For this week’s blog I want to take you on a journey down memory lane.

I learned how to use a camera in late 1960s and early 1970s when I would borrow my dad’s, viewfinder camara – that’s the camera at the top of this blog post.  I still have that camera.  I don’t think I’d be as good a photographer as I am now if it hadn’t been for the fact that I started working with that camera.

You see that camera has no means of checking focus, and no exposure meter.  It is a viewfinder camera which means you used a little device that attached to the hotshoe that you looked through to calculate how far away your subject was and then transferred that setting to the focusing ring on the lens.  The only problem was that my dad didn’t have that device.  Instead we estimated how far away the subject was and set the focusing distance that way.

Sunny 16 rule

As for setting the exposure.  This was a time when most cameras didn’t have built-in light meters. If you needed to take a light reading you needed to have a separate hand-held meter.  My dad did have one, but from what I can remember it was either not reliable or he didn’t always bring it with him.

So instead we used to use what is affectionately known as the “Sunny 16 rule”.  It also proved a good sanity check to make sure your meter was giving you sensible readings.

The basic rule is as follows:

“On a sunny day set the aperture to f/16, and the shutter speed to be the same as the ISO”

Eg ISO 100, shutter speed 1/125s (nearest to 1/100s available on many cameras) and f/16

As lighting conditions change lose 1 stop for each of “Slightly Overcast”, “Overcast”, and “Heavily Overcast”  At the time a variant of it was often printed a table on the inside of film boxes it looked something similar to this:

Aperture Lighting/Weather Conditions Shadows
f/16 Sunny Sharp shadows with well defined edges
f/11 Slightly Overcast Obvious shadows but with soft edges
f/8 Overcast Shadows can hardly be seen
f/5.6 Heavily Overcast No shadows


Take a look at the following four images each take at one of the four different aperture settings of the sunny 16 rule

Sunny – f/16

Slightly Overcast – f/11

Overcast – f/8

Heavily Overcast – f/5.6

The Proof

Ian on a Cornish beach, probably Newquay, in 1970

If you want proof that this actually works – take a look at this photograph of a very young me created in 1970 by my dad using the camera and techniques I have been talking about.  It’s not the best image in the world and by today’s standards it is perhaps a little soft and lacking in definition.  But for its time it is not bad at all.

The Legacy

You might smile as you read this and feel profoundly grateful that you never had to learn photography that way.  I, on the other hand, am profoundly grateful that I did.  I have a much better understanding of light and what I am photographing because of it.

Could you choose settings for you shutter speed, f-stop, and ISO before you get you camera out of your bag?  Could you get an image in focus without auto focus just by setting the focus ring to a distance?  I can.  I am grateful that I don’t have to work that way but I know could.  And every once in a while I test myself to make sure I can still do it.

The Challenge

I am going to issue you with a challenge – create an image without using the cameras exposure meter and with manual focusing and set without looking through the view finder – just like I had to do all those years ago.

Post your results to the studio’s Facebook group:

Until next time, Keep making great images,