Photoforum Photography Challenge 2012-2 - The Sunny 16 Rule

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Thread: Photoforum Photography Challenge 2012-2 - The Sunny 16 Rule

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    Photoforum Photography Challenge 2012-2 - The Sunny 16 Rule

    With summer time in the northern hemisphere, we're entering the season of LOTS of outdoor photo opportunities. Two things come to mind when shooting outdoors. #1... of course you should use a flash (WHAT?! Yes, you read that right. But I'll save that subject and explain why by making it the topic of another challenge.) #2... bring some sanity to your exposure by knowing about the "Sunny 16" rule.

    The first few cameras that I used growing up were entirely manual cameras that did NOT have built-in light meters. I actually do have a hand-held meter (more on that in a minute), but it was possible to shoot outdoor photos without doing any metering at all and still getting the exposure right.

    How is this possible?

    Because outdoor exposures have a VERY CONSISTENT light source: the Sun. The Sun pumps out a very consistent amount of light, such that you can know how much light is available and, by extension, the correct exposure without any guesswork involved.

    Here's a citation out of Wikipedia:

    In photography, the Sunny 16 rule (also known as the Sunny f/16 rule) is a method of estimating correct daylight exposures without a light meter. Apart from the obvious advantage of independence from a light meter, the Sunny 16 rule can also aid in achieving correct exposure of difficult subjects. As the rule is based on incident light, rather than reflected light as with most camera light meters, very bright or very dark subjects are compensated for. The rule serves as a mnemonic for the camera settings obtained on a sunny day using the exposure value (EV) system.
    The basic rule is, "On a sunny day set aperture to f/16 and shutter speed to the [reciprocal of the] ISO film speed [or ISO setting] for a subject in direct sunlight."

    The next logical question you think of should be: But what if it isn't sunny?

    Fortunately, the Sunny 16 rule accommodates for this. You tweak the exposure either up or down by a few stops based on certain scenarios. Although the Sun does produce a consistent amount of light, the ground isn't normally reflecting a vast amount of light back up... unless it's a white sandy beach or (for those taking photos in winter climates) snowy. If this is the case then the ground acts as a reflector and you cut the light by going from f/16 up to the next full stop... f/22.

    Likewise, if there's some overcast, you compensate by opening up the aperture. See the following table:


    f/22 Snow/Sand Dark with sharp edges
    f/16 Sunny Distinct
    f/11 Slight Overcast Soft around edges
    f/8 Overcast Barely visible
    f/5.6 Heavy Overcast No shadows
    f/4 Open Shade/Sunset No shadows
    Add One Stop Backlighting n/a




    Note the comments about "Shadow Detail". In full sunlight you have a very obvious shadow. In "light" overcast, you still have a shadow, but it's soft. If you no longer see a shadow, then you're in medium or heavy overcast. If it looks like it's about to storm outside... that's heavy overcast. Note that the rule works in shade as well.

    You should have at least one more question about this rule: What if I actually need a faster shutter speed?

    The answer is: The Sunny-16 rule is a base-exposure that's easy-to-remember. The name sort of rolls off the tongue. But you can use any equivalent exposure. Just follow the normal rules of exposure. If you need to bump up the shutter to, say, 1/500th to freeze action in an outdoor sports-game played in full sun, then that's two stops faster on shutter, so alter the f-stop to open up by 2 stops to compensate... shoot at 1/400th (or 1/500th if you prefer) and f/8 while using ISO 100. This is a Sunny-16 "equivalent" exposure.

    I took the following shot without looking at the camera's light meter. I set the ISO to 100, set the aperture to f/16, set the shutter speed to 1/125th (I could also have used 1/100th -- more on that in a moment) and simply framed and snapped the shot.


    IMG_3966 by Tim Campbell1, on Flickr


    First... I did NOT apply any exposure adjustments to this image. This is what it looks like straight out of the camera. For this exposure I used ISO 100, f/16, and 1/125th. Why 125th? Because it's a "full" stop. Sunny-16 says I should have used 1/100th (and if I had, it'd be just a tiny bit brighter... 1/5th brighter). Cameras with mechanical (non-electronic) shutters usually couldn't shoot 1/100th so the Sunny 16 rule says you round off to the nearest shutter speed you can use. That would have been 1/125th, so that's why I used it.

    The histogram for this shot shows that I could have exposed it just a tiny bit brighter, but again... this is NOT an adjusted image. I can adjust it to recover detail in the shadows (they are there) but I wanted to show an unaltered image.

    Here are two more examples... this time I used the shade rule that says for medium shade I can back open up by 2 stops.


    IMG_4020 by Tim Campbell1, on Flickr


    In the above shot, I used Sunny 16 for medium shade, AND I used an "equivalent" exposure. So I (a) opened the aperture by 2 full stops for medium shade (so I went from f/16 -> f/11 -> f/8) and THEN I wanted to open up the exposure to f/4 for some mild blur in the background... f/4 is two more stops open (f/8 -> f/5.6 -> f/4) so I compensated by speeding the shutter by 2 stops (1/125th -> 1/250th -> 1/500th). Note that I did NOT use a light meter.

    I'll show you just one more... and this is because I mentioned the comment about using flash. Here's why you use a flash:


    IMG_4024 by Tim Campbell1, on Flickr


    Note that in this particular exposure, the subject is nicely exposed... nothing is clipped. But we can't say the same for the background. The background here is blown out. This wouldn't have happened had we used a flash (and it turns out, I did take some flash exposures -- but you'll have to wait for a future challenge for more on why a flash will actually improve an outdoor exposure taken on a Sunny day.)

    Note that the Sunny 16 rule is for sanity. When you shoot outside, your camera should indicate an exposure which is at least "close" to a Sunny 16 exposure. It might vary, but it shouldn't vary by much. Early morning and late evening sun is not "Sunny 16" sun. This rule is for mid-day sun.

    I am NOT suggesting you don't use your light meter. You should be aware of the rule and know how it works.

    Your challenge:

    Your challenge is easy.1) Go outside on a sunny day.
    2) Set your f-stop to 16.
    3) Set your ISO to 100
    4) Set your shutter speed to the reciprocal of your ISO (or 1/100th)
    5) Frame up a shot, and shoot it -- without peeking at your light meter for confirmation.

    Inspect your results and post a sample or two. For bonus points, post an "equivalent exposure".

    And the most important rule: Have fun!

    Tim Campbell


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    .. just had to give this a Bumpski' here Tim, I'v allway found this Rule to be quite interesting to say the least*
    & have been meaning to get out and experiment' a little" but we ain't had (yah' I know that aint proper') any kind
    of Sunshine here in my kneck of the woods for a while now, have had some success with moonshots in the past with it although.
    .. So all you folks out there in them Sunny Regions' of the world check this out*
    ... Wheres Chicago John' when you need him?

    ~ Don
    "Donalds Camera" (Nikon user) *
    ~ Take a picture, .. it'll last longer ~

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    It didn't work well for me, Tim, but the sun is in and out. One of the photos was in partial shade so it obviously needed a longer exposure. Had I been using film and no way to check the results, I'd have been very disappointed. Anyway here are two of my results using the camera on Manual, 100 ISO and 1/16th shutter speed. And I did have fun!



    Last edited by John B.; 06-05-2012 at 10:03 AM.

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    John, these photos do look sunny. At ISO 100 & f/16 you should have been able to shoot at 1/100th in "full" sun, about 1/50th in light shade or 1/25th in heavier shade. But I see you've got 1/8th and 1/15th shutter speeds.

    Do you have any filters on the lens (e.g. a polarizer perhaps)? A polarizer can take about 2 stops of light.
    Tim Campbell

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    No filters, Tim, just bare glass. It was a telephoto lens which might make some difference. (Sigma 18 - 250 mm). The top photo was taken at 44 mm and the lower photo at 50 mm. I didn't take any on any of the automatic settings to compare them with. It's too late, now, because it's overcast.

    It brightened up with weak sunshine so I went outside with a 35 mm prime lens attached. I think the bright sky would be affecting the underexposure of the trees. Shooting a sunny scene, and not getting a big chunk of sky in, would make it just about right. This was the result.

    Last edited by John B.; 06-05-2012 at 02:06 PM.

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    Really beautiful! I like your images!
    John B. likes this.

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    Thanks flor this one. I ahve some of mu Photos in Flicker too...

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    This last one is definitely much closer -- the leaves in the sun no longer appear over-exposed. At 1/100th you'd still be fine (the fact that this was at 1/90th isn't enough to make a difference.)

    The shadows look deep but that's a dynamic range issue. Which is a different problem entirely. When shooting a landscape, you tend to get a LOT of dynamic range in the scene and the camera will struggle to capture it all. E.g. anything "white" lit by full sun will be very bright. Meanwhile, anything in shadows is likely 5 or 6 stops below. Most cameras can probably comfortably handle at least 3 stops up and down from the exposure value selected (so that'd be about 7 stops of dynamic range). Your camera might do 4 or even 5 stops up and down.

    The exposure challenge in "landscape" photography is to try to get the camera to capture the range of exposure latitudes in the entire scene. To do that, you manually scan the scene (with your eye -- not the camera) looking for the brightest thing you can find, then "spot meter" it with the camera and note the exposure (don't set the exposure to it... just note what the exposure is.) You then look for the deepest dark area and do the same thing. Knowing the brightest area and the darkest area (and the exposures for them), you find the middle exposure and set the camera for that. You can rely on the dynamic range of your camera sensor to capture the overall scene without blowing clipping highlights or shadows.

    Ignore the shadows in your last photo and just look at the trees. The exposure on the leaves actually looks good. The sky looks good. The roof sections in the sun look good. That's your "sunny 16" rule. The fact that the shadows look deep and lack detail is a different issue -- not really the point of the challenge, but that's why I mentioned taking a few meter readings and then manually selecting the exposure on the camera that splits the difference.

    Dedicated light meters often have the ability to meter in "Ev" (Ev = Exposure value). Each "Ev" represents 1 full stop. So in Ev, it's easy to meter the highlights -- say that's Ev 15. Then meter the shadows -- say that's Ev 9. The value half-way between 9 and 15 is 12. So you could set the exposure for Ev 12 and know that you're exposing for the middle of the scene and relying on the camera to capture 3 stops of dynamic range both above and below the exposure you set -- without clipping.

    The Ev system is based on the notion of equivalent exposures. Sunny 16 lighting turns out to be Ev 15. The Ev system has a table showing the Aperture values (Av) along the top, and the Time values (Tv ... aka "shutter speeds") down the side. But they assign a simple integer to each value starting 0 and incrementing for each "full" stop. So f/1.0 = Av 0; f/1.4 = Av 1; f/2 = Av 2; f/2.8 = Av 3, and so on... for each "full" stop (1, 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22, & 32). They do the same for Time values start at 1 second. So 1 sec = Tv 0; 1/2 sec = Tv 1; 1/4 sec = Tv 2, and so on.

    Here's the table:


    Av
    0
    1
    2
    3
    4
    5
    6
    7
    8
    9
    10
    Tv
    1.0
    1.4
    2.0
    2.8
    4.0
    5.6
    8.0
    11
    16
    22
    32
    0
    1s
    0
    1
    2
    3
    4
    5
    6
    7
    8
    9
    10
    1
    1/2
    1
    2
    3
    4
    5
    6
    7
    8
    9
    10
    11
    2
    1/4
    2
    3
    4
    5
    6
    7
    8
    9
    10
    11
    12
    3
    1/8
    3
    4
    5
    6
    7
    8
    9
    10
    11
    12
    13
    4
    1/15
    4
    5
    6
    7
    8
    9
    10
    11
    12
    13
    14
    5
    1/30
    5
    6
    7
    8
    9
    10
    11
    12
    13
    14
    15
    6
    1/60
    6
    7
    8
    9
    10
    11
    12
    13
    14
    15
    16
    7
    1/125
    7
    8
    9
    10
    11
    12
    13
    14
    15
    16
    17
    8
    1/250
    8
    9
    10
    11
    12
    13
    14
    15
    16
    17
    18
    9
    1/500
    9
    10
    11
    12
    13
    14
    15
    16
    17
    18
    19
    10
    1/1000
    10
    11
    12
    13
    14
    15
    16
    17
    18
    19
    20


    Any combination of Av + Tv that totals the same Ev value is the same overall exposure (these are "equivalent" exposures.)

    Sunny 16 brightness turns out to be Ev 15. So if you look at all the boxes with 15, and look up and left to see the shutter speed and f-stop, any of those values give the same exposure. If you're trying to pick up more shadow detail then you could drop the exposure down a few stops to Ev 12. The highlights would be a bit over-exposed but the shadows should offer much more detail. You'd then tame the highlights in software and maybe boost the shadows a little to get a little more detail.

    Cameras don't use Ev's directly anymore... but some cameras did. When I shot with the Hasselblad, the Zeiss lens had adjacent rings which set BOTH the Av AND the Tv values (on the lens -- rather than putting these controls on the camera body. Most lenses did f-stop on the lens, but shutter speed was usually on the camera body.) Anyway... the rings "interlocked" and there was also an Ev scale. So you could meter, set the rings so they lock together at the Ev you need, and then twist both rings together knowing that every single exposure combination will actually provide the same equivalent exposure.

    Note the table doesn't show ISO speeds and all of this assumes ISO 100.
    Tim Campbell

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    That's interesting, Tim, but you know what... I'm glad cameras do it all for me. It reminds me of the time I was in building college. We had to know the theories even though we would never use them.

    I have a Sekonic exposure meter but I'm not sure it has a narrow enough metering angle to measure those trees. I'm going to give it a try, this weekend, though. And I hope you don't mind, but I copied your article and chart for further study. It's almost midnight and hard for me to take this stuff in with my eyes almost closed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by John B. View Post
    That's interesting, Tim, but you know what... I'm glad cameras do it all for me. It reminds me of the time I was in building college. We had to know the theories even though we would never use them.

    I have a Sekonic exposure meter but I'm not sure it has a narrow enough metering angle to measure those trees. I'm going to give it a try, this weekend, though. And I hope you don't mind, but I copied your article and chart for further study. It's almost midnight and hard for me to take this stuff in with my eyes almost closed.
    You would not likely actually use Ev readings anymore, but knowing that they existed and how the table works just offers another way to think about exposures. If you look at all the number 10's on the table (all shaded in gray) and then look both up and left of each of them... all of these represent "equivalent" exposures that collect the same amount of light... and that's just at ISO 100 and only using "whole" stops. If your camera has a range of ISO 100 to 6400, then that would represent about 70 different combinations of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO which all collect the same amount of light. Granted some of these using inaccessible settings such as f/1.0 (almost nobody has an f/1.0 lens -- though they have a few.)

    The Sekonic L-758 meters (their high-end meters) not only have the dome to measure "incident" light, but they also offer a scope with a very tight metering spot to perform a reflected meter reading for subjects in the distance. The Sekonic L-358 meter (a mid-range meter) doesn't include the scope, but they offer it as an optional accessory. You can get a 1º, 5º, or 10º finder scope for the meter (although a 1º scope would be preferred.) You can also set your DSLR camera to "spot" metering mode ... that's usually not as tight as a 1º finder scope. I think my own camera's "spot" metering mode offers about a 3º metering angle.
    Tim Campbell


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