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Sunny 16 Rule



A simple rule of thumb for taking photos in daylight without a light meter. The rule is quite easy to remember – if you’re taking a photo in bright daylight set the aperture to f/16 and set the shutter speed to be as near as possible to the same number as the film speed.

So if you’re using ISO 100 film, for example, set the aperture to f/16 and the shutter speed to 1/125 sec, since 1/125 is the closest shutter speed value to 100 on a typical camera.

If you want to use a different aperture calculate the number of stops away from f/16 you want to use and then adjust the shutter speed accordingly. For example, f/11 is one stop larger than f/16, so you’d need to increase your shutter speed by one stop. So if you’re using ISO 100 film you’d set the aperture to f/11 and the shutter speed to 1/250 sec.

This rule works because the light output from the sun is a pretty constant value – the sun itself puts out a nearly constant amount of light at all times. Only precisely calibrated equipment can detect the light fluctuations of the sun.

here are some variations for a sunny day:
Full sun – f/16
Half sun – f/11
Open shade – f/8
Darker shade – f/5.6
Darkest shade – f/4

with a little bit of practice, you won’t need your lightmeter anymore. follow this link for Fred Parker’s excellent exposure guide.

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About Markus

Markus Hartel is a (street) photographer, graphic designer and educator living and working in New York City.
You can purchase prints, or book a one-on-one street photography workshop directly on this site.

6 Responses to “Sunny 16 Rule”

  1. Joe B says:

    Good rule of thumb. Fortunately, photography is second nature – these things come naturally. I wished I knew this rule when I first started out back in the days.

  2. I just came around your site today. Nice photos, good job. I linked you on my blog, I hope that’s ok with you.

  3. Nick says:

    If this is true, then why, on the Provia package pictured above, are you instructed to set the shutter speed to TWICE the ISO of the film? Why are you supposed to use 1/250th instead of 1/125th? The Provia box contradicts the article…doesn’t anybody notice this?

    • Ethan says:


      I noticed it, but it’s not a mistake…look a little closer. Full sun calls for f11, not f16 on the package. This is one stop less than the basic Sunny 16 rule. If we were shooting at a shutter speed closest to the reciprocal of the film speed, we would be one stop underexposed. But since the package has added one stop of exposure via the shutter speed, we will be probably exposed. The package has recalculated the Sunny 16 rule to allow it to be used in snow and sand…re-read the third paragraph of the article for clarification on this.


  4. Monty Johnston says:

    Nick –

    Read what he said again and look at the box. Sunny 16 is not something I can do fast yet, if ever.

    Monty Johnston

  5. Iantimothy says:

    Haven’t bothered with a light meter for years ! I once set my camera to 1/125 at F8 using HP5s and a light yellow filter, shot all day and every neg was printable on grade 2 ! never bothered using any thing else than sunny 16 ever since F4 for shade F8 average and F16 on a sunny day..amazing but true