At the start of 2016 the Skye Photo Academy team started to keep a daily record of the quality of light. The purpose of which is to build up a picture, over several years, to see what time of year offers the best conditions for photography.

The challenge is not to figure out 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 is 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.

Obviously we can only record the conditions at the particular location we happen to be at. Weather and light on Skye can be very localised however, and there have been numerous occasion where one of our team has been in the south of the island in poor conditions (a 2 on the scale), where another team member would be seeing a 5 in the north. Generally though, if the light is good in one place it’ll be good in most others too.

For each day we give two scores, one for the morning and one for the evening, as these are typically the times when photographers are out shooting, and when we are usually out hosting workshops.

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 just how rare it is for those amazing, award-winning light conditions. 2018 has enjoyed one such day already in January, but it may not happen again until next year! 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. We’ve averaged out all the scores for each month of the year and you can see all the numbers in the table below:

  2016 2017 2018
Month Dawn Dusk Average Dawn Dusk Average Dawn  Dusk Average
January 1.8 2.4 2.1 2.9 2.7 2.8 2.5 2.6 2.5
February 2.7 1.9 2.3 2.6 2.7 2.7 3 2.5 2.8
March 2.5 2.7 2.6 3.1 3.3 3.2      
April 2.9 3.5 3.2 2.8 2.9 2.9      
May 3 3.6 3.3 3 3.2 3.1      
June 2.9 3.2 3.1 2.8 2.9 2.9      
July 2.4 2.6 2.5 3 3.4 3.2      
August 2.6 2.8 2.7 2.6 2.9 2.7      
September 2.4 2.3 2.3 2.5 3.1 2.8      
October 3.4 3.4 3.4 2.9 2.3 2.6      
November 3.2 3.1 3.1 3.2 3 3.1      
December 2.6 2.6 2.6 2.5 2.6 2.6      

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

From our two years of observation so far, we have seen that best months to visit Skye for photography appear to be May and November. Living here all year round and seeing Skye in all conditions and seasons this doesn’t surprise us, and just confirms what we have been telling people for several years now. April and October aren’t far behind, but December, January and February consistently score the worst, though 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.

Ideally we hope to build up observations for at least 4 or 5 years before being able to see any reliable patterns with the light, so don’t make any hasty decisions on when to visit just based on the above data. It is an interesting photographic experiment however, and we hope you find it interesting too. We’ll be keeping this page, and the averages table updated throughout 2018 so check back to see what new insights we find.