Sunny-16 RUle

The Sunny-16 rule has roots going clear back to at least the 1920s if not earlier. Today, many people find the rule to be outdated. After all, nearly all cameras built from the 1960s forward had some sort of light meter built in. Standalone handheld meters also exists and there are even light meter apps that you can get for your phone.

So why are we taking the time to learn it?

Because it just works. This is handy because we have students with many different types of cameras and meter modes With the Sunny-16 rule, kids can get out and start getting properly exposed photos in minutes, rather than needing individualized lessons on their meters.

When learning about equivalent exposures and manual camera operation the Sunny-16 rule is very simple to learn and get approximately the correct exposure to start.

The rule starts simple. Your shutter speed should be 1/ISO. From there, you can go outside and just look at the weather conditions or shadows to set your aperture. Use the following table:

f/22 – snow or sand

f/16 – bright sun

f/11 – slight overcast

f/8 – overcast

f5/6 – dark overcast (no shadows on the ground)

f/4 – open shade/dusk

If you’re back-lighting, just add one stop.


Example: If I am shooting at 200 ISO on a cloudless afternoon in the middle of a grassy field, your settings would be 200 ISO, 1/200th shutter speed, and f/16.



I want to take a photo, on the beach, at sunset, with my subject backlit. I have my ISO set to 400.

ISO = 400

Shutter speed = 1/ISO or 1/400

Aperture = f/2.8 (adding a stop for the backlighting)

From here, I can change my ISO, aperture, or shutter speed to match my creative needs


Many people are curious how to take good photos of the moon. Modern cameras frequently have trouble with the moon because of how bright it can be against such a dark background.

Moony-11 is the solution to that!

Like with Sunny-16, Moony 11 is when your shutter speed is 1/ISO, then:

f/11 – full moon

f/8 – half moon

f/5.6 – quarter moon

f/4 – eighth moon

Exposure Triangle

Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO all work together to create a properly exposed image.

The exposure triangle is a relatively new term first bursting onto the scene somewhere between 2005 and 2010. Before that, it was “time + intensity = exposure.” With digital cameras and their ability to change ISO values, that old mentality went out the window.

The exposure triangle, in my opinion, is meant to teach the concept of equivalent exposures. Assuming that you already have a properly exposed image, when you adjust one setting, you need to adjust something else in an equal, but opposite way.


What makes up the exposure triangle?



Aperture is just a hole that lets light hit some sort of recording medium (film, plate, sensor, etc.). They can be mechanical, like those found in modern lenses or leaf shutters. Or, they can be a simple hole, like those found in pinhole cameras. 

Apertures limit the amount of light which can reach a sensor by increasing or decreasing the size of the hole. Changing the size of the hole will also change the depth of field. (visit the Aperture page for a more in-depth understanding of aperture)

Shutter Speed

A shutter controls the amount of time that light is entering the camera. Like an aperture, a shutter can be extremely simple, like using your hand to cover the lens or a pinhole. Or, they can be very complex like leaf shutters.

All shutters limit the amount of light entering the camera by blocking and unblocking the light entering the camera. Shutter speed also dictates the amount of motion blur present in the final image. (visit the Shutter Speed page for a more in-depth understanding of shutter speed)


In broad terms, ISO is the sensitivity of the recording medium. The higher the number, the more sensitive the medium.

Unlike film, digital ISO can be changed with each photo. However, like film, the high you set your ISO, the worse the image quality will be. As you go up the ISO scale you will notice grain or noise, especially in the shadows.

Generally speaking, you should use the lowest ISO possible which produces the desired aperture and shutter speed settings. (visit the ISO page for a more in-depth understanding)

Why is it important?

The exposure triangle tells you nothing about what the proper exposure for a photo should be. So what makes it important?

The exposure triangle is all about equivalency. Equivalent exposures are when your photos from the same scene have the same brightness (or density if you’re using film). It is when you change one leg of the triangle, like decrease the aperture, and make up for the loss of light by increasing the ISO or decreasing your shutter speed.

Equivalent exposures become important as you look to control your depth of field through changes in the aperture, motion blur through changes in the shutter speed, or control noise with changes in ISO. Knowing that you have to make an adjustment in the other direction (more or less light/sensitivity) becomes very important to your creative process.



ISO is the final part of the exposure triangle. It controls the sensitivity (or gain) of your recording medium.

The important thing to remember with ISO is that the lower the number, the less grain or noise your image will have. Your film or sensor will also be less sensitive so you will either need to increase your aperture size or decrease your shutter speed to maintain the same equivalent exposures.

ISO is rated in whole numbers. Like shutter speed, if you double the ISO value (say, from 200 to 400), you have increased the sensitivity by one whole stop because you doubled the sensitivity. If you halve the ISO number, you have decreased the sensitivity by one whole stop.

I grew up shooting film so I personally believe that you should set your ISO according to where you are shooting first and adjust your shutter speed and apertures later. I know of other photographers who adjust it as they need (or use auto-ISO modes which fix your aperture and shutter speed to specific values and change the ISO as needed).

Generally speaking, the more light that a scene has available, the lower your ISO should be. 200 ISO is a great starting place for photos taken in daylight while 800 ISO is a good place to start for indoor photos. Adjust as needed to get the results that you want.


In order to increase the sensitivity of the film stock, larger grains of silver are used. This lessens the amount of detail present and leads to noticeable grain in the finished print.

ISO in digital cameras is handled a bit different. All camera sensors have a base ISO (also called native ISO). From there more voltage is applied to the sensor to reach higher ISO ratings. As this happens, digital noise is introduced to the final image which degrades it the more you increase the ISO.

Just like with film, as you increase the sensitivity of your sensor, you lose dynamic range (the range of values and colors present in an image). This is why photos taken at night often look washed out or have a yellow/orange/brown tinge to them, especially in the shadows.

Marian McBride


Sally Bishop

Creative Director

Lelia Meyer


Shutter Speed

Shutter speed, along with aperture and ISO, is part of the exposure triangle. Shutter speeds are almost always written in seconds or fractions of a second.

There are a few main types of shutters, which are covered in the shutter section. They all function slightly differently but their main goal is to control the length of time light is falling on the sensor, film, or recording medium.

Just like learning to control the aperture is part of the photographic process, learning how shutter speed impacts your photos is equally important.






Shutter Speeds Help Control Motion

Shutter speeds control how much motion blur is present in a photo. Motion blur comes in two different varieties. Camera shake is accidental motion blur caused by the person holding the camera at a slow speed. Intentional blur is when you decide to use settings that either impart blur into the photo or freeze motion; it’s purposeful.

Camera Shake


Camera shake is a fairly easy problem to solve. In order to remove camera shake, increase the shutter speed and compensate by changing your ISO or aperture. A good rule of thumb is to follow the 1/focal length rule. That means that, usually, as long as you are shooting faster than whatever your focal length is, your photo will be acceptably blur free. As an example, if I am using a 200mm lens, I would try to avoid shooting under 1/200th of a second while hand holding.

Newer lenses and bodies may have stabilization aids built into them. From what I have seen, they always measure the effectiveness of the stabilization in terms of stops. That means that you can shoot hand-held at however many stops the images stabilization is rated for. For example, a 300mm lens with two stops of stabilization should be able to be hand-held down to 1/80th of a second. (In practice, I have not found this to be true on larger lenses which are excessively heavy.)

Some manufacturers claim that using a lens with image stabilization on a body with sensor stabilization allows you to stack the stabilization. So, a Nikon lens with two stops of stabilization mounted on a camera with three stops of stabilization abilities could theoretically give you five stops of stabilization. That would mean that same 300mm lens with two stops of stabilization would be able to be hand held at 1/10th of a second! (Again, I doubt the effectiveness in longer or heavier lenses)

Another way to avoid camera shake is to use a monopod or tripod when shooting at slow speeds. Tripods are usually more stable than monopods. Quality tripods are usually rated in weight. Generally, buying a tripod that can support twice the weight of your camera will provide you with the sturdiness that you need in the max taxing situations.


Intentional Blur

Learning to control blur will give you another tool to create impactful images throughout your photographic career. “Controlling” in this sense does not mean to freeze all the action all the time but rather learning techniques to freeze motion or blur objects and people. Knowing when to use a method is dependent on the look that you are trying to achieve.

We will be covering three major areas of motion blur in class. The first is long-exposure blur where the shutter is open excessively long, allowing an object’s motion to be appear as blurry. The second is frozen motion where an object appears frozen in time. The third is zoom blur which will give an object the appearance of exploding into view.

Long Exposure

Long exposures happen when the shutter is open long enough to capture some sort of motion caused blur. It could be a multiple minute long exposure meant to catch clouds streaking across the sky. Most firework photos are taken with five to 30 seconds of exposure. Or, maybe you’re trying to show the motion of dirt flying off a rally car and “slow” your shutter speed down to 1/250th.

Long shutter speeds can also be used to pan along with the subject. Doing this will blur the background of the image while isolating the movement of the subject.

Frozen Motion

Frozen motion is caused by having a sufficiently fast enough shutter speed to prevent blur from being recorded.

In all instances involving a mechanical shutter, the faster the object is moving, the faster your shutter speed will need to be in order to create photos which have no blur. In other words, it will take a faster shutter speed to stop the motion of a hummingbird’s wings than a manatee swimming.

Also, in general, the farther away an object is, the slower the shutter speed can be in order to stop the motion (this assumes that all other things are being held constant). This is due to the angular distance needed to travel in order to produce visible motion blue. So, pretend that I am photographing two identical planes at the same time, one of which is a mile away, the other of which is two miles away. The plane closest to me will travel a longer angular distance than the farther plane so I would need a faster shutter speed to stop its motion than I would for the farther plane. (see illustration)

Zoom Blur

Zoom blur occurs when you change the focal length of the lens (zoom in or out) while the shutter is open. Your shutter speed must be slow enough to allow you time to operate the zoom ring in order to utilize this technique.

Focus racking is a slightly different technique than zoom blur but the concept is the same. Your shutter speed just has to be slow enough to rotate the focus ring. This technique is frequently used during firework shows or at night while photographing bright cityscapes.