The Sunny 16 Rule in Photography

_MG_0684Although you may think that no two situations are alike, the fact is that there are a few constants that you can rely on to give you a good starting point. The sun is one of these things you can count on to be consistent. Of course there are things that affect the sun’s output like the time of day, haze, fog, and clouds, but on a bright sunny day the light output is very consistent and knowing the camera settings for this condition will give you a guideline to make adjustments. This is where the “sunny 16” rule comes into play.

To put it simply, on a bright sunny day, set your camera on f/16 and set the shutter speed to the reciprocal of the ISO speed. So if you are set to ISO 200, then set your shutter speed to 1/200th. If you want a faster shutter speed then increase the shutter speed and set the ISO to match. For example, if you want to shoot at 1/400th of a second, set the ISO to 400.

f/16 ISO 200 – Shutter 1/200th

f/16 ISO 400 – Shutter 1/400th

To compensate for overcast conditions, simply adjust the f-stop to a more open setting like f/11, and keep adjusting as needed. A good chart of recommended settings is in the following table:



Shadow Detail


Sunny Crisp


Slight Overcast Soft edges


Overcast Barely visible


Heavy Overcast No shadows


Sunset Long shadows

By utilizing the sunny 16 rule you will help ensure that you get the right settings dialed in quickly and easily. It’s always nice to have some frame of reference when getting started. When all else fails and you don’t know what settings to start with, remember the sunny 16 rule and adjust as needed.

Equipment Used
Camera Canon 50D
Processing Lightroom 3


Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

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