Sunny Sixteen

Updated: Feb 24

Part of this week's lesson in The Art of Seeing, is to use my camera in fully manual mode. Most people today take photos with a phone or a fully automated digital camera. That means you point and shoot what you want to capture. When I use either of my two cameras, I am always making a choice on 2 of 3 items critical to exposure. I chose the ISO, which is the sensitivity at which I want my digital chip to operate. This used to be film "speed" back in the nondigital days. Then I typically set the aperture (width of the lens opening) and let the camera automatically chose the speed. If I am trying to capture a flying bird or other high-speed action, I will instead set the shutter speed and let the camera automatically choose the aperture. I always let the camera focus for me except when doing macro photography.

My instructor, Bryan Peterson, says there are six possible exposure settings for a correctly exposed image, but only one for a creatively exposed image (or maybe two, depending on the goal of the photographer). One exposure technique is called Sunny Sixteen. On a sunny day, setting the camera's aperture to f/16, then keeping the ISO setting and speed so that speed = 1/ISO will result in the subject being correctly exposed and the background being dark. It's a nice effect. Let's say I set my ISO to 200, then I need to set the shutter speed to 1/200 sec.

Bryan also requests that students manually focus. At first I thought this would be a chore, but my camera automatically enlarges part of the image so that I can focus better. When something is in focus, it is outlined by vivd blue dots. So it is pretty easy. It just takes a bit longer than in automatic mode.

I captured the image of Glen using the Sunny Sixteen formula, and just in time, as a cloud rolled in. As you can see, it appears that background is black, whereas there is actually a forest of trees behind him. I think it is a dramatic effect, and something I would not be able to accomplish with a point-and-shoot phone or digital camera. I could have coached Glen to pose differently because he was squinting a bit, but we both saw fast-moving clouds and I wanted to capture at least one image with this technique.

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