I have been trying to get a good shot out of direct sunlight but my shots just turn out dark, even if I set my shutter speed to the 1000-4000 range at ISO 200. Another odd thing is that even if my shutter speed is below the thousands range, they still turn out dark when sunlight is involved.

What settings can I use to remedy this? I am using a Canon EOS 50 film camera, and I usually use ISO 200 films. I am in Manual Mode. What shutter speed-aperture combination can you suggest. What about ISO, or even lenses?

I have no means to scan the photos, so I guess I will just describe one of them in detail:

The picture is composed such that the camera is pointed at the sunlight, and a person is at the left side of the photo. The sun has just risen, about 7 am, and a little above the horizon. The output image is dark, so is the person, but the sunlight is beaming radiantly, forming some sort of a huge ball of light, and everything that's near the camera (the person, the plants around the person) is dark, and the sky is a bit dark too.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ What might also be helpful is if you can post an example image that shows what the problem is. Even if it's only a picture of one of the film prints :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Shizam
    Dec 2, 2010 at 4:11
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Borrow a digital camera, put it in manual, keep shooting/changing until you get the exposure you want, use those settings on your film camera :) And/or upload a shot from the digicam showing the issue. You can use the digicam to chimp. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 3, 2010 at 1:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ It sounds like you just have the wrong exposure, using a digital camera will help you learn about exposure much faster, then you could go back to film. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 3, 2010 at 1:33

5 Answers 5


How are you metering the photograph? There is no one aperture/shutter-speed/iso combo for any situation, you either need to get an accurate meter reading or 'guess'. When I say 'guess' I mean use the Sunny 16 rule which is:

In daylight, the appropriate shutter speed at f16 is 1/ISO

So if your ISO is 200 and your aperture is f16 then your shutter speed is 1/200 (or 1/250), from this you can figure out any other aperture/shutter-speed combo 'guess': f11 would be 1/400, f8 would be 1/800 etc.

Given this starting point you can hold the camera up and get a meter reading to see how far off the guess is and adjust accordingly by looking at the meter in the view finder and changing your aperture/shutter-speed until it reads a good exposure. You may also want to try changing metering modes to be tighter (spot) or wider (matrix) which has a pretty good discussion going here:

When best to use Multi-Zone/Matrix, Spot, or Center-Weight?

EDIT (given the OP's edit):

The problem most certainly is metering. The camera is metering for the scene which sounds like its 90% The Sun and 10% your subject, you need to meter for your subject. You can accomplish this in a variety of ways:

-You could switch to spot metering and take a meter reading off your subject first and then use that for the photograph

-You could get really close to your subject and meter their chest/face such that they fill up most of the frame for metering and then go back to your original position and use that reading.

-You could look around near you for something in a similar amount of light (the ground in front of or behind your feet) and take a reading and use that

-Get more light on your subject somehow



Is your issue that your background is bright when compared to foreground (which is very dark)? If so, expose for the background and use a flash to fill light on the foreground.


With those sorts of settings, I'd expect the foreground items to be in silhouette - taking an example shot at dusk, you can see from the metadata that it was shot was comparable settings (although you didn't mention the aperture you were using).

If you wanted the foreground to have a more balanced exposure, you'll need to use a neutral density filter (or a graduated version, if you prefer) to mask off the sky.


I'm not familiar with your camera, so I can't talk to you about possible metering modes, but there are two problems you are faced with:

1) Cameras (generally, and especially older ones) don't know what they are looking at. All the light meter knows is how much light it sees through the lens. Light meters on cameras are calibrated so that they will produce a correct exposure for a "normal" scene, one with some kind of "standard" distribution of light and dark areas. If the scene isn't normal, the meter will not always give you the best exposure. For example, take a picture of a white cloth that covers the whole image area and most cameras will underexpose (making the cloth look grey instead of white), take a picture of a black cloth and most cameras will overexpose (making the cloth look grey instead of black). When you have the sun in the frame it is often best to set your exposure with the camera turned away from the sun, then turn back and make the shot. The sun may be overexposed, but at least you will be able to see the subject. By decreasing the light that is hitting the film (using a higher shutter speed, smaller aperture (but higher aperture number)) in increments you can try to balance the exposure of the sun and the subject.

2) Film and digital sensors don't adjust to light like the eye can, so we can't always achieve detail in both the dark areas and light areas of the picture at the same time. To combat this you would either need a flash to light up the subject -- so there isn't as much difference between the sun's brightness and the subject -- or a polarizing or neutral density filter to reduce the overall contrast of the scene (as others have mentioned).

And just in case there is some confusion -- note that higher shutter speeds and higher aperture numbers mean less light going to the film. Both combine, so F16 at 1/1,000 means very little light is getting through while F4 and 1/60 means a lot of light is getting through (relatively). In a true manual mode you have to control both yourself.


From what you are saying it looks like this is the sort of image you are looking for:


This image was shot at 200 ISO for 1/500 of a second at f/4.5 with fill flash, with the camera left aimed at the subject.

  • \$\begingroup\$ awesome! what about the setting for the last photo in the last row? \$\endgroup\$
    – Ygam
    Dec 3, 2010 at 11:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ oh and what did you mean by "fill flast left aimed at the subject"? \$\endgroup\$
    – Ygam
    Dec 3, 2010 at 11:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ He probably means that a flash was held to the left of the camera and pointed at the subject. Detachable flashes can still fire if there is a cable or radio/ir remote connecting it to the camera. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 3, 2010 at 21:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am not sure which picture you wanted exposure info on but if you hover your mouse over the picture you want and then click on the blue "i" that comes up you can see the exposure info for that image. As far as the fill flash goes, I had a speed-light flash on a light-stand (to the left of my camera, up closer by the subject) pointed at the subject that was triggered remotely to light up the front of him. In other words, I exposed for the sun in the background and lit up the subject with the flash so he wouldn't just be a silhouette \$\endgroup\$ Dec 26, 2010 at 19:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.