Sunny 16 – THE RULE

Went to a “” meeting last night – You know – “Hello my name is Steven and I use Final Cut Pro.”

So last night at the “Mopictive” meetingĀ  there was a cinematographer named Timur (who is only 30 – I feel so old) – who explained his generation is probably the last that will grow up having an appreciation of the “Film” Aesthetic. He mentioned that he shot two films on 35mm film (he normally works with “digital”), and that it was both the best and wost days of his life. He then explained that for him shooting film was like piloting a submarine with charts and a stop watch. It’s a funny analogy, and in many ways accurate.

There is something about getting a vision of what you want in your mind, and then creating that. Often I find that when using a monitor I have to fight the urge to look at the monitor and go, “Hey that’s good, let’s go.” The monitor can be a powerful tool, to confirm if you have enough light here, if it dark enough there, etc. etc. – Let me fix that statement – a well calibrated monitor in a proper viewing environment can be a powerful tool. I still have to resist the urge to get seduced by the monitor. It’s a different battle than driving a submarine by charts and stop watch – different not better not worse.

Anyway what I like about using the charts and compass method is that somewhere I have to be thinking about light on a different level. While I’m looking to get the image and the “feel” I want I have to also be thinking about if I have enough light for the image. If I just rely on the monitor, what happens when I get to post? I’ve been bitten by that, it was a painful experience. So it’s a balance – balance the image, and balance the technical necessities.

I’m not one to be locked into – THESE ARE THE SPECS YOU CANNOT DEVIATE FROM THEM – and I’m glad that camera manufacturers are expanding what the cameras allow us to do, so we can “break” rules – although these digital cinema cameras all feel so tame to me. Just to be fair, when I first started in the industry, Kodak would include a little pamphlet with each 100 foot roll of 16mm film, explaining how to shoot it for best results. “do not exceed a 3:1 lighting ratio except for special effect” Yawn, BORING. So it isn’t only Video or now “electronic capture” cameras that try to keep you in the boring. Still there is a need for some level of technical consideration, concentration, attention when creating the image.

Which is why I like the “Sunny 16” rule – If you go look at very old amateur film cameras from the 1930’s -60’s you may see a lever that controls the aperture of the lens – AKA the Iris (just like in your eye.) It would have settings for shade, cloudy, sunny, etc. Now a professional camera uses what are known as “f” stops (“T” stops are similar but we can talk about those another time.) “f” stops are calibrated such – 0.7 , 1 , 1.4 , 2 , 2.8 , 4 , 5.6 , 8 , 11 , 16 , 22 , 32 , ad infinitum – there is a pattern here, but I’ve never actually set a camera aperture beyond 22, and there are a myriad of reasons for that – mostly because lenses don’t usually go beyond 22. ANYWAY.

The Sunny 16 rule states that if your ASA/ISO – Film speed – or the “rating” of your sensor is the same as your shutter speed/exposure time then on a sunny day your correct exposure will be “f” 16. It’s a nice check if you are shooting outside, and it stops and makes you think about your exposure, and how you are using light. If any terms are unfamiliar, feel free to ask, there is a basic understanding you will need to “get this”, but it is a great little rule to keep in the back of your head, even shooting digital.

Thanks for reading.

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One Response to Sunny 16 – THE RULE

  1. Justice July 2, 2011 at 2:05 pm #

    Hey, subtle must be your mdilde name. Great post!

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