Marcus McAdam Skye Light

In 2016 we started keeping a diary of the quality of light here on Skye. The purpose is to build up a picture over a few years to see what time of year typically has the best conditions for photography. 

It’s not difficult to know when the best weather of the year is, but good weather and good light for photography are rarely the same same thing. Clear blue skies and sunshine is great to be outdoors in, but pretty useless for photography, so the two are completely different. As far as we are aware, a diary of light hasn’t been done before on Skye, so this project will hopefully shed some light (see what we did there?!) on any patterns which emerge.

The Scale

We decided to score each day on a scale of 1 to 5, with the calibration being as follows…

1 - the light would be as bad as it can ever be - dull, grey, uninspiring, and difficult or impossible to work with.

2 - the light would be workable on short occasions, but nothing to get excited about. Typically there would be detail in the sky but with no or few breaks in the cloud, with no direct light breaking through.

3 - the light would be workable for most of the time, with good cloud detail and occasional direct light breaking through. In essence, it could be better but could be worse.

4 - the light would be of good quality, providing opportunity for great images to be taken over a reasonable period of time.

5 - the light would be phenomenal, with amazing colour in the sky and a rich quality to any direct light. This would be a situation to get excited about, and where you would typically see photographers running all over the place with their tripods clattering behind them.

Of course, we can only report on the conditions at the location where we are at, and the conditions on Skye can be very local. There have been a number of occasions where one of the team has been in the south of the island under conditions which would score a 2 on the above scale, while another team member would experience conditions worthy of a 5 in the north of the island, and visa-versa. Generally however, if the light is good in one place, there is a good chance it will be good in many others.

We give each day two scores - one in the morning and one in the evening - both typical times when photographers would be out taking shots, and when we are typically out hosting workshops.

There are times when we aren’t around to monitor the conditions, but we returned 286 days of data in 2016 and 293.5 in 2017 which is over 80% of the time. 

In 2016 there were 2 days which scored the maximum 10 points (5 for dawn and 5 for dusk). These were Feb 12th and Oct 4th. There were no such days in 2017 which shows that they are extremely rare.  In 2016 there were 14 days which scored nine points. In 2017 there were only 8 similar days but overall 2017 has scored better, with fewer very poor days. One interesting thing which has emerged is that when a day scores 8 or more, the adjacent days seem to also score highly. 

In 2016 May 9th -14th, June 4th-9th, and Oct 1st-11th were the best periods, every day scoring 8 or more. Similar periods in 2017 were March 21st - 27th, April 30th - May 7th, and July 18th - 24th.

For every good day however, there is a poor day, and when averaged out, the following table was generated…

  Dawn Dusk Average Days Monitored
January 2016 1.8 2.4 2.1 26.5
February 2016 2.7 1.9 2.3 22.5
March 2016 2.5 2.7 2.6 27.5
April 2016 2.9 3.5 3.2 27.5
May 2016 3.0 3.6 3.3 29.5
June 2016 2.9 3.2 3.1 15.5
July 2016 2.4 2.6 2.4 26
August 2016 2.6 2.8 2.5 30.5
September 2016 2.4 2.1 2.3 15.5
October 2016 3.4 3.4 3.4 18.5
November 2016 3.2 2.9 3.1 28
December 2016 2.6 2.5 2.6 18.5
 January 2017 2.9 2.7  2.8 14
 February 2017 2.6  2.7 2.7 26.5
 March 2017  3.1  3.3  3.2 31
April 2017  2.8  2.9  2.9 28.5
May 2017 3.0 3.2 3.1  31
June 2017 2.8 2.9  2.9 30
 July 2017 3.0  3.4  3.2 27.5
August 2017  2.6  2.9 2.7 29
September 2017  2.5  3.1 2.8 20.5
October 2017 2.9  2.3  2.6 25.5
 November 2017  3.2 3.0  3.1 26
December 2017  2.5 2.6  2.6  31



















 The average sunrise /sunset score for 2016 was 2.7 / 2.8 and for 2017 this was 2.8 / 2.9.

From two years of observation, the best months to visit Skye for photography are May and November which doesn't surprise us at all. April and Oct aren’t far behind. Dec, Jan and Feb consistently score the worst, but still have many days with very good scores. The winter months tend to have more days which score very low which brings their average figures down. August has scored badly for both years which is consistent with our experience of previous years too. A positive side to the winter months is that when the light is good, it tends to last all day, as the sun never gets too high in the sky. We don't monitor the middle of the day as this wouldn't be a fair comparison across the seasons.

We would ideally want at least 4 or 5 years of date before being able to reveal any reliable patterns in the light, so please don’t make any decisions on when the visit based on the above data. It is however interesting to look at the figures, and we hope you find them interesting too.



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