Friday, August 12, 2011

Tricks and Tips: Sunny 16

This photo was shot with the following:
f/16, ISO 400, shutter speed 400 on a 90mm macro lens

With summer droning on, I've been doing rather a lot of photos outdoors. The weather has been on-and-off between gorgeous and disastrously hot, with a heavy bias on the beautiful (especially in terms of skies). When the sun's out in full force, exposure can get tricky because of dark shadows and glare. But, there are ways around it! Because I've been shooting so much out doors compared to the rest of the year, it got me to thinking about my days in photography classes and the things I learned there.

Sitting in a small high school class room, surrounded by flip-top desks and gum smacking girls, I first learned about "Sunny Sixteen". Our instructor was a large man with a passion for the Wild West, buffalo riding and cameras. The room smelled like a mix of stop bath and cheap floral perfume that I will forever associate with the dark room, no matter how many times I enter a new one.

My high school photography class wasn't precisely exacting or exactly precise. 
When we were first assigned our cameras by the instructor, we were told to go out and about within the boundaries of the school campus, taking photos of whatever we saw. We were given loose instructions to "photograph what [we] like[d]" about the building or the things going on around or in it. He also told us to practice metering and manual exposure if we were comfortable with it. We had read about manual exposure modes in our book and filled out a quiz on it earlier in the class period, so most of us were nodding our approval.

All of us were shooting on black and white film, ISO 400.

As instructed, we put film in our cameras and input the proper film settings. We then paired off with our lab partners and, as a group, started talking about where we should go to take photos.

Should we stay inside?

Go outside?

See if the football team was practicing already?

We had all-inclusive hall passes at our disposal.
We could go anywhere we wanted! But where should we go? We milled around trying to make up our minds. As we were finally making up our minds, our teacher told us that since it was such a lovely day, we should take advantage of the weather and go outside. He also told us to play with manual modes in the building, but to utilize the Sunny 16 rule outdoors.

 When we all looked at him in befuddlement, he wrote this up on the chalk board:

ISO 400 + f/16 = 1/400

He explained that on a sunny day, you can set your aperture to f/16, then set your shutter speed to match your film speed. So if your film speed is at ISO 400, you set your shutter speed to 1/400 or 1/500. Since you can change your ISO at will with a digital camera, this means you can easily and quickly set your shutter speed quite high to capture those fleeting moments.

Since having learned about this little guideline, I have discovered that other lighting situations apply similarly to exposure (Wikipedia's Sunny 16 Rule article explains some of these scenarios in detail, far better than I could). This rule works especially well for days when you're out at a sporting event or picnic. It allows you to set a fast shutter speed and capture quick moments with ease. It's a great trick for photographing outdoor sporting events or wildlife on a bright day and can also be a good way to catch quick, candid moments at lolita meet-ups without resorting to auto-mode.

It's also a good start for getting used to adjusting your camera's manual mode or even for experimenting with bracketing and the (ever dangerous, often disastrous) concept ofHigh Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography.

If your weather's been similar lately, you should give this trick a shot!

See if it changes things at all.
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