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Why you should start shooting with the Sunny 16 Rule

I tend to think that in photography, a lot of us get way too hung up on things being technically perfect, that we forget the most important thing that really matters: The emotional impact of the image. How the photograph we take, makes someone feel. Do they enjoy looking at the picture of experience some emotion or connection with it?

When I pickup my camera it is liberating. I forgot about everything else going on in life. I just take pictures that I look at later and enjoy. Sure, with my Leica Ms I enjoy the simple, but well made mechanical nature of using a fully manual camera and lens. But am I missing shots because I am messing around too much taking light readings and adjusting settings?

Do I want to shoot auto? No. I just don’t. So how about the Sunny 16 rule?

Using The Sunny 16 Rule

The Sunny F16 rule states that, on sunny days, at an aperture of F16, your shutter speed is the inverse of your ISO value. This means that if you are at aperture F16 and 100ISO, your shutter speed should be 1/100 seconds. Ok, that sounds easy on a bright sunny day in Australia. You just adjust your F stop down as it gets dimmer, from overcast to shade, to indoors. In fact you can sort of remember it like this:

Sunny 16 Rule: when photographing in an open field during a sunny day;

Slight Overcast 11 Rule: when the sky is variable;

Overcast 8 Rule: cloudy weather, but not dark;

Heavy Overcast 5.6 Rule: bad weather, maybe rainy;

Sunset 4 Rule: for typical sunset conditions;

Snowy 22 Rule: If the sun is shining over a snowy landscape, f/22 is the suggested aperture.

You get a balanced exposure using a shutter speed that is the inverse of your ISO.

After a while, trust me on this, you’ll instinctively know where to set your aperture. At F16, with general street photography you can leave the camera on manual focus as well, and not worry about where you focus point is, because at F16, everything will be in focus.

The Light Meter in my Camera is Getting in the Way

I want to Set and Forget, which is the main benefit of shooting the Sunny 16 Rule. I want to just snap away and forget about the light meter.

Out in the sun, at F16 I am getting some very sharp shots, with plenty of depth of field which is perfect for random street photography. I simply don’t have to worry about if something is in focus or not because it very likely will be!

Beauty in the Imperfections

Photos taken with the Sunny 16 Rule have a unique quality. They won’t always be exposed perfectly. But in this world of perfect automatic on camera phones and DSLRs maybe that is a unique trait to explore? Something different, a unique look that we don’t need post processing to achieve?

I think with modern photography, we worry too much about getting a perfectly exposed image. We want perfect everything. And so using our cameras becomes a computer game through the viewfinder or on the screen to get the perfect score and histogram. We are too concerned with the technical perfection of photo taking rather than the emotional aspect of enjoying the final result. I don’t want to get distracted by camera settings and menus when I’m out taking photos.

What becomes even more laughable for me, is that we then go onto the edit these technically perfectly exposed images shot in RAW and give them an imperfect look with grain, crushed shadows, sickening high dynamic filters or weird retro filters. This proves, that we enjoy the beauty in imperfections.

Shooting with Sunny 16, not all your images will be perfect. Some will be under or over exposed. They will generally have a or of extra contrast. There will be some distortion. But it’ll be a unique look. The soul of the camera will surprise you, and give you an image you may not have thought you would have achieved otherwise. You can just worry about your composition, and just capture the moment.

Try it, you’ll like it

Next time you are heating out to take photos with anything from a 24 to 90mm lens, shoot manual exposure. Set to 100 or 200 ISO, and then match your ISO speed with your shutter speed. Then set the aperture to F16. You’ll discover a new unique quality, and you will shoot faster, and feel more liberated by not having to think about looking at the light meter.

I guarantee that you’ll find it liberating. You won’t have to worry about camera settings, you won’t find yourself distracted by them. And your pictures will have a new unique look….isn’t that what we all want in our photography?

Photos I’ve taken with the Sunny 16 Rule

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