Exposure Guide

It doesn't take long to learn to judge exposures very accurately by eye, especially if you can get hold of some sort of exposure meter. Look around you; guess the exposure; check it with the meter. It really won't take long.

But if you don't have a meter handy, use the table below. Read the four Health Warnings first.

 

piglet in boot

 

 

1   Negative films only

This guide is intended ONLY for negative films, colour or black and white: slide film is too critical for the beginner to guess, though you can learn to do it. The important thing to remember is that with negative film, the penalties for overexposure (loss of sharpness and, with conventional black and white film, bigger grain) are much less than the penalties for underexposure (nasty colours and loss of shadow detail), so always err on the side of overexposure or make two exposures, one at your best guess and one at one or even two stops extra.

2   Wild generalizations

Like any other exposure guide, this one makes some very broad assumptions. What is 'normal domestic lighting', after all? How overcast is 'overcast'? But it will do as a starting point, as you start to learn how to 'eyeball' exposures.

 

Piglet in car boot, Transylvania

Light rain gave way to cloud, then weak sunlight. The point at which you decide it is 'cloudy bright' instead of 'white overcast' is very much a matter of judgement.

3   Pushing your luck

When in doubt, take a picture anyway, even if you can't meet the recommendations given below. Don't be afraid to under-expose, or to try hand-holding a ridiculously long exposure. If you do, the picture may or may not turn out. If you don't even try, you can be sure it won't turn out.

4   The 'Sunny 16' rule

This is a popular rule of thumb for taking pictures in bright sun: at f/16, set a shutter speed that is near enough the reciprocal of the ISO arithmentic speed, so for ISO 100, try 1/125, or for ISO 400, 1/500 (unless your shutter will give you 1/400). Of course you can equally well use 1/250 at f/11 or 1/500 at f/8 instead of 1/125 at f/16.

Paradoxically, this will often work better with slide films than with negatives; with a negative film, you may lose detail in the dark areas (shadows) of your pictures. This is why the recommendations below are closer to 'sunny 11', though in fact the discrepancy between the film speeds and the normally available shutter speeds is such that it's close to a 'sunny eleven-and-a-third' rule.

 

Three generations

 

Roger shot this maybe 30 years ago, in the days when you could still take a camera onto Weston-super-Mare beach without getting arrested and when a shot like this was regarded as amusing rather than as paedophile pornography.

He used the 'Sunny 16' rule, knowing no better at the time, and differentation in the dark tones (especially the women's heads) required some darkroom work. Look hard at the sea around their heads and you can see where the print has been lightened in order to separate the hair from the water. The 'sunny eleven-and-a-third rule', described above, would have given better differentiation. The negative (on Ilford HP5) is overdeveloped, which doesn't help. The camera was probably a 1930s Leica.

 

 

FOR ISO 100 FILM

1/30 second

1/60 second

1/125 second

1/250 second

Outdoors, bright, sunny weather

f/22

f/16

f/11

f/8

Oudoors, overcast but with clear shadows ('cloudy bright')

f/16

f/11

f/8

f/5.6

Outdoors, white overcast ('Tupperware')

f/11

f/8

f/5.6

f/4

Outdoors, heavy overcast (including rainy)

f/8

f/5.6

f/4

f/2.8

Brilliantly lit shop windows, etc., day or night

f/5.6

f/4

f/2.8

f/2

Well-lit buildings (bright factory interiors, etc.)

f/2.8

f/2

f/1.4

f/1

Indoors, normal domestic lighting; outdoors, good street lighting

f/1

-

-

-

 

FOR ISO 400 FILM

 

1/30 second

1/60 second

1/125 second

1/250 second

Outdoors, bright, sunny weather

-

-

f/22

f/16

Outdoors, overcast but with clear shadows ('cloudy bright')

-

f/22

f/16

f/11

Outdoors, white overcast ('Tupperware')

f/22

f/16

f/11

f/8

Outdoors, heavy overcast (including rainy)

f/16

f/11

f/8

f/5.6

Brilliantly lit shop windows, etc., day or night

f/11

f/8

f/5.6

f/4

Well-lit building (bright factory interiors, etc.)

f/5.6

f/4

f/2.8

f/2

Indoors, normal domestic lighting; outdoors, good street lighting

f/2

f/1.4

f/1

-

 

mdina corn

 

Mdina (Citta Notabile)

A lot of our pictures are taken in bright sun, which is the easiest of all to 'eyeball', and where our exposure guide is most reliable. Many people will tell you that you get better pictures on an overcast day, but we think they are often making a virtue of necessity. With a subject like this, taken in one of the sunniest places on earth -- Malta -- an overcast sky would be an abomination in the sight of the Leica. Or the Nikkormat which Frances used to shoot this on (now discontinued) Fuji Centuria 200. The lens is forgotten but we think it was her 90/2.5 Vivitar Series 1 Macro.

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© 2007 Roger W. Hicks