Sunny 16 Rule – How to achieve the right exposure

How do you manually set the aperture and shutter speed of your analog camera for correct exposure? That’s quite a tricky question if you are brand new to film photography. There is one golden rule to help you along the way. It’s called the Sunny 16 rule.

Sunny 16 ruleThe sunny 16 rule is a simple method to figure out the approximate settings for your camera to produce an image that isn’t too dark, nor too bright. In other words – how to get the right exposure. There are three factors involved when speaking about this method: the aperture, the shutter speed and the ISO value of your film. Check out our photography glossary if you are not yet familiar with these terms.

How the sunny 16 rule works

First of all, you need a sunny day for this rule to work. Ok, but what if it is cloudy and raining then? No need to worry! I will show you in a second how you can adapt the method to make it work during other lightning conditions as well. Now let’s get started:

  1. 1Choose film
    Load your camera with the film of your choice. Make sure to remember the ISO rating (film speed).
  2. 2Set the shutter speed
    The shutter speed will depend on the ISO rating of the film. Let’s call the ISO value X – then set the shutter speed to 1/X. Example: if you decided to use an ISO 100 film, set the shutter speed to 1/100 second (or as close as possible to 1/100 second). If you decided to go for an ISO 400 film, set the shutter speed to 1/400 second. Got it?
  3. 3Set the aperture to f/16
    The last thing you need to do is to set the aperture of you camera to f/16. That’s it!

When the sun is gone…

You can still apply this rule even when it isn’t sunny. Just follow the first two steps as described above. When you get to the third step, simply pick the appropriate aperture setting from the table below instead:

Lightning condition Shadow detail Aperture setting
Slight Overcast Soft around edges f/11
Overcast Barely visible shadows f/8
Heavy Overcast No shadows f/5.6
Sunset No shadows f/4

Now it’s time for you to get out and practise the sunny 16 rule!
Don’t forget to post your 120 film photos in our Flickr group.

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