f/16 Rule: How To Get Perfect Exposure Without Metering

Have you ever wondered if you meter is giving you the right exposure? Do you ever wonder how to figure out the proper exposure yourself? Well it is possible—with the f/16 rule.

The theory is simple. The basic exposure for a camera on a bright sunny day will be f/16 when the shutter speed matches the ISO. That is it … seriously!

If you have a great sunny day, set your ISO to 200 then set your shutter speed to 1/200 sec. The f/stop should be f/16. If you change the ISO then change the shutter speed accordingly. If weather conditions change, then you change the f/stop.

f/22- reflective sand or snow

f/16- bright sunny day

f/11- bright cloudy day

f/8- slightly overcast

f/5.6- heavy overcast or open shade

Now, this is to get a base exposure to work from. After you have your basic exposure you can make adjustments to fit the photograph you are creating.

In situations where you find that you are shooting with the sun on the back of your subject and their face in the shade (and assuming you are shooting a face on portrait), just make an adjustment by opening up two f/stops. So if the base exposure in the f/16 rule tells you that you should be shooting f/11, then open up two f/stops to f/5.6.

Even if you have a great light meter, there is some comfort in having the skills to know that your meter is in the right ball park. When you can work it out in your head, the chances between success and failure of a photograph is significantly reduced.

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5 thoughts on “f/16 Rule: How To Get Perfect Exposure Without Metering

  1. This is an interesting article. I’m just getting started with DSLR and even though I understand the f-stop concept, i was struggling to get decently exposed pics. I will take your cue and give it a try.

    Great blog Ftw!

  2. Interesting, but I thought if shooting snow or white sand you open your camera aperture one to one and half f/stop. Maybe it’s just my camera that works in the 18-percent gray world.

  3. The f/16 rule has nothing to do with grey board metering. If you were to open camera an f/stop you would be letting in twice much light, and with snow and sand you would be blowing out the scene.

    There ARE situations in which you open up.. and that is when the subject is backlight. For example: if the sun is behind your subject. Then you want to open up to expose for the subject and not the overall scene.

    1. go back to school. When shooting snow the camera will attempt to turn it grey by underexposing it. If you let more light in by opening up your aperture a couple of stops you will achieve the correct exposure.

      1. There are two meter calibrations. The most common is for 18% grey. So if you are metering the camera will meter slightly under to ensure detail. Nevertheless, the f/16 rule uses your head and not the computer to meter. No problems.

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