The 1-3-5-10 Rule

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Mark Scott Abeln
Mark Scott Abeln Forum Pro • Posts: 16,809
The 1-3-5-10 Rule

While reading up on the history of the "Sunny 16 Rule", because of this thread:

I stumbled upon the "One, Three Five and Double Rule" or "1-3-5-10 rule" for outdoor exposure in daylight.  Basically, this means that you take whatever exposure you have for full sunlight, and triple it for hazy days, multiply by five for cloudy days, and multiply by ten for overcast days. One might very well use the Sunny 16 rule for determining the base sunny weather exposure, and adjust accordingly.

I found this in the magazine American Photography, Volume XIX, from 1925, which is a gold mine for historically-minded photographers, as well as those interested in alternative processes. There is a surprising amount that is relevant today, even though it takes some effort to read it well, and the reproduction quality is poor.

The 1-3-5-10 rule is somewhat different from the recommendations found in the Wikipedia Exposure Value article, or what's printed in Kodak film boxes, which recommend 1-2-4-8 for full sun, hazy sun, cloudy, and overcast. The difference between these two systems is a bit more than a half stop for hazy, and bit less than a third of a stop for cloudy and overcast.

While the even 1 stop difference between cloud cover exposures that's found in the modern system is convenient with modern gear, I couldn't say if it is more or less accurate according to actual light levels. But in photography, close is often good enough.

This rule wouldn't be of much use, if any, with contemporary auto exposure cameras, but it might find some use with film photographers who have fully manual cameras without exposure meters, especially if they really want to do things according to the old school. Any inaccuracy of the numbers would be more than compensated by the exposure latitude of film.

Its greatest modern use, I think, is educational. Beginning photographers often grossly underestimate the change in light levels under varying lighting conditions, being surprised by how miserable their photographs become when it is overcast or indoors under artificial light, and being appalled by how expensive good low-light cameras are.

Relative brightnesses according to the 1-2-4-8 rule:

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