bit of “mental gymnastics.” But part of that is the point. When it comes to digital photography, in my humble opinion of course, we take way too many images. When I say “many,” I loosely refer to taking 300-400 shots during a street photography “outing.” And one of the many problems with that, mostly practical, is that we’re essentially spraying and praying. When you think about how truly rare it is to get a good shot in street photography, we waste our limited opportunities and luck by taking shit shots, and that we know in our heart of hearts suck ass. Perhaps we worry that if we’re on manual, we’re going to “miss” the shot that gets us the call from Magnum. But by getting away from aperture priority, we focus more on the light, we anticipate it, we are in the zone, and making sure that when we depress that shutter, we are getting images that count. In many ways, and this may seem counter-intuitive, by doing the “mental gymnastics,” we free our mind to actually focus more on the composition and the scene.

      In the end, this is not to say that shooting manual will make you or anyone else a better photographer automatically. At the very least, it will slow you down, which in the world of masturbatory and frenetic consumption, is more than half the battle.

  17. May 30, 2014

    Thank you! This was exactly what I was looking for, and written in a nice pedagogic way.

  18. June 7, 2014

    This article is superb. It is beautifully written, simple and to the point. I have a question regarding ND filters in particular a stop one. I will be going to New Orleans in the summer and it will be sunny most of the time. I want to take my Hasselblad 501cm and my Mamiya 7II and know that my shutter speed will not be fast enough. The fastest for both cameras is 1/500.
    If I get a 3 stop ND filter and use ISO 400 film I come up with the following…I want to maintain a shutter speed of 1/500 so I would reduce three stops from f16 to f5.6 & still maintain the 1/500. Or if I wanted to keep the F16 I would then reduce my shutter speed by three stops to 1/60. AM I doing this correctly?

  19. July 7, 2014

    fantastic explain. the last part about the “ISO effects” is a little bit fast and emotional, so i would like to understand it better
    thank you

  20. Tony K #
    August 6, 2014

    Thanks for this…useful knowledge explained well.

  21. Squid Bert #
    February 24, 2015

    This is great. I just dug up the first camera I ever bought, a nikon fm10 with a busted light metre. I have a lovely dslr and a lovely digital mirrorless, but I just want to have fun with the fm10. Heading to Australia’s Snowy Mountains this weekend (for the record: they are sometimes actually snowy, though not at this time of year) and can’t wait to practice.

    • Rufus Mangrove #
      March 23, 2015

      The Nikon FM is the camera I’d take with me to Mars. Have fun, and enjoy the slap and knobs of the FM10!!!

      • Jonathan Pulliam #
        August 17, 2015

        Back in ’77, took an early chrome FM w/me to Salvador, Bahia de Todos os Santos.

        Carnaval da Praca Castro Alves — bagunca total. Photographers “no meio da bagunca” near the various “block”‘s Trio Eletrico sound trucks run a real risk of “levando uma porrada.”

        FM in combo w/Sunpak 411 was bees’ knees. Triple LED exposure indicator was definitely the way to go. Shot a lot of ASA 100 Kodak.

        These days shoot more in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Kenscoff road. St. Marc – Lean Denis.
        Don’t bother checking my F4S/160 on Kenscoff road. I double check the brake fluid and make sure emergency brake isn’t just for looks…

        Took a splendid shade shot of my nieces with a chrome Nikkormat at Guilow’s beach using a 1961 5.8cm f1.4 and regular ol’ Fujifilm 400 that displayed the most pleasingly-rendered out-of-focus areas.

        F4S is nice in “sweaty” climes as there’s a touch less fumbling while loading new spools of film, and less chance bead of sweat drop inside where you don’t want it.

        Black FM’s a tuff-looking little beggar.

      • Rufus Mangrove #
        January 5, 2016

        I will likely be buried with my Nikon FM. Of all my film cameras, from the Leicas to the Ricohs, I always come back to the Nikon FM. I thought when I first got my Leica M3 about six or seven years ago, I’d bequeath it to my children. Well, that camera is gone, along with the M4-2 and M6, because the upkeep was too much. The FM was always there, not questioning why I abandoned it. And when I put it in my hands, I said to myself, “Never again will I abandon you.” I don’t need to worry about things “going out of adjustment” or displays not working right like the Ricoh. The FM just works. And the 28mm ais crc and 24mm ais lenses for Nikon. I mean, they just feel so right for me. That’s why I’m not sure why Nikon can’t figure out how to make a mirrorless camera that people actually want to buy. Lol.

  22. Metti #
    June 1, 2015

    Fantastic article. Really. Just wanted to make a suggestion to students of photography like me: combine the wisdom of this article with a hand-held light meter or the calibrated (fully adjusted) built-in meter of your camera to learn the ropes while checking on your light reading skills. Once you honed your light reading skills, you can forget about the light meters altogether.

  23. July 24, 2015

    “Sunny, very sunny, sharp edges” and all that shit got me so confused.
    “Is there a shitload of glare that makes your eyes want to burn out of their sockets?” This is a language I understant !

    Thank you so much for this ! Got an old Zenit 11 with a dead photometer. You may have saved my ass !

  24. marco #
    August 9, 2015

    For a long time I am having difficulties about sunny f/16 finally its clear as crystal…
    thank you for this article and for breaking it down into digestible bits now life will
    be fun…..

    • Rufus Mangrove #
      January 5, 2016

      Thanks for the comments. Have fun with it!!

  25. September 20, 2015

    “*each progressive f-stop (starting with the lower number and working up) allows twice as much light than the previous f-stop.”

    Surely that is backwards? You go on to describe it correctly straight afterwards but surely the underlined text should read “*each progressive f-stop (starting with the higher number and working down) allows twice as much light than the previous f-stop.”

    • Rufus Mangrove #
      January 5, 2016

      Thanks Greg. Sorry for the late response. I’ve been off for a few months. You are right and thank you for the correction. I will change it to reflect it.

  26. September 21, 2015

    Making associations is often so vital to retention…
    Your humor really makes aperture something memorable~

    Smart, funny, and cool~
    Again, thank you!

    • Rufus Mangrove #
      January 5, 2016

      Thanks, Jill. I was getting tired of the mnemonics and complicated explanations of the Sunny 16 rule. Most of what I found never went past Sunny 16. . .

  27. cdruryphotography #
    November 8, 2015

    Just got myself a M645 1000s with the waist level viewfinder and have been using a light meter for my first two films. That is all well and good if I have time to take a reading, set the camera, compose and shoot…but most of the time, the moment is gone in the process. THANKFULLY I can use this brilliant description of the Sunny 16 rule you have given us. I can work faster on the streets and hopefully not miss any opportunity. This post is informative and funny. Thank you so much :)

    Quick question though, with an iso of 400 and indoors, and wanting to use aperture f2.8…could I slow the shutter speed down instead of speeding it up to compensate? For example, if I was outside using iso400 at 1/500 at f16 but then came indoors to shoot a portrait, I would judge the light accordingly to a level of f4 at 1/500…but then if I wanted to use f2.8, would I then increase or decrease the shutter speed to 1/1000 or 1/250 seconds, or would I keep it at 1/500 second?

    Thanks, Chris

    • Rufus Mangrove #
      January 5, 2016

      Congrats on the M645, and good for you for taking an MF camera on the streets. In response to your question, speeding up or slowing down the shutter speed is a personal preference. If you are shooting indoors, and are going for portraits, you might want the amazing depth of field that an MF camera can bring, and thus you’ll want to keep it at 2.8. Further, because you’re using negative film, you’ll also probably want to overexpose a little bit. So if you’re light is appropriate at f/4 at 1/500, shooting at 2.8 and 1/500 will be overexposing by 1 stop, which could be good if you want to get more details in the shadows. Again, this might be beneficial if you’re shooting a portrait. However, if you’re shooting a “street” type scene indoors, you might want to go to f/5.6 or even f/8 to get a wider depth of field, so as to move quicker with the Medium Format camera. So, assuming the light reading is correct at f/4 and 1/500 indoors, you could shoot at f/5.6 at 1/250 or f/8 at 1/125. Depending on how static or fast things are moving, 1/125 might be the limit before you get blur.

  28. John Kai #
    November 24, 2015

    For decades I have distrusted on-board meters in what are now “vintage cameras” — even when compensating for discontinued batteries. And so I began using a different method. The mental calculation that starts with the “crux” of the f/16 rule is a greater assurance — a relief from doubt, stress and usually more accurate.

    Unless you process your own emulsions — and even if you do — film photography costs more than your daily porridge digi. So, in the course of my life, I am right back to where I was when I was a teenager with just a tiny bit of spending money. Each frame counted. I sweated blood making them. If I didn’t like the neg, I didn’t print it. Thus I retain many thousands of images lying dormant and perhaps degrading. Many of them be printed as a record of what registered on/in my brain when I released the shutter. Therein lies the miracle of photography; no matter what the quality of the result — another subject.

    The salient point here is, a lot these photos were taken without meters. I had excellent optics, but most of my cameras were not equipped with meters. And if they were, they had selenium-cell powered meters that were either restricted or already burned out (even in 45 years ago). I made hazardous guesses without any real detailed knowledge of the f/16 rule. I often got results. Sometimes excellent results. Often times I had dismal failures. Later, after abandoning most meters and opting for a more educated understanding of the “f’/16” rule, I have been much happier with my exposures.

    This article is very encouraging. It presents a different point of view than many others and offers another perspective. Thanks, OP! Thanks for the clarity and encouragement. Most of us film-users are alone among the throng of people we know. Sharing this info helps us ‘keep the faith’.

    • Rufus Mangrove #
      January 5, 2016

      Thanks for your comments. Very well put. I think sometimes as things get more “advanced,” they also get away from the organic process of discovering an image. Perhaps I’m just getting older and grumpier.

  29. PK #
    March 16, 2016

    Great article and well written. New to photography but many decades old. In the age of digital, how do you ignore the in camera meter? I suppose if I am shooting in full manual, I can analyze the light and use this rule then see what the camera says. I can then override the “grey” meter to produce what I think my image should look like? Then there is matrix, center (I think most older film cameras were all center weighted?) and spot. This mode must impact the in camera meter. So….

    • Rufus Mangrove #
      May 16, 2016

      Hey PK! Thanks for stopping by and sorry for the late response. I’ve been behind on many things.

      As you point out, you can ignore the camera meter if you’re shooting manual, but you can also use it to give you a good idea on the lighting situation. So, for example, let’s say you’re shooting manual and you’re photographing a person with harsh sun behind him or her. Let’s say you have it at ISO 400, f/16, and 1/500 of a second. If you have it on center weighted, you’re meter will probably tell you’re exposed just fine, or that you might be even underexposed by a stop. If you took the picture, you’d soon find out that your subject is grossly underexposed, and the rest of the frame is exposed properly. So, without the use of a flash, you’ll have to ignore the meter, and to some extent the “sunny 16 rules”, to overexpose your subject (at the expense of blowing out the background), at for instance f/16 at 1/125 or 1/250. I didn’t mean to make this a confusing example, but to underscore the importance that as a photographer, you are constantly making decisions, not only in terms of composition, but in the amount of importance you give to the existing light as applied to a subject. Of course, too, you can spot meter, and it will likely give you a good idea in terms of exposure in tricky lighting conditions.

      But don’t get flustered by “tricky.” Tricky, for the most part, simply means whether you are going to overexpose or underexpose a subject BECAUSE of the lighting conditions. So, in the example above, you’ll need to overexpose a backlit subject so as to avoid a silhouette. But the point, as described in the post, is that with photography, if you mess with one value, another existing value is going to be affected. So in the above situation, if you overexpose to compensate for a backlit subject, you’ll blow out the sky. If you underexpose for the subject, you’ll get the sky but a silhouetted subject. Perhaps this is what you want? And maybe, depending on the composition, a silhouetted subject or subjects, might look better. It all depends. . .

      • PK #
        April 17, 2018

        Excellent reply and thanks for time taken to do so. Speaking of late replies…..I have not visited since I posted nearly two years ago. Shooting an OLD Nikon FM now. Still lots to learn.

  30. March 28, 2016

    Good read. Stuck in a rut lately and this post was just the kick up the a%r$e I needed so set myself the challenge today of locking my ISO at 400, locking my shutter speed at 1/360 (although re-reading your post, maybe I should have gone with 1/500) then trying to read the light and playing with F stop on my M9M.

    Results looked dark on my camera display but I was surprised with how much give the images I had in Lightroom, so very happy.

    I use a yellow filter and not clear on how I should have compensated for that but might try with a clear filter next time.

    Thanks for getting me off the sofa on this grey Easter Monday in Sydney.

    • Rufus Mangrove #
      May 16, 2016

      Hey Yesmodo. I’m glad you’re up and about. Of course, it’s better to be with a camera and shooting, than in front of a computer. Quick thing. Digital is more akin to slide film than negative film, so as a general matter, since you don’t have as much latitude as positive film, people generally underexpose a bit. But as you can see, with the M9M files, you have a lot to play with in terms of “dynamic range.” I’m not sure how many stops you have to compensate for on the yellow filter — it will depend on the instructions from your manufacturer. It’s called a “filter factor,” so depending on how dark the yellow it is, you’ll have to compensate accordingly. If you’re not sure, just check your light meter in camera to get an idea.

  31. Greg #
    June 4, 2016

    This is a magnificent article (lighthearted, FUNNY, creative and knowledgeable). THANK YOU! I have been trying to shoot manually (with the sunny 16 rule) on my X100s and the image playback set to “off.”. It’s been a learning experience, and I’m loving it, but I have also hit some bewildering moments that seem to belie working from a “base crux.” For instance, working in park shade on an overcast day, under trees, iso 800 and a SS of 1/1000, I move from F16 to F5.6–adding 3 stops of light–but keeping a shutter speed of 1/1000 still produces a way-too-dark image. I found, after chimping my images, that F5.6 worked best with 1/125th, but that would mean I had to decrease my SS by 3 stops in addition to opening the aperture by 3 stops . Shouldn’t the exposure have been okay at 5.6 and 1/1000? Why did the SS have to drop so much to produce the preferred image? I suppose–okay, I KNOW–I need to read light better, but if I were shooting film using the “16” rule, my images would have looked black and burnt. What am I doing wrong? Thanks for your patience here :)
    Again, I LOVED your article. I’ll be referring to it often, and I appreciate your time in writing it and, if possible, responding to my query and confusion. Thank you!

    • Rufus Mangrove #
      November 7, 2016

      Sorry for the slow response. Shady situations can be difficult for sure.

      Here is my best guess on what happened. It was an overcast day, so you should start at f/5.6. When it’s sunny you start at f/16.

      So your base would be 5.6 at 1/1000, with ISO 800. But it appears you have also the variable of trees, that could potentially have made your subject too dark, because more shade means you need more light for your subject. When I was in New York, a similar issue accompanied scaffolding. On an overcast day, I was often shooting at f/4 or 5.6 at 60, with an ISO 400. That is more a less an equivalent value as f/5.6 at 1/125th at ISO 800.

  32. Anne #
    June 21, 2016

    Thank you so much for this man! :D

  33. tmalsburg #
    July 14, 2016

    Great article! I get the theory, but could you say something on how well this is working in practice? How much practice does it take to guess the base crux? And once you got the hang of it, what percentage of shots are still over- or underexposed?

    • Rufus Mangrove #
      November 7, 2016

      It works well in practice. Is it foolproof? No, and I don’t think anything really is. In the end, this is more about the process than it is about the end result. Put another way, and in my humble opinion of course, when you get out of ‘program’ mode and take control of your camera, you start looking at the light more critically. That doesn’t mean you or I will get better photographs because of it. But hopefully our photography will be slightly more deliberate.

  34. Magen #
    September 12, 2016

    Will these combos all work for Kodak T-Max 400 film?

  35. Jonathan Davies #
    September 15, 2016

    I don’t normally comment on these things but I love your coffee analogy. Having just bought my mrs a proper camera for her birthday this will prove useful. It might even result in better photos from me! We live in Scotland where it is typically 55F and cloudy (at any time of year). I often find my camera starting point to be f8@500 I will be sure to test it now wih this rule. Thanks. Jonathan

  36. matt #
    September 22, 2016

    What a great article. I just picked up an old speed graphic almost mint for 75 and can’t wait to try all this out

  37. Kyrylo Lyutov #
    November 26, 2016

    Hello! Very nice explanation! The best one!
    I have only one question, what do you mean when say scaffolding?

    • Rufus Mangrove #
      December 5, 2016

      Scaffolding in NY is a temporary structure placed next to a building when construction crews are fixing/repairing/maintaining it. They seem to be everywhere. The ones here are mostly made of metal poles and long strips of wood, which literally make a once sunny sidewalk dark.

  38. December 19, 2016

    Really good article but talking about bitches, is it really necessary ?

  39. Sam #
    October 1, 2017

    Thanks so much for this article….and for so clearly explaining the concept of “twice.” I very much appreciated your concrete examples and pragmatic approach (really just 5 possible shutter speeds and 5 possible f-stops for most shots). There’s a possibility I may actually understand equal exposure values now! Will print this article out tomorrow and keep in my camera bag with my Leica IIIC and Elmar lens.

  40. julia isaacs #
    April 15, 2018

    Hello! I absolutely loved your explanation and sense of humor. I

  41. julia #
    April 16, 2018

    Hey there! Do you do zone focusing at all when shooting street photography? My next concept to master.

  42. StephenJ #
    October 2, 2018

    The “truth” of this item is proved by the persistence of the comments, all six years of them… So far!

    Quality will always outlast.

    On a personal note, I lika da Leica, but for me it is the iii (or Standard) rather than the M. They fit in your pocket and they still work like they did when they left the factory.

    It is all about the leit(z).

  43. Davino #
    October 18, 2018

    Great post man. Very detailed. Now
    Things start to make more sense to
    Me. Thx.

    • P.T. #
      August 15, 2020

      I never liked crwamer in my coffee anyways

  44. October 12, 2019

    Well it has been 7 years since comments started..but the info is still just as timely for me. Created my first commissioned photo when I was in grade seven-class picture (late 60’s) for the yearbook, paid me .50c. Loved photography and then discovered girls.. I got married in ’74, kids and career, led me to put down camera. Got into the digital world a few years ago, I now use a Sony A7 with almost exclusively manual Minolta glass. Have a request for Thanksgiving supper this year..take the group family photo. So I am throwing in some B&W shots, from a 1958 Konica IIIA, and an Anscomark M, with 10 yr old Tri-x 400, that I will develop myself. The discovery of your post is perfect timing. Well written and to the point, at my age mental math is not my forte, so thank you very much.

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