How the sunny-16 rule helps your street photography

With today’s digital cameras, you tend to forget that photography has existed for ages until the arrival of the digital camera. Photographers use light meters to measure light to set the correct exposure for their cameras.

The light from the sun has been the same for millions of years. Before light meters existed, someone discovered the sunny-16 rule a long time ago.
When looking at a film box, there would be a bit of advice on how to light the film correctly. It is the sunny-16 rule.

What is the Sunny-16 rule?

The sunny-16 rule tells you that on a sunny day without clouds, the correct shutter speed at aperture f/16 is the same as 1/ISO seconds. So if you set your camera at ISO100, the shutter speed is 1/100 seconds, r in the correct stop. 1/125 seconds.

But what about the rest of the ISO values?

Exposure Value – Sunny Day


How can I use the Sunny-16 rule?

The street scenes change all the time while photographing on the street. The ever-changing light conditions mean that you have to be able to adapt quickly.

It could happen that at one point, you are photographing in the bright sun on a square in the city, and 5 minutes later, you walk into an alley, and there is only shade. Then you are happy that you mastered the sunny-16 rule.

You can shoot on the aperture priority mode of your camera or even the complete automatic P setting. But that means you are not in control. You are not able to make the image you want to make.

Using the Sunny-16 rule is not set in stone. It is a guideline. It depends on the scene you want to shoot.

Not all the weather is the same. On days when there is no sunshine, different settings apply. Use a different Aperture setting for a slightly overcast day. Use the table below to change the aperture according to the weather you see. 

Weather type ShadeF-Stop
Snowy/SandyDark with sharp edgesf/22
Clear and sunnyDistinctf/16
Slightly overcastSoft around edgesf/11
Heavy overcastNo shadowsf/5.6
Open shade/SunsetNo shadowsf/4

So for a slightly overcast day, use f/11 instead of f/16. It would be f/11 – ISO100 – 1/125 shutter speed. 

Use it as training to ‘guess’ the camera settings. When you can, it is possible to foresee a situation and set the correct settings before it unfolds. It is always quicker than focusing, changing the settings and shooting.
It is even better if you use the zone-focusing technique combined with the sunny-16 rule. You are zone-focused already and know what part of your image is sharp. Then, if you use the sunny 16 rule, you only need to change the aperture or shutter speed.

Shutter speed/ISO5010020040080016003200

When using cameras like the X-pro series, you want to use the Aperture ring to change the settings quickly. It is because of the combined ISO/Shutter speed dial at the top. You can set it to automatic so you can use the front and back dials. But you have an aperture ring. This chart below will help you set it correctly.

Watch out with the focus ring. It will change your zone-focus setting.


The modern digital street photographer would not memorize the sunny-16 rule. But when you want to be quick, use zone-focusing and want to be a ‘pure’ photographer. It is something you want to master.

If so, nobody can stop you from photographing quickly on the street.

Related Articles