Moving Toward Manual Settings: Understanding Basic Daylight Exposure and Equivalent Exposure

Moving Toward Manual Settings: Understanding Basic Daylight Exposure and Equivalent Exposure



In this post, Hawaii photographer Natalie Norton wraps up the 4th post in her series on manual camera settings – this one exploring Basic Daylight Exposure and Equivalent Exposure.

Don’t miss other installments.

Wow! Is anyone else as excited as I am about the stuff we’ve been learning about manual settings?

I know that for a lot of us it’s old news and rudimentary to say the least, but to quite a few DPSers out there, this has been just what the doctor ordered.

Thank you for all the email love letters!

I’m SO glad the info has been helpful and that it’s starting to click! Congratulations!!

Today we’re going to wrap it all up in fancy cellophane and call it a day! We’re so close. Again, if you haven’t read first 3 articles in the series I suggest checking them out before you read the rest of today’s post.

daylight-exposure-Title 2.png

The first thing you need to understand today is BASIC DAYLIGHT EXPOSURE (BDE). This is also referred to as the SUNNY 16 rule. Basically this is how it looks if you’re one of the remaining wackos who understand equations ;):

To achieve proper exposure on a bright sunny day, your ISO and your shutter speed are going to be the same when you’re aperture is set at f16. So for example if your ISO is 200 at f16 your shutter speed will be 1/200th of a second. This will ALWAYS be the same as long as it’s a bright sunny day. Now from here, and I’m not gonna lie to you, we get to run our brains over repeatedly with a Mack truck. BUT, I promise you it will all click if you give it a second and you’ll be a superstar photographer forevermore.

daylight-exposure-Title 3.png

Basically what the phrase “equivalent exposures” is referring to is achieving the same exposure while manipulating the depth of field in different ways.

Let me illustrate:

Let’s say you’re out at the beach on a bright sunny day. So you think to yourself, “Hey, Natalie taught me all about Basic Daylight Exposure! I’m gonna try it out!”

So you set your ISO to 100 and thus you’re going to have a shutter speed of 1/100th, because remember when using Basic Daylight Exposure (Sunny 16) ISO and shutter speed will match at f16.  So you’ve got your shutter speed and your ISO matched up and you shoot your aperture on up to f16 and SNAP! You’ve got a great, perfectly exposed beach scene. You can see mom and dad clearly in the foreground. You can also see the kids playing in the water behind them, also in clear focus. You can see the boogie boarders in the background in clear focus as well. Your image is perfectly exposed, not too bright, not too dark, JUST RIGHT!

So you’re thinking you’re hot stuff until you think, “You know, there’s a lot going on in this photo. There’s really no focal point. It’s TOO BUSY!” You decide you’d like to focus only on mom and dad and throw everything else in the image out of focus. . . you’re going for a shallow depth of field. SOOOOO what’s a girl to do? . . . or a boy as the case may be. Well, clearly you need to open up your aperture, right? Open that baby up to give you a more shallow depth of field. Now we understand from the post Understanding Aperture that in order to OPEN our aperture to let in more light and cause a shallow depth of field, we’re actually going to be setting the camera on a LOWER aperture number. So we open that baby on up to f4 and SNAP! . . . uh oh, what the heck happened?? We have an image that is just pure white! All light. Completely blown out. NOW WHAT? This is where Equivalent Exposures come into play. . . this is also the point where you really need to have read the other articles in the series. Part I, Part II, Part III. GO! For the rest of you, let’s break this down:

  • You had a correct exposure of the beach scene when your camera was set to ISO 100 at 1/100th of a second f16.
  • When you dropped the fstop down to f4, you let in WAY too much light and ended up with an image that was completely blown out.
  • The obvious answer would be to increase the shutter speed, right? To let in less light? You got it! BUT, by how much? How do we know how fast our shutter speed should be? Equivalent Exposures. That’s how.

Since you started at f16 and went down to f4, how many stops did you change your aperture by? Look at the chart below, that you SHOULD have memorized if you did your homework from Part I. . . and see how many FULL STOPS you had to move to get from f16 to f4. Go on and count ’em.

daylight-exposure-True Apertures .png

In the chart above you see the TRUE apertures. Those highlighted in blue are the common apertures for most lenses.

That’s right, 4 stops. You went down 4 FULL F STOPS to get from f16 to f4. . . now here’s the secret of life. . . you simply have to match that number of stops with your shutter speed to achieve the same exposure with a different depth of field! In other words, since you opened your aperture by 4 stops, you simply need to speed up your shutter speed by 5 stops in order to ensure that the same amount of light hits your sensor as it did at f16. . . THUS ACHIEVING THE SAME EXPOSURE WITH A DIFFERENT DEPTH OF FIELD. “Bing!” That was the sound of the light bulb going off in your brain. It’s OK to be excited. It really IS that simple. Don’t be scared to go back and read it again if you need to, but don’t make it harder than it is.

daylight-exposure-Equivalent Exposure.png

The chart above is an illustration of Equivalent Exposures. Each setting above will allow the SAME amount of light to hit your sensor. The exposure will be the same in each instance, the only difference would be the depth of field.

Let’s do another little quiz:

You’re at a horse race. . . because that’s something normal people like me do all the time, we go to horse races. Anyway, so you’re at a horse race and it’s bright and sunny out, but with a few clouds in the sky. You decide to use an ISO of 200. So, using BDE, what’s your camera going to be set at? ISO 200, 1/250th (250 because it’s the closest shutter speed to your ISO of 200) at f16.

You take a shot of Ocean Muffin, the fastest horse in the race, check your LCD and decide that you’d like to see more movement in the shot. You want to show just how fast Ocean Muffin really is! What are do you need to do?? Slow down your shutter speed, that’s right. So let’s say you decide to drop your shutter speed by 2 full stops. So you’re now at what? You should have these memorized by now if you’ve read the other posts in the series. You’re now at 1/60th of a second. But remember, when you slow down your shutter speed, you’re going to be letting in more light, so what else do you need to do? Close down your aperture (higher fstop) by 2 stops. Now your aperture would be at what? F32, right.

That way you can keep the same exposure and still show Ocean Muffin in all his magnificent glory. HOWEVER! What if your camera only goes up to f22? OH NO NO NO! What ever will you do now? You need to drop your shutter speed by 2 stops to catch O.M’s movement, but you can only close down your aperture by one! What else can you do? I’ll give you a hint, check out Part II in the series on shutter speed (the link’s up top). That’s right, your ISO also affects your exposure, right? So, I’d go ahead and move my aperture by one stop and adjust my ISO by one stop, taking it from 200 to 100. . .that way I’ve adjusted my exposure by 2 stops to compensate for slowing down my shutter speed by 2 stops! YAY, the world is right again!!

NOTE: Because I don’t use a light meter, I almost always start out using BDE and then adjust accordingly until I find the right exposure for the light I am in. This is one of the many reasons to hail the LCD screen as king of the world and all things that are good. . . you can SEE if your exposure is dead on and tweak it bit by bit until it is! I’ll start out with BDE and then see that my image is too dark. . . so usually I’ll work with the fstop first. I’ll open it up until the image is properly exposed and from there I’ll use Equivelant Exposures to find the right exposure and depth of field I’m looking for! Easy cheesy.

I KNOW that some of you are ready to rip your hair out, because this can be really confusing. HOWEVER, go back and read the first 3 posts (all the links are up top) . . . then read and re read this one, and I promise you it will become clear. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE feel free to ask follow up questions in the comment section. . . also PLEASE offer tips that have helped you move toward manual settings that may be able to help the rest of us! Let’s make it an open dialog and help each other out!!

Happy Shooting!

Natalie Norton is a wedding and portrait photographer who resides on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. Check her work and more tutorials on her popular blog, Pics and Kicks at

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Natalie Norton is a writer and a lifestyle wedding and portrait photographer who shoots across the globe. She is based off of the North Shore of Oahu and out of Gilbert, Arizona. Enjoy more of her photography and writing at You can also connect with Natalie via Twitter or on Facebook.

Some Older Comments

  • Agatha B. Hall September 16, 2013 09:10 pm

    At this time it sounds like BlogEngine is the preferred blogging platform available right now.
    (from what I've read) Is that what you are using on your blog?

  • Erwin June 16, 2013 05:05 am

    @Patrick: I've been told the same about it, but also about all ESO bodies! I also have a 7d but I don't have the same impression as you! I think the exact correct exposure is a personal thing, why not expose a bit to the right, say EC +2/3?
    @ bicycling bob:if you don't touch the other settings on your camera and go from 200 to 100ISO, you are really decreasing the exposure, meaning your photo will be darker.
    @Rafael: Maybe you should read the article again? The rule works with any camera with manual mode, anywhere!

  • Rafael John April 3, 2013 02:07 pm

    hi ill be buying a ricoh gr d III and the specs it only has F-aperture F1.9 – F9 , so does that mean I cant use the sunny 16 rule?

    since im new i was planning to have correct exposure guide in mind like the sunny 16 rule, and ill just accordingly with equivalent exposure,just like what you do.(having it set at that guide number and ajusting accordingly)

    can you help me please. :(

  • Bicycling Bob February 2, 2013 02:50 am

    Going from ISO 200 to ISO 100 Will increase the exposure by one stop not decrease it. You need to go to ISO 400 to decrease the exposure by one stop. ISO 100 film is a slower film requiring more exposure. ISO 400 film is a faster film requiring less exposure.

  • Rachel Harmon April 21, 2012 05:53 am

    I've used the "Sunshine Rule" for years with great results.

  • Patrick Peritore December 21, 2011 08:05 am

    Mahalo, great tutorial. One frustrating thing about the Canon EOS 7D is that it is almost .8 EV underexposed, and the pictures always need a but of Sharpen and a few points of Radiusing to look their best. Why do they want mushy underexposed images in such a sophisticated camera, whats the deal:

  • Mauricio G December 15, 2011 02:49 am

    I love how simple is this explained and I find particularly useful the fact that you provide a starting point for right exposure. I'm like the "ask to" guy among my classmates when it comes to photography, this will be handy the next time I get questioned about exposure.

  • Hemu October 24, 2011 01:52 pm

    Great writing. I have read all 4 today and very much eye opening. Can you write about light metering too...

  • Ricky September 12, 2011 01:01 am

    I must be missing a basic. The shutter speed must be at least the reciprocal of the focal length. If you do not have a full frame sensor (most of us don't) then the focal length must be adjusted by a lens factor, making the functional focal length even longer. At 50mm, the sunny f16 rule would work, but if I shoot at focal length of 70 or more I am in trouble with my Nikon D80. Unless I am missing something, then many readers will have some bad results, especially if they take portraits.

  • Kat May 15, 2011 08:52 pm

    So I'm supposed to take photos for a skating show. The plan is to have the lights off, spotlights on the skaters and no flash allowed. The building does have a few windows so I am hoping that will help me as
    Far as a little light. What settings should my ISO and shutter be on? Especially since the Skaters will be moving?

  • Emerson May 14, 2011 02:24 am

    very clear and very helpful..thank you so much.

  • ZAE November 20, 2010 07:46 pm

    I enjoying reading your explanations of photography especially all installements on Moving Toward Manual Mode.. .I have read all 4, and waiting for other installment to practice and improve my skills...

    Waiting anxiously. ...


  • Erasmo October 27, 2010 10:25 pm

    Hey, great article!
    I have a issue, I've shot great pictures in a sunny day using the following settings: ISO100, F2.8, 1/500th.
    These pics were just fine but isn't compliant with the BDE rule exposed.
    Can you explain it?
    Note: my cam could'nt reach the BDE cause min aperture is F8 and max shutter speed is 1/2000.

  • norman September 4, 2010 12:49 am

    Thank you natalie.....been a wealth of information i gain from this topic.Im a beginner and just trying out some of manual setting.....i use to try first the program mode and then take a reading shot and will see to it if it is over or under exposure and then i will then adjust the shutter or aperture or whatever adjustment needed in a manual mode.I always check my ISO reading before and after a shot.

  • emerson August 20, 2010 06:08 pm

    Hi Natalie...thank you very much for a very good educations about basic photography. You really made the complicated things so very simple and easy to understand. For a beginner like me, this really helps a lot. I will be in Pearl Harbor hawaii this Aug2010, for 3 years. Hope that 1 day we'll see each other and i would like to be one of you apprectices on photography. Thank you so much.


  • Richard August 9, 2010 07:28 am

    natalie you just got yourself a new fan! i love all of your posts! it's so educational! i know i will be thanking you

    when i got better at photography!



  • ravi July 26, 2010 04:47 am

    thanx a lot!! i'm shooting a party today and i'll try to remember this if i dont get too drunk!!!! lol
    very helpful bunch o info.

  • Susan March 31, 2010 10:25 am

    I really love this post. I am pretty amateur when it comes to education. I have learned from trial and error. I value so much that I can come to this website and find valuable information like this. This makes it so much easier than just trial and error. I often have troubles with exposure, and so having a base to START from, as my jumping off point when I start a shoot is AWESOME! Thank you Natalie! As always, your posts are phenomenal. :)

  • Rina Minca January 26, 2010 06:50 am

    Thank you so much for this simple, easy to understand, great, lesson! I totally understand now and the light went off (or on) just as you wrote it. Thanks.
    I do have one question, it may sound dumb, but I'm new at this. Are shutterspeeds the same on all cameras like fstops are? So on ALL cameras the sequence of shutterspeeds are the same?


  • Aubrey January 22, 2010 02:48 pm

    I think this was an excellent lesson. Not sure why people have to try their hardest to find something wrong. I'm a beginner, and it made sense to me (especially after a few read throughs!) I found it entertaining, and I love the sunny rule! Something I can definitely use. I would love to see more lessons on lighting and how to use it. Lighting, I think, is my biggest obstacle. I feel once I get it mastered I'll be sooo much better off. So the more I have of your knowledge, the better! Thanks for the help! Natalie, your amazing!

  • Bobbie December 31, 2009 08:42 am

    I really enjoy these lessons. I have only completed one course in digital photography, so I am stil practicing alot and learning new tech. I love taking night photography, the colors come out fantastic, it makes day photography somewhat bland at times. The longer the shutter speed the better. I use a tripod and usually set my shutter on 5-10 sec. Looking forward to more lessons. Thanks again


  • Preet Sandhu October 16, 2009 04:36 pm

    Thanks for the made it seem very simple...I get it now...Thank You..

  • Jodie October 14, 2009 10:32 pm

    PING! The light bulb finally went on! Thanks Natalie

  • Yiki_Koay September 27, 2009 08:22 pm

    Sister natalie! great one! I am going for a trip soon and all your articles definitely going to helped me shoot great photos and memories!
    have dropped by your your photos. cheerS~

  • Alberto September 2, 2009 12:19 pm

    First, Natalie, THANKS. This is a truly great post. Thanks a LOT! very kind of you to take the time to do it.

    Second, Mike, make your own post instead of bothering other's work if you have something useful to say, or contribute to this thread in a polite and constructive way. Yes, you may have said a couple of useful things, but being mixed with your lack of education makes me not wanting to pay attention. Now, two things Mike:

    a) We all have brains to spot typos Mike.

    b) Nobody says you need to do this every time you take a pic, we all understand this, except you, so I will explain to you what this post means, so you pay attention: it is a TECHNICAL EXERCISE to develop understanding. get it? it is like playing soccer. you wanna play, right? well, you do a lot of technical exercises to develop the skills you need. then you go out to the field and play. think about this Mike. Maybe you can understand it.


  • Rankin Lowing August 25, 2009 10:31 am

    This is what I call "basic page 14 stuff" and was and still is taught in any photography course, regardless of what type media the light is recorded upon. Thanks for the reminder, I use it in almost every shot either subconsciously as a check, or to handle any malfunction of cameras of light meter, and they do!

    Thanks again, Rankin

  • John August 4, 2009 08:01 am

    This is very interesting, Nalalie. Am I right in assuming that on a bright sunny day at f16 the shutter speed is approximately the same as the ISO? From there, if you open up the aperture to, say, f8 you must increase the shutter speed correspondingly.

  • Kathy Petroupoulos July 17, 2009 12:54 am

    Natalie, I'm a new photography student at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California. Your BDE information was most helpful. I know the concept is simple, but wrapping my mind around it is like when I learned about logarithms in math. It's eminently simple, but sometimes something is SO simple it almost hard to grasp that it's so simple. Anyway, thanks!

  • ernesto c bernal July 12, 2009 11:05 pm

    That was a very concise and enligthening info on equivalent exposures. i have been teaching basic photography and so far this is the best write-up i've read on equivalent exposures. thank a lot.

  • Tony B July 2, 2009 05:23 pm

    I'd just like to add my comments and thanks here. I've read all four of your articles today and they've been fantastic. Well done and thank you.

    I'd like also to echo Mike's comment (Jan 1st 2009). The typo threw me for a while and I lost focus (pardon the pun) on the rest of the article. It would be great if you could fix it.

    Many thanks again.

  • Sarah June 26, 2009 03:56 am

    Thank you SO much for all of your helpful tips. I'm shooting my friend's wedding in a few weeks, and all of this makes so much sense! Thank you! This was exactly what I needed.

  • Leanne May 26, 2009 01:55 am

    you are awsome!! I have been looking for someone to explain things in normal english and that makes sense, you rock!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I can't wait to try all this out!!! I will be back here for sure.

  • Peter February 26, 2009 07:22 pm

    Dwight Langsdale

    To answer your queries. Firstly you have to appreciate why and how this system was developed.
    It was devised when simple cameras started to become more complicated with the addition of f/stops and shutter speeds. The new camera owners wanted to know how and when to use them. Light meters were not generally available at this time so Kodak came up with this generalisation for setting the exposure.
    Take the reciprocal of the film speed in ASA and use this as the film speed.
    Therefore the reciprocal of 100ASA = 1/100s, 200ASA = 1/200s, 400ASA = 1/400s
    Now use the the following rule to set the aperture.
    Sunny = f16
    Cloudy = f11
    Overcast = f8
    Shade = f 5.6
    These settings apply to the midday light. Mid morning and mid afternoon you need to open up 1 stop and early morning and evening you will need to open up between 2 and 4 stops.
    Once again this system was devised for early cameras which used B/W film. B/W film has a 9 stop dynamic range whereas digital only has a 5 stop range. this means that if you over or under expose by 1 or 2 stops you still have a usable result. Not so in the case of digital if you over/under expose by 1 stop you are likely to blow out the highlights or bung up the shadows.
    Regarding the equivalent exposure guide. If you write the f/numbers in squares starting with the widest aperture on the right. Now put underneath the shutter speeds starting at 1/100s under f16 and working each way as the diagram below

    2 2.8 4 5.6 8 11 16 22
    6400 3200 1600 800 400 200 100 50 25 10

    Now read off the top row against the bottom row.
    I hope this answers your questions
    I hope

  • Desi February 25, 2009 04:23 pm

    hi Natalie

    I am new to photography and is starting my first course next week. Thanks to your articles i understand Aperture, Shutterspeed, ISO and Sunny 16 rule. It doesnt matter if ther's a few points wrong or a typo or whatever. it all about the UNDERSTANDING! and you make it impossible NOT to understand!
    Thank you!!!!!!!!

    Rock on!

  • Dwight Langsdale February 21, 2009 04:04 am


    Thanks for the articles. I am especially trying to understand BDE. I have a Nikon D300 set on manual and used LO 1 which should be equivalent to ISO 100; my shutter speed was then set to 1/100; aperature was f16. It was a bright sunny day and the exposure was good; just ever so slightly underexposed compared to the camera's choice of 1/80 at f16 on aperature priority. I then moved down 4 stops to f4 and increased the shutter speed 5 stops - five stops in shutter speed you wrote is doubling or halving - to 1/3200. That picture was much darker. 4 stops to 1/1600 was much closer to the original photo; actually 4+ stops to 1/2000 seemed just about the same exposure. Am I counting stops wrong, or is down 4 stops in aperature and up 4 stops in shutter speed more equivalent? Also I am not sure how the equivalent exposure table works. Are we to assume a very different ISO or a shaddy, overcast day to apply the values in the table, because on that same sunny day those values produced poorly exposed photos?

    If you have time I would appreciate hearing your advice on these issues. I think your articles are good and they have helped me learn more about this great hobby (for me). Thank you.

  • Ramon Ang January 24, 2009 01:46 pm

    Hi Natalie,

    Reference Point! That's what I've been trying to experiment on. Thank you very much, that was very unselfish of you. I wish you more power and of course, more clients.

  • Hilda Champion January 22, 2009 01:08 pm

    Natalie, I enjoyed the article and found it very logical. However, the little "Equivalent Exposure Chart" threw me off. Applying your rule of BDE=1/ISO@F16, the shutter speed used is this example would have been 1/8, hence the ISO would have been 8. Does this make sense or am I missing something here?

  • Sarah January 9, 2009 04:23 am

    Natalie: Thanks for the article. Even though I've read photography books off and on for years, this is the first time I remember reading something concise and clear on equivalent exposures. For the first time, I know understand how to quantify "correctly exposed" photograph.

    Now, my plan is to go outside (it's a bright, sunny day!) and take a bunch of pictures at f/16, while changing ISO and shutter speed, to learn how it affects pictures so I can get the hang of it.

    Again, thank you!

  • Arturo January 9, 2009 02:50 am

    Natalie: First of all, thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience.

    For me, getting all manual has been a relief from the many variables I had to apply to every other mode available.

    Now I have a unique starting point to learn and I'm enjoying it.

    That is whay your articles have been so helpful.

  • Mike January 1, 2009 05:31 pm

    Sumit, increasing your ISO will increase the amount of noise in your image which is undesirable unless you are going for a specific artistic effect. Changing aperture affects the depth of field which can affect how focused your subject is. However in modern DSLR cameras you will not notice much noise until you get up around ISO 1600. Therefore if your aperture is set where you want it you should be safe bumping up your ISO unless it gets really high.

  • Mike January 1, 2009 05:23 pm

    Deborah, if you are shooting in a church (presumably a low-light setting) you want the largest aperture your lens has (lowest f/number, probably 3.5 or 4) and you will want to use a shutter speed that is slow enough to let in enough light but not too slow that your moving subjects end up blurred. Also, increase your ISO to at least 800 if not 1600 and you can use a faster shutter speed to freeze your subjects. Take a few test shots while they are setting up and then change the settings to get the right exposure before they perform. If this seems overwhelming a shortcut you could take is to take a photo in auto (turn off the flash first, or use an auto no flash mode if your camera has it) then copy down the settings that the camera used for that photo. Go in to manual mode and enter those settings to get a starting point, and then change them individually to get the best exposure with the least blur. Hope that helps!

  • Mike January 1, 2009 05:14 pm

    Anyone who thinks that this post is helpful for beginners and therefore the nitpicking in the comments is unnecessary, it is way more important for beginners to get accurate information than it is "simple" information with factual errors. For instance, the article STILL states that when you increase your aperture by 4 stops you need to decrease your shutter speed by 5. This is completely incorrect and will result in underexposed photos. I understand that it may be a typo but it needs to be fixed or more people will be misled, and won't necessarily read the comments to see that it's an error. In addition, it makes more sense to use your in-camera light meter to set your exposure settings for the first shot then tweak them after reviewing the shot than it does to take a shot using no reference point and having to do a lot of test shots and a lot of adjusting. While it may not waste film it is a waste of time and if your subject is moving, like at a horse race to use an example from the article, you don't always have enough time to make all those adjustments. And if your camera ALWAYS overexposes your photos when you rely on the light meter, just set it to -1/3EV or whatever every time and your photos will come out perfect! At the very least please fix your article to stop confusing people and consider suggesting that people use the in-camera light meter as a starting point for adjusting their settings.

  • Deborah October 25, 2008 11:47 am





  • Deborah October 25, 2008 11:22 am


    SO FROM F/16 - NINE F STOPS WOULD BE f/352????



  • Kaushik October 1, 2008 05:23 am

    Hi Natalie,

    Excellent post, very clear and concise. I've written a similar one here (I mean the photography part not the excellent part :) ). Even made a reference to your post there.

  • lisa September 23, 2008 01:31 am

    Hi Natalie,

    loved the tutorials,you've made it very simple for dummies like me. Only thing is what do I do about Sunny 16 in grey old Ireland? Not many sunny days here I'm afraid...

  • Dianne September 15, 2008 09:40 am

    Thanks Natalie! I have read your series and find it very helpful and easy to understand. I will be upgrading to DSLR very soon. I have heard of the Sunny 16 rule but never have heard the explanation. I'm trying to read and learn as much as I can before making the jump to full manual mode. My current p & s has aperture and shutter priority modes and I have been trying to stay off of auto mode.

    I agree with Darren! Please continue the series for low light situations.

    Thanks again for a very informative series.

  • smcdja September 14, 2008 01:12 pm

    Great post! I finally understand. So you always start with f16?

  • Shanti September 13, 2008 09:49 am

    There are few rules I live by as strongly as I follow the Sunny f16 rule! :D Way to go - I think this will help a lot of people understand.

    The thing it took me a long time to get was the relationships of all three (ISO, shutter, aperture) and how they each can be moved to achieve the same effect. Aperture controls light AND DOF. Shutter speed controls light and displayed movement.

    It took me a long time to realize that bumping up aperture AND ISO each by one would be the same as going up on just one by two stops :)

    Thanks!! Great post.

  • Sumit September 12, 2008 06:22 pm

    Great article mate!
    I have got a question to ask; why do we prefer aperture adjustment to ISO adjustment? In the above horse race example you adjusted ISO only as a last resort!!


  • Bob Bevan Smith September 12, 2008 05:59 pm

    That was a good explanation of Equivalent Exposure. Don't get hung up about the Sunny 16 rule. A Basic Rainy Day Exposure rule could be shutter speed = 1/ISO @ f5.6
    On a typical grey cloudy day, you might be using 100 ISO and 1/100th at f5.6 so to get better depth of field, close down 2 stops to f11 and open the shutter for 2 extra stops = 1/25th (or nearest equivalent = 1/30th). Then close down one more aperture stop to f16, but bump the ISO up to 200.
    But all these 'rules' are only a guide. You need to experiment to get the exposure right, depending on the subject. A light meter reading on the ski slopes might give you great snow, but everything else as underexposed dark masses.

  • sabra September 12, 2008 03:36 pm

    This was a great article - I only roughly knew of the relationship between aperture, ISO and shutter speed and am so, so glad to have this laid out in one place! Bravo!
    I did get a bit confused by typos - so I'm wondering if you can drop us a note to let us know when they are fixed so we can re-read and really digest! I'm not seeing the one mentioned above re: f32 but I am seeing the 4/5 stop issue:

    "In other words, since you opened your aperture by 4 stops, you simply need to speed up your shutter speed by 5 stops in order to ensure that the same amount of light hits your sensor as it did at f16. . ."

    Just want to make sure I am not missing something!

    Again, thanks again - this was well written and wonderfully informative!

  • Lynn September 12, 2008 01:19 pm


    I have gotten so much from all your articles. I read and reread the last one and still have some confusion. It would help me if you listed all 3 parts together after we made the changes. At times, I thought I had shutter and fstop correct, but then you would surprise me with ISO. Maybe this article could have a part B. Please keep the articles coming!

  • jeo September 12, 2008 08:17 am

    I really liked that tutorial. Especially the equivalent exposure really helps a lot. I just started with studio flashes, so sunny 16 doesn't really matter there, but equivalent exposure should do the trick.

  • KenjiKimura September 12, 2008 06:01 am

    Thanks for your concise post. I learned also about manual settings from this site:

    Also on "bright sunny days" there will be lots of shadows when doing "people shots". My shots would be good exposure on the people(but with harsh shadows sometimes) and overexposed background. So I tend to use fill-flash and bracket my shots and shoot RAW(so I can tweak it in Lightroom).Please add as a side-topic on fill flash on bright sunny days. And yes sister, since you're into it, please add indoors, too.

    Thanks a lot for your time and effort.

  • French guy September 12, 2008 05:56 am

    Brilliant explanations and funny article : a must read !

  • Jolene September 12, 2008 05:47 am

    Natalie, you rock. Thanks so much!

  • Crystal September 12, 2008 05:43 am

    Thank you so much for all of your help! You are awesome and I always enjoying reading your posts. I have a Canon XSi (hoping to updgrade next year) and I agree that the light meter shoots too light if I have it center. What I usually do (in full manual) mode is start with my ISO depending on available light. Then decide my aperture depending on the look I want and then read my light meter for shutter speed. Sometimes it's right, but more often than not, I have to adjust it. But for me personally, it's a good starting off point and usually only have to take about 2 more shots to get it right. That's one of the many things I love about photography. You can personalize it to you and find your own way once you know the basics. What works for one person may not work for the other! GREAT job Natalie!

  • Sharon :) September 12, 2008 04:57 am

    Does this rule apply in the winter on a sunny day? Just wonder if there is a difference.

  • jay September 12, 2008 04:01 am

    The only time I use the sunny 16 rule is when I take pictures of the moon. this is one of the time the light meter always failed and the rule never does!

  • usseryrl September 12, 2008 03:38 am

    Im not sure if there's some confusion or something I missed
    while reading about the F stops. But as I understand it, it does say 4 stops from F16 to F4.

    Quote:In the chart above you see the TRUE apertures. Those highlighted in blue are the common apertures for most lenses.
    That’s right, 4 stops. You went down 4 FULL F STOPS to get from f16 to f4. :Unquote.

    Im just like everyone else and trying to learn more, and so far iv'e found this websight to be a great help for me, but the last thing I want is confusion for anyone.

  • amethystice September 12, 2008 03:25 am

    Natalie, I have read all of your tutorials and LOVE them! You have a way of explaining things that makes it so simple to understand, Thank you thank you :) I was just reading Darrens post and I too would like to see something on night photography as well as indoor, I have five children and a lot of my photos are indoors and of them so I have a bit of trouble trying to get the right exposure and not blur the image (you know how they move around a lot!) I do not like to use a high ISO and tend to stay between 100 and 400 ISO to keep the noise to a minimum. Can't wait to read your next article. Thanks again

  • Paul September 12, 2008 03:22 am

    "Why don’t you start out using the camera’s built in light meter?"

    If you're using a 2-digit (Dx0) Nikon with older AI lenses, you get no in-camera metering. At all.

    So you either need an external light meter, or a good understanding of the sunny-16 rule and equivalent exposure.

    Being able to chimp the LCD to fine tune means you can get away without a separate meter, using BDE means you can get reasonably close on the first shot, and equivalent exposure means you don't have to shoot everything at 1/ISO and f/16!

    Good explanation Natalie :)

  • shelly September 12, 2008 03:10 am

    This was another fantastic article. Some of the things I've been doing haphazardly now make perfect sense...everything clicked! Thank you for explaining things is a way that is easily understandable to beginners. It makes this photography stuff so much more fun!

  • Lexy0138 September 12, 2008 02:49 am

    The moon should be full in a few days, last night was a 1/2
    & very bright.My question is what settings do I use to photograph it ? My camera is a D40x,I have a nikon 50 1.8,18-55 kit,55-200 also kit,35-135 manuel focus,18-135 nikon af a quantary 2x tel converter I plan on using the 55-200 with the 2x tel converter.
    Thanks OBIE

  • Radek Pilich September 12, 2008 01:50 am

    This is quite likely the single most enlightening article on manual camera control I have read so far. I'm a beginner with a compact camera with manual control. It was easy for me to grasp the functionality of ISO, aperture and shutter speed, yet until now I didn't understand how to MANUALLY set this trio properly to get the right exposure. I'm going to memorize the f-stops and shutter speeds now.

    Big up Natalie!

  • jay September 12, 2008 01:38 am


    I'm fairly new to this website, and silly me, I kinda assumed that this community of photographers would be naturally kind people since they're all involved in the art of pictures.

    But, as I said...silly me. They've jumped on you like a pack of rabid dogs in the comments.

    So, aside from the people with a raisin up their arse, the rest of us really appreciate the info and article. I'm not brand new to photography, but fairly new to some of the technical side behind one, so I really enjoyed the article. I appreciate knowing the way-things-are-working behind the settings. And would look forward to any more in this serious, like "Darren" suggested: nighttime, snowy, etc.

    And lastly, appreciate your time.
    PS: I hope this comment doesn't throw you does, in fact, lack in pointing out all of your errors. It may feel foreign.

    PPS: a big shout-out to Mr. Sunnyman for knocking you, knocking the post, and then utilizing this successful photo-blog to try to redirect to his....hmm, successful?

  • Gerry Boughan September 12, 2008 01:20 am

    Thanks so much for this, Natalie. This opens a significant creative window for me. Also, I second Darren's recommendation that you write tutes on BNE and BCE. Thanks, again.


  • Neil September 12, 2008 12:05 am

    Another tip is to meter towards the sky in manual mode. It will give you great exposures, too. It even works at dusk and dawn. I got that from Bryan Peterson's Understanding Exposure book.

  • Digital Photography Tutorial September 11, 2008 01:20 pm

    Great tutorial. I love the formula that you give. Typically I just take a number of shots at different settings until I get the results I was looking for. Now if I take a minute to do some figures I should be able to cut out a bunch of my garbage shots.

  • Darren September 11, 2008 12:11 pm

    Natalie, thank you...for educating the beginners out here. Unfortunately, far too many feel the need to point out possible mistakes in your post.

    Instead of closing your 4 part series with this post, please consider expanding on this to include 'night-time' shots and extremely cloudy weather shots. Living up north, our winters are spent with 4 months of solid grey clouds. Is there a formula for BNE or BCE (basic night/cloud exposure)??

    Thanks again!

  • Roger September 11, 2008 08:01 am

    Claudia Said:

    "“In other words, since you opened your aperture by 4 stops, you simply need to speed up your shutter speed by 5 stops” <– should that be 4 stops? If not, why one extra SS stop? Am I missing something?"

    You're not missing anything; it must have been a typo.

    Natalie said:

    "So, using BDE, what’s your camera going to be set at? ISO 200, 1/250th (250 because it’s the closest shutter speed to your ISO of 200) at f16."

    Actually the closeset shutter speed is... 1/200 sec. How many DSLRs do they sell that don't have shutter speeds in third stops?

  • taryn September 11, 2008 06:46 am

    i don't get it.


    i guess i'll just have to practice. thanks for the post!


  • Claudia September 11, 2008 06:28 am

    "In other words, since you opened your aperture by 4 stops, you simply need to speed up your shutter speed by 5 stops" <-- should that be 4 stops? If not, why one extra SS stop? Am I missing something?

  • Gayle September 11, 2008 05:16 am

    Natalie, thank you. I am a beginner in photography and your series has helped me understand aperture, shutter speed and ISO. As a beginner who photographs mainly my kids and my pets, I don't see myself buying a light meter. But I still want to achieve the best shots that I can. I want to understand my camera enough that I can take it out of Auto. You are helping me do that! So, thanks again.

  • georg September 11, 2008 04:58 am

    maybe dumb question but what is "light meter" ?

  • richard September 11, 2008 03:32 am

    This is incredible! You're so good at making confusing things simple. Understanding equivalent exposure is one of the most empowering things you can learn/do as a beginning photographer because you don't have to rely on anything or anyone but yourself--and that is the ONE thing you can completely control. 3 cheers for Natalie!

  • aloha September 11, 2008 03:17 am


    I love the emphasis on Sunny 16 in the comment section, but the article is more geared to helping beginning photographers understand equivalent exposure. Sunny 16 is important as a basic starting point for beginners with no concept of where to begin.

    And just a side note, it is dangerous in my opinion to rely completely on an in camera meter. . . often they aren't as accurate as people assume. For example: I shoot with a canon 5d and when my light meter reads the correct exposure, my shots come out overexposed by 1-2 stops, EVERY TIME.

    I've just found it to be safer to know the way exposure works MANUALLY so you can do it yourself if you need to. Or . . . you could buy a hand held meter as they tend to be more accurate. But for day in and day out portraits of family and friends. . . there's probably no need. If however you're photographing a wedding. . . etc. you really need a clean grasp on equivalent exposures and shouldn't be relying on your in camera meter exclusively. But, that's just how I do things. There are a million ways to do this and it's simply important that each photographer finds what inspires the most confidence for them personally.


    Natalie Norton

    PS- I'm not a fella. . . I am a sister.

  • Bakari September 11, 2008 02:59 am

    I might not get it either. There are times when you shoot in "bright sunny days," but most often photographers will often be challenged to shoot in shaded or mixed light areas. It seems that the f/16 rule is most appropriate for landscape shots on a bright sunny day. But other than that, you're better off learning to use the camera's light meter and history gram.

  • william lee September 11, 2008 02:43 am

    isnt moving from f/16 to f/4 4 stops down and not 5? from f/16 to f/11 is one, from f/11 to f/8 is two, from f/8 to f/5.6 is three and from f/5.6 to f/4 is 4 stops down. correct me if i am wrong. i dont want to put out wrong info. thanks

  • Colin September 11, 2008 02:42 am

    "This fellow" who wrote the post is named Natalie, Sunnyman. :)

  • Brian September 11, 2008 02:31 am

    You say at the end ... I’ll start out with BDE and then see that my image is too dark. . . so usually I’ll work with the fstop first. I’ll open it up until the image is properly exposed and from there I’ll use Equivelant Exposures to find the right exposure and depth of field I’m looking for!

    Does this mean that you leave the ISO at 100?

    Thanks. I have learned so much from your series and really appreciate it.

  • Soraxtm AKA Maurice A. FitzGerald September 11, 2008 01:58 am

    Interesting I wonder why the sunny sixteen thing works. I certainly have never taken a picture using that rule. Exposure Meters? Is that the deal on the camera itself? I never use anything but full manual control including manual focus. I never(very rarely) shoot anything except on the lowest ISO setting because it looks better that way. All this Auto stuff is insane. Maybe back in the past when you took a picture blindly then developed it it was important but now it's pointless. One never even has to look into the viewfinder unless you can't see your display. Maybe all this is more important when taking pictures of people. And another thing the whole F/stop thing is so stupid and so is the shutter speed. It would be much easier if everyone just talked about the radius of the opening and the decimal equivalent of the shutter speed. Finally you aren't a real photographer if you don't use full manual controls.
    Thank you
    My name is Jerk ass and I approved this message

  • September 11, 2008 01:48 am

    Shouldn't the big equation be "BDE = 1/iso @ f/16"?

    It currently says "...f/iso..."

  • Sunnyman September 11, 2008 01:33 am

    Mick, if I read this right this fellow isn't using any light meter!

    And, sure, your observation on using manual mode for more consistent exposure in a series is excellent and makes a lot of sense.

  • Jon September 11, 2008 01:25 am

    I'd like to point out that moving from F16 to F4 is not opening up by 5 stops. There are 5 stops within that interval (16, 11, 8, 5.6, 4), but only a 4 stop change.
    Also in your horse race example, stopping the aperture down 2 stops from F16 would bring you to F32 (F45 would be 3 stops down).

  • Mick September 11, 2008 01:19 am

    That's a great explanation of the Sunny 16 rule, thanks.

    One question though. You say at the end "NOTE: Because I don’t use a light meter, I almost always start out using BDE and then adjust accordingly until I find the right exposure for the light I am in." - Why don't you start out using the camera's built in light meter? Presumably you rely on the meter as you make adjustments to find 'the right exposure'? I'm assuming you are using a digital SLR.

    I've been forcing myself to use the manual mode more often as a teaching aid. As a variation on your technique I usually start in Aperture Priority mode to find the right shutter speed at my desired f-stop/iso combination, take a few sample shots and double check via the histogram, and then dial in the appropriate shutter speed via manual mode. And unless I walk into/out of shade or happen to be in a very contrasty area I don't worrying about it any more.

    Another point worth noting (a recent discovery for me) is that using manual mode like this tends to give a more consistent exposure level across a series of photos than having Aperture Priority mode continually fine-tune the exposure (e.g. as I move towards and away from my subject). When shooting an event the series of pictures look better together when they are consistent like this. Strong whites and darks also tend to suffer less from being under & over exposed.

    Thanks again.

  • Sunnyman September 11, 2008 01:18 am

    Haha, funny article! This guy must be one of the few remaining people who don't use an exposure meter.

    This is how it was done back in Ansel Adams' days, kind of the Stone age before gizmos like exposure meters were invented. And, sure, it worked fine for Ansel Adams...

    Well, good to have this info in the back of your mind in case your exposure metering system breaks.

    I try to explain these things in a more simplistic way on my site

    -- Which is more geared to the rest of us amateurs who are addicted to exposure metering...

  • Rosh September 11, 2008 01:08 am

    I had forgotten about this rule. I don't think I've used it in a long time.

    I know it was used much more when our cameras didn't have software powerful enough to run the space shuttle.

    But, you never know when you might need it. I do shoot manual 100% of the time and little tricks can be valuable.


  • G. Chai September 11, 2008 12:58 am

    This will ALWAYS be the same as long as it’s a bright sunny day.

    Isn't that something like a recipe which calls for a cup of sugar? What size of cup are they talking about? I mean, what's a 'bright sunny' day? Is it in the morning? Noon? Afternoon? After sunrise but before sunset? It is not clear.

    . . . so usually I’ll work with the fstop first. I’ll open it up until the image is properly exposed...

    What good is a 'rule' then? Looks more like trial and error, doesn't it?

  • Ian September 11, 2008 12:43 am

    A couple slight errors that may confuse someone new to manual exposure settings:

    f16 to f4 is 4 stops not 5! Count the gaps between the numbers not the numbers themselves. Each of these steps is one stop; f16 to f11, f11 to f8, f8 to f5.6 and finally f5.6 to f4. Think of the clicks on an old fashioned aperture dial on a manual camera. And it should be added that 4 stops faster shutter than 1/125th is 1/2000th sec.

    In the horse race 2 stops slower aperture than f16 is f32, again f16 to f22 is one stop, f22 to f32 is one stop for a total of two.

  • Fernando September 11, 2008 12:40 am

    Nice! I will give it a shot next time im out on a nice sunny day (which we havent had much of lately!)

  • Pete Langlois September 11, 2008 12:22 am

    Great tips and explanation on Sunny 16.