Sunny 16 Rule: Proper Exposure Without a Camera Meter (VIDEO)

Today’s quick tutorial is a throwback to the days before electronic cameras, without autofocus, built-in meters, and other modern conveniences. The Sunny 16 method for determining proper exposure was one of the easiest “rules” back then, and it can bail you out of a jam today when using a full-featured camera.

Many photographers still use manual cameras on occasion and, for them, the video below will be a refresher. But what if the light meter your modern camera goes haywire, or your battery runs dry and you don’t have a spare? In those instances the Sunny 16 Rule is far better than guessing at the exposure settings required and can really save the day.

Instructor Booray Perry is a guy we turn to often for quick and straightforward explainers on basic photographic concepts, and he typically infuses his tutorials with a bit of humor to make them fun to watch. In today’s episode it takes him barely five minutes to demystify the Sunny 16 Rule.

As Perry explains, the Sunny 16 Rule goes like this: “If you’re outside on a bright day without cloud cover and the aperture is set to f/16, then your shutter speed will be the same as your ISO setting.” So if your ISO is 200, the correct shutter speed will be 1/200 with a aperture of f/16.”

Of course every day isn’t a sunny one, but the Rule still applies with a bit easy extrapolation, as Perry explains. He makes adjustments for decreasing light levels in one-stop increments. Thus, on days with a slight amount of cloud cover he drops his aperture setting to f/l1.

Following this system means you’ll drop down another stop to f/8 on totally overcast days, and on and on. Even though there are a few mental calisthenics involved it’s better than eyeballing a scene, and taking a wild guess with fingers crosses.

You can find more quick-and easy explainers on Perry’s instructional YouTube channel, so be sure to take a look.

We also suggest you watch the simple tutorial we posted from another popular instructor, explaining how to shoot photos with beautiful soft backgrounds to make your main subject stand out.