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The "Sunny 16" Rule and Other Camera Basics

For some of the younger crowd it may seem hard to believe, but until the late 1960s very few photographers used electronic exposure meters. Most relied on experience (or secretly used printed exposure guides). Some photographers (us "Old-Timers") still prefer to work with the old mechanical cameras, and know that it pays to have some of the basics in your head, because the essential photographic facts, formulas and rules can help you get good shots, even when the fanciest of meters fail.

The "Sunny 16" Rule
The basic exposure rule for an average scene taken on a bright, sunny day is to use f/16 at a shutter speed equivalent to one over the ISO setting; that is, f/16 at 1/100 sec (or the nearest equivalent, 1/125) at ISO 100, etc. In other words, the shutter speed will vary according to the ISO you are using. From this you can interpolate other exposures. Believe me, the rule works! As with most photography, there are variables to keep in mind, but once you understand the variables of exposure, to do things like stop action or manipulate depth-of-field, you can actually use the "Sunny 16 Rule" to check the accuracy of all your light meters! Which points up the most important lesson of the rule: you probably don't need a light meter at all!

For those of you who are partial to tables, here are a couple of quick ones to help visualize ways to interpolate usage of the Sunny 16 Rule, and adjust your aperture for existing weather be clear on what those conditions really mean to the light:

How To Use The SUNNY 16 RULE To Determine Exposure Variables
Under a Bright Sun (Normal Subject), These Are All Equivalent Exposures
f/22 f/16 f/11 f/8 f/5.6
ISO 100 - Speed 1/60 ISO 100 - Speed 1/125 ISO 100 - Speed 1/250 ISO 100 - Speed 1/500 ISO 100 - Speed 1/1000
ISO 200 - Speed 1/125 ISO 200 - Speed 1/250 ISO 200 - Speed 1/500 ISO 200 - Speed 1/1000 ISO 200 - Speed 1/2000
ISO 400 - Speed 1/250 ISO 400 - Speed 1/500 ISO 400 - Speed 1/1000 ISO 400 - Speed 1/2000 ISO 400 - Speed 1/4000
A Quick Guide For Adjusting Your Aperture In Variable Weather Conditions (Shutter Speed Constant)
Snow or
Bright Sand
Bright Sun
(Normal Subject)
Hazy Sun Cloudy Bright Overcast or
Open Shade
f/22 f/16 f/11 f/8 f/5.6
Distinct Shadow and Glare Distinct Shadow Shadow Soft Around Edges Shadow Visible, But Barely No Shadow At All

Moon Rules
My favorite trick for obtaining a proper exposure of a full moon is to set my aperture at f/11 and my shutter speed at one over the ISO setting. For pictures of a half moon, I use the same shutter speed at f/8. For a quarter moon, f/5.6.

Camera Shake Rule
Lenses and cameras never used to have anti-shake systems built into them. As shutter speeds got slower, camera shake was likely to blur your image, and you had to know what you could safely get away with! As a rule-of-thumb, the slowest shutter speed at which you could safely handhold a camera was usually considered to be one over the focal length of the lens. So, if you're using a 50mm lens, you could generally shoot at 1/60 sec or faster. A 100mm lens needed at least 1/125 sec. Not enough light to do that? Then you had to use flash, a tripod, or brace your camera (and yourself) against a solid object.
Anatomical Gray Card
Metering off an 18% neutral gray card is a good way to get a midtone meter reading for good overall exposure of a scene. Don't have a gray card? Hold your open hand up so it's facing the light, and take a reading off your palm. Open up one stop from that, and go ahead and shoot at that setting (note: the variety of human skin tones rarely accounts for even a full-stop difference).

Exposure Rules
The classic advice is, "Expose for the highlights and let the shadows take care of themselves." This works with slide film (and even with today's digital). But with negative film, especially color negative film, you're actually better off overexposing by one stop.

Action-Stopping Rules
To stop action that's moving across the frame perpendicular to the lens axis, you need a shutter speed two-stops faster than if the same action was moving toward (or away) from you. For action moving at a 45-degree angle to the lens axis, you can use a shutter speed one-stop slower. Example: If the action of a person running toward you at moderate speed can be stopped at 1/250, you'll need a shutter speed of 1/1000 to stop the same subject moving across the frame, and a shutter speed of 1/125 to stop action if they are moving diagonally with respect to the camera.

Sunset Rule
To get a properly exposed sunset, meter the area directly above the sun (without including the sun). If you want the scene to look like it's a half-hour later, stop down by one f-stop, or set exposure compensation (if you have it available) to minus one.

Other do-it-yourself repair or technique sections are listed below (note - line items in black are still under construction):

If you would like a specific repair item or usage question to be considered on this site, simply go to my Mamiya 35mm Forum! and make your suggestion known. However, please don't hold your breath, because it is likely to be some time before I can get around to documenting all the things that might need fixing, and I would hate to be responsible for even small portions of the camera-collecting population turning blue! Note that no liability for results or damage is either expressed or implied in the use of these notations.
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