How to correctly expose without a light meter – The sunny 16 rule

You feel like it’s time to set yourself free from battery power, light meters, automatic exposure and so on?

The sunny 16 rule is nothing new, but is still a pretty powerful tool for those who want to be free from electronics or just suffer from dying batterys.

In this short post I’ll explain how to get a perfect exposure by just measuring the photography-scene with your own eyes. It is easy, accurate and totally worth learning and playing with it 🙂

Let’s start with some basic teaching of light:

This is a grey card:


when hit by any source of light, it’ll reflect 18% of the light hitting it. (It’ll reflect no light on your computer or smartphone-screen so PLEASE don’t try this with a physically not existing greycard 😀 )

Why is that important?

To understand you can best look at any of your photographs. You’ll notice that a photograph whether it is in colour or black and white has different tonalitys which means there are many different tones between the black or white areas. Most of the time you want them all to turn out correctly and to not be burned out or with no detail left in it.

Example: Imagine a white facade on a bright and sunny day. If you’d meter from there, everything else than the white wall will be much much darker in your final photograph because the white facade is reflecting so many light so that your meter tells you to reduce the amount of light by either stopping down the aperture or your shutter-speed.

Now imagine a black facade… Jeah, exact same thing but opposite 😉



Metering from white or black is bad! Why? It just gives you the one tonality you metered from!
What has this to do with the stupid grey card? Guess what: When metered from a middle grey surface which approximately reflects 18% of light gives you the full amount of tonalitys in your final photograph: White will be white, black will be black!

So when ever looking at a scene you want to photograph: Keep looking for that middle grey! Concrete makes a pretty good subject for that 🙂


Metering with you eyes:

Let’s start with the easyest situation:

No clouds, sunny day, your camera is loaded with an ISO 100-Film.
These are your settings to get a perfectly exposed photo:

ISO 1001%2F125f16

What about some clouds? Just ad an extra stop of light by switching to f11!

And this is basically how it works! There are 4 Settings or better call them situations you have to keep in mind. There are tons of tables on the internet but I decided to do one by myself. Feel free to use it for anything you can imagine 😉




As you can see I listed 4 major lightning-situations and 4 basic ISO-values.
As you might have noticed, the shutter-speed is always the nearest one to the ISO-value which makes it even more easy to remember which shutterspeed to choose from!

Also noticeable: Not just the ISO is set, the shutter-speed is set as well so everything you have to worry about is your f-stop! Isn’t that awesome? Fiddling with levers is for the ignorant ;P


You can even take it further:

You don’t want to shoot at 1/1000 sec. when you have an ISO 800-Film loaded? No Problem!

Example: (Hint: it all works with just simple stops ;))

For whatever reason you want to shoot your ISO 800-Film at 1/500 sec. –> This means you’ll give it a full stop more of light! Just compensate by stopping the aperture about 1 stop down!

If you are shooting at 1/250 sec. compensate by 2 stops and so on!



Now it’s up to you! Train your eyes by just looking at the environment you are in and start guessing your exposure. Even when you don’t have a camera with you! When you really want to geek out on this you could even start checking your guessed exposure with a light meter, light meter-app on your phone, in-camera meters etc.




One thought on “How to correctly expose without a light meter – The sunny 16 rule

  1. It’s always therefore sweet and also packed with a thrilling time personally professionally and my personal workplace friends to search your blog at least 3 times in the full week to see the revolutionary advice exhibiting.


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