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Sunny 16 Rule
G-Mode, The Advanced Exposure Mode

So Simple

If 'A' is for Aperture Priority, and 'S' is for Shutter Priority, I will call G-Mode for Guess Mode shooting.

For those addicted to automatic shooting in using modern cameras, it is very difficult to imagine a photographer to shoot photos without using accurate light meter, and computer calculated exposure. The question is, how did people shoot in the past before light meter was invented ? Here it is, the Sunny 16 Rule.

Step 1 - Set Shutter Speed = Film speed

If your camera does not have the exact shutter speed setting, choose one close to it. For example, in using ISO 400 film, my camera does not support 1/400 shutter speed, but 1/250 sec or 1/500 sec. I will just set it to 1/250 sec.

Step 2 - Set Aperture = F/16 for Sunny Sky

This setting assumes shooting under bright sunlight. Under different lighting condition, it needs to be adjusted.

 F/4 Sunset
 F/5.6 Heavily Overcast
 F/8 Overcast
 F/11 Slightly Overcase
 F/16 Sunny

In fact, Sunny 16 Rule is around us. I recently got this from the packing box of KODAK ISO 100 colour negative film.

So Advanced

In advanced modern photography equipment, no matter how sophisicated light metering and exposure system it has, it can never replace the mind and eyes of the photographer. In scientific terms, you can find an absolute value of the light intensity of incoming light in a scene, but you may know the amount of light reflected from a subject can vary significantly due to the colours and texture of the surface of subject. Usually we are using 18% grey as standard reference in metering. However, this is not the most important point.

There is no right or wrong exposure for a photographer to shoot a photo, in order to achieve a result, because the 'result' can be varied. A photographer can play with exposure to emphasize something and/or de-emphasize the other thing in a scene. That is the artistic touch that no electronics can help the photographer to make the decision. That can be very personal, or sometimes we may call it the style of the photographer. It also makes your shooting special and unique.

With the above Sunny 16 Rule in mind, it is a good training whenever you go out for shooting, try to check the meter reading of the environment in your photo equipment, and verify it against the Sunny 16 Rule. Even if it does not match exact with the rules, it doesn't matter, just try more, explore more and compare by taking the different period of time of the day, weather, etc into consideration. As times goes by, you will build up the confident to feel the lighting by your naked eyes. It can significantly improve your shooting skills, because that is your observation, not the technical parameters nor computer chips in your camera to shoot.

  • If you are using electronic camera with 'accurate' light metering and exposure system, try to practice Sunny 16 Rule by using naked eyes, it may be one reason that we hear people saying such camera's light meter is not accurate (?). Of course, it can also help you to decide to make +/-EV compensation

  • If you are using cameras with electronic light metering but without auto-mode shooting (aperture priority, shutter priority, programmed mode, etc), it is a good habit to check the light meter reading in your camera, and suppliment with the Sunny 16 Rule, to preset the setting of aperture and shutter speed, and even the focus. This technique is extremely useful in going for street photography.

  • Remember, for people using Diana in 60's, or Holga in 21st century, such cameras are so crappy in only supporting 1 aperture/shutter setting (some typical setting like F/11 & 1/100sec), those photographers can still survive in making usable and amazing negatives. My experience is, after taking up Holga for some time, I can have rough idea to realize the lighting by naked eyes. My observation is improved a lot in very short time.

It is all about limitation and possibility. Next time in dealing with a vintage camera, at least you can take a step forward to shoot in G-Mode, rather than step back to say that it is not possible to shoot.


However, I do not practise this very seriously in order to manage the Sunny 16 Rule with confidence under different lighting situations, until I acquired a Leica M3. M3 came to the market in 1954. It was born of the time that camera without built-in light meter is the norm.

I have a Voigtlander VC Meter II, and sometimes I attached it to the cold shoe of M3 during shooting. But I still think that is not alright. It destroys the simplicity of Leica M3, and the elegance of the Leica script engrave. Through Sunny 16 Rule, I believe that I will be getting closer to photographers in the past in dealing with shooting and approaching photography.

The way to learn Sunny 16 Rule is not by reading, but observing, guess, trying, and making mistakes. Then I started to take notes as below, compare the result, and get experienced. I keep on to update my notes like this (assume ISO 400).

1/8  F/1.4 streetlight at night
1/15  F/1.4
1/30  F/1.4 indoor at night dim light
1/60  F/1.4 indoor at night bright light
1/125  F/1.4 indoor many ceiling light
1/250  F/1.4 indoor stage, after sunset
1/250  F/2
1/250  F/2.8 indoor with reflected sunlight
1/250  F/4 sunset
1/250  F/5.6 heavily overcast
1/250  F/8 overcast
1/250  F/11 slightly overcase
1/250  F/16 sunny

Top - Exposure table printed on paper, made in China, to help photographers to memorize the various setting of apreture and shutter speed, for different film speed under different lighting condition

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