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Sunny 16

I know I have mentioned the Sunny 16 system a number of times over the last 18 months, but it is not something that I use that often as I generally have a camera with a meter or a hand held meter with me whenever I take pictures.

What I have found recently is that instead of instinctively knowing readings before I look at my cameras I have started to get lazy and just let the meter do the work for me – and so I decided to just go and take a film using Sunny 16 as a guide and try out some options.

So the simple part is that Sunny 16 is a very basic system.

If your subject has well defined shadows with sharp edges, then you set your camera at f16 and the shutter speed at the same as your ISO.

Obviously this isn’t exact as an ISO 100 will run at 1/125th and an ISO400 will set at 1/500th – but it is close enough and the slight differences allow you to interpret the sun/shadow mix and make appropriate changes.

The full table for Sunny 16 is easily found on wikipedia at and to save you going there, this is the chart you will find for the full scale;

Aperture Lighting Conditions Shadow Detail
f/22 Snow/Sand Dark with sharp edges
f/16 Sunny Distinct
f/11 Slight Overcast Soft around edges
f/8 Overcast Barely visible
f/5.6 Heavy Overcast No shadows
f/4 Open Shade/Sunset No shadows
Add One Stop Backlighting n/a

Yesterday was as bad as it has been for months now, with cold overcast skies, somewhere between Heavy Overcast and downright glum and so f5.6 was the settings to go to as a starting point.

I chose to use an old meterless Fed 5B as the test camera and as it had an ISO100 Chrome Slide film already in, it I had to work thinking I would cross the film and there for need to adjust by one stop for the darkening from the C41 process.

On top of this I decided to take pictures of Jardine House through the nearby Henry Moore sculpture of two enormous brass rings (called the Double Oval) to see if I could get some shadow detail in the pictures and then some pictures through massive glass windows from the inside out to see if I could capture detail without blow out.

The Fed 5B is a bit of a handicap to start off with as the view finder is one of the most terrible that you will come across. It is small and circular and so you will never see the extent of your picture when you frame up and only the middle section.

It is also a rangefinder with the smallest red dot in the center of the viewfinder that you need to try and line up for distance.

Add to this that if you try and change the film speed before cocking the camera, you will break the camera, just like many of the Zorki and Fed cameras and that to rewind the film requires a unique set of steps and you are left with a heavy and stubborn Russian camera that is probably best left in antiquity where it belongs.

The lens comes off by turning anti clockwise and is a standard LSM lens so you can add other lenses that you have, just remembering that the terrible viewfinder is meant to be set for a 50mm lens and so you will have to imagine what is in your frame with another lens or use a supplementary view finder in the hot shoe.

So the picture below is shot through the brass sculpture that was in the shade of trees, towards Jardine House that is clad in a bright reflective metal on a day where there were no shadows.

I shot at 1/60th and f4 to try and bring some shadow detail in without blowing out the background too much. As it was so dark behind the brass rings it was almost impossible to get more detail on their surfaces without using a fill in flash – which would have been rather counter productive.

In both of these shots I had already adjusted by two stops for the dark rings (from 1/125th down to 1/60th and from f5.6 to f4) and so was lucky to get highlight detail in the building at all. The fact that there is any is probably because the crossing of the film would have corrected by one stop too – leaving me with an overall adjustment of only one stop.

This final one is actually a large MTR sign on the windows of the IFC building in Central. Shot through at 1/125th and f4 with the cross process that takes away one stop give a great saturated red sign in the middle of windows that keep detail. The blue tint to the pictures is the effect of crossing this chrome film in daylight. In tungsten light the crossed film goes very yellow.

So these are not great pictures but they fulfilled a basic exercise for me to think more about the light in a shot; where it is coming from and the variations across the image from low to high. The fact that I was not developing these pictures meant I couldn’t develop for the highlights as asking the lab to +/- stops on the development creates very random results. If these were either good or important images, I would change the highlights digitally but as they were just an exercise in metering without a meter they served their purpose very well in reminding me to think.

Posted by simon on March 1, 2012

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