Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by stuart_pratt, Sep 23, 2021.

  1. It has often puzzled me when people recommend using the Sunny 16 rule as an exposure guide, what they are really advising. The kind of question on metering some or other specific subject, usually produce a range of responses; ‘use an incident reading’, ‘use a reflected reading’, ’get a good spot meter’ or ‘just use Sunny-16’. This is often thrown up for people new to photography, or for those who have old, or broken film cameras with no meter.

    It’s all well and good if it’s sunny. And really sunny at that. What use is the sunny-16 rule if it is miserable overcast day in December (I’m in the UK, we have lots of those). My own rule for ball-park numbers in these conditions is ‘wide open at a 30th’. Sure if it’s not quite full sun, or a full sun day but the shadows are getting a bit long, you can knock a stop or two off, but is that really practical if you are new to photography and have no real idea of what a stop’s difference in light intensity might look like?

    Perhaps ‘just use Sunny-16 and only take pictures in full sun’ would be more appropriate. Or move to Timbuktu. For my money, it gets you out of a hole if you have no meter and you are experienced enough to know what the range of ‘normal’ daylight exposures are, but ‘aint much help if you are inexperienced. Thoughts?
  2. The little tab on the box the roll of film came in had alternatives: cloudy day, overcast day, etc. It got you into the ball park with film if you included a little bracketing.
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  3. Dull conditions would be 125sec at f5.6 or f4. Sunny conditions would be 125sec at f11 (with no dark shadows). With shadows included 125sec at f8
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  4. As others have implied, there's more to the 'Sunny 16' rule than just full sun, f16.

    Used to do me fine when I lived in Edinburgh.
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  5. Yes, but is it more than, based on the knowledge that the shutter speed is the reciprocal of the film speed in full sun, guessing what it is for other lighting conditions?
  6. I guess wrong about 95% of the time.
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  7. If strictly sunny 16 then it's only good for sunny condition. However, one can learn the settings for other conditions. It's not difficult.
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  8. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Arguably the F/16 Rule is of little use, for any close to exacting purpose, anywhere in the UK, being that the UK is situated above 50 degrees N, which is way outside of the area between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer. By the same token, quite useful in Timbuktu, which is situated within that area.

    Though now considered archaic by many, the 'rule' as I was taught in Technical College, went pretty close to this: ". . . in daylight for front lit full sun subjects situated between the tropics between the two hours after sunrise and two hours before sunset." The Photography Diploma and A.Diploma courses at East Sydney Tech (1970's) were similar to and recognised by City and Guilds, London; mentioned because you're in the UK and secondly to place historic relevance and why I mentioned 'archaic' - very few, if any, "Trade Courses" like those exist any more.

    As others have alluded, there are additional steps premised on the 'rule'. For example, "light cloud cover, still exhibiting subject shadow, open one stop," etc.

    So, in answering your original question -
    I think that many (perhaps most) people advising the F/16 Rule, probably don't know the 'rule' themselves.

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  9. SCL


    It has picked up the monker of "rule" when it is actually a guideline - similar to that which used to be published by film manufacturers, notably Kodak, on the inside of the film packaging material. If I recall right, their instructions also suggested the timeframe it was applicable and bracketing exposures...which if you did, and examined them once or twice, you knew it was either sunny-16 or sunny something else. It is easy for novices to remember, but not always easy to discriminate the degrees of light intensity, which is why Kodak provided both verbal and pictorial guidance. Early on I used a meter, but came to realize almost always the meter readings matched the sunny 16 rule. This was especially true with incident metering, and I would begin my day with a guesstimate, check it against the meter, then leave my meter at home. Yes, occasionally I got a slightly over or under exposed frame, but probably wouldn't have done any better with the meter. I do think it is very useful for novices to at least be familiar with what works in their environment, whether it is via frequent metering or a sunny something rule. For those who want a good free alternative to a meter, the Jiffy Exposure Guide, available on the web is a great substitute.
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  10. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I agree. Which is why I wrote rule as 'rule' (within single inverted commas) in the body of my text.

    Also, why I wrote 'is of little use, for any close to exacting purpose' - was to underscore the previous mentions of bracketing and film latitudes: for example, fudging the exposure with Tri-X was a different ballgame to guessing with Ektachrome Professional.

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  11. ‘scary’
  12. It's "scary" if film is being wasted, hard earned dollars down the drain. But B&W and color negative film generally has latitude, so all may not be lost, if using the 'rule' isn't quite working out for the user.

    Why am I learning the Sunny 16 rule ?, I have no real idea, I have a number of good light meters, so I guess it's because it's one more thing in photography I can learn. I do see it as a "guide" though, very seldom do my light meters read 100sec at f16 at 100ASA on a bright sunny day without many shadows - hardly at all. The readings are consistently 100sec at f11 ... and this is my starting point, rather than f16. It really is a guide as far as I'm concerned, and it will be valuable knowledge to have if batteries go flat or the handheld meter is left behind accidentally. Or perhaps someone with a non-metered camera asks "What exposure should I use for this film?"
  13. 'scary' was simply a play on words. William explained why he put 'rule' in quotes. Those quotes serve as scare quotes, because they are denoting that William was using the word rule ironically or at least was questioning or in doubt about whether it’s a rule.

    scare quotes
  14. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Thank you for taking the time to explain that: I have been ruminating for hours trying to understand what, I (correctly) assumed, was the pun or joke you made.

    I was ignorant of this terminology: learn something every day, thanks. Now I am busily researching Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe.

  15. I have at least 2 perfectly good meters but if the camera doesn't have a meter or its meter is iffy I would go out without a meter. I almost never bring the meters with me.
  16. Sunny 16 only works in the Tropics - i.e. within +/- 24 degrees latitude of the equator, where seasonal variations of sun altitude don't vary by much. Outside of that it's pot luck. At 52 degrees North, sunlight intensity at noon varies by over a stop (between >120KLux to 60KLux) during the year, even on a totally clear day and with no air pollution. I know, because I kept a 'sun diary' for over a year.

    So up here on the globe, it's more like Sunny 11 or even Sunny 8 for a good part of the year. But if you tell that to people living in sunnier climes they just don't believe you. Because if some daft paper guide issued by Kodak says 'Sunny 16', then of course that's the word of God, and not to be disputed!

    There's a good reason why camera TTL metering caught on.
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  17. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I wrote similar. We might have attended similar courses.

    I believe you.

    On the 'diary' you mentioned: That's interesting. I kept a similar diary, for a couple of years. The diary was kept concurrently with other diary by a photographer in San Francisco, (a long time member here at PN).

    Sydney's latitude is 33S and San Francisco's is 38N. We collected data so similar that it was 'exact' for our same seasons. Our experiment concluded we needed 1/3 Stop more open than the F/16 Rule in our respective Summer times and about a bit more than 1/2 Stop more open in our respective Winters.

    Last edited: Sep 24, 2021
  18. The "Sunny 16" rule has compensation for the types of light, ie direct, cloudy, open shade, close shade etc. It is really useful to at least understand it even if you don't use it in practice because if you work with it a while, you can get a good basic working understanding of light and exposure, critical skills in photography. In fact in most programs for photography, the initial class project or projects have the student relay only on the sunny 16 rules and to NOT use the meter, at least when I was taking classes. And it remains a handy tool even when you no longer depend upon it. It's not foolproof because it depends on the photographer to perceive what kind of light is available. But If using it with black and white film for instance, there is enough latitude in film that you can get usable exposure even if you are a bit off in your calculation. Modern technology has made it much easier to get good exposures, but it's still useful to understand Sunny 16.
  19. Sounds logical but doesn't explain how photographers have used it with relative success for years before TTL metering all over the world. Don't get me wrong, I prefer TTL, why wouldn't I. But its still a useful thing to know.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 24, 2021
  20. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Assuming that the claim that photographers all over the world have used the 'rule' with relative success, a claim with which I agree in so far as some have; I read that an explanation was implied - "So up here on the globe, it's more like Sunny 11 or even Sunny 8 for a good part of the year. But if you tell that to people living in sunnier climes they just don't believe you. Because if some daft paper guide issued by Kodak says 'Sunny 16', then of course that's the word of God, and not to be disputed!"

    I assumed that RJ lives somewhere in the UK and has (or would) adapt the rule to suit that latitude.


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