Madeleine – The Last Photo – time #1

The Last Photo, the one of Gerry, Amelie, and Madeleine by the children’s swimming pool, is the subject of considerable debate.

Is it real or Photoshopped? Was it taken on 3rd May or earlier? What was the time of day it was taken?

I want to look at that tiny last fragment of information – the time of day the photo was taken. covers the news stories at the time.

According to Sky News “The picture was taken by Madeleine’s mother Kate, 38, on her own camera.

Her daughter is shown smiling, wearing a pink smock top, white shorts and a sun hat as she cools her feet in the swimming pool.

The picture was taken at 2.29pm on May 3 – Mrs McCann’s camera clock is one hour out so the display reads 1.29pm.”

According to The Times “The picture was taken at 2.29pm on May 3 – Mrs McCann’s camera clock is one hour out so the display reads 1.29pm.”

According to the Daily Mail “That was at 2.29pm on May 3, a few days after the family checked in to an apartment in Praia da Luz and just nine days before her fourth birthday.”

These reports came on 24 and 25 May, around the time the photo was released. None of the stories quotes Kate McCann as claiming she took the photo or that her camera was an hour out. The source appears to be a press release.

Is it possible to establish the time of The Last Photo – not the date, but just the time of day? Here is a starter for 10. Please note, I believe this is going to change quite a bit as I develop this analysis. But here is the entry level theory.

The data associated with the photo says 3 May at 1:29pm. According to the press, Kate had not adjusted her camera on 25 March 2007 to alter it from GMT to move it 1 hour forward to BST.

I am already a bit wary of why, in 2007, a camera was not capable of adjusting itself. The routine for swapping between GMT and BST is excruciatingly simple so I’m wondering why Kate’s camera had to be adjusted manually. That, however, is for another time.

Here is the simplest analysis of the time of day, as adjudged by the sunlight, or more accurately by the shade patterns.

First, GMT puts noon at Greenwich as 12 midday. At the end, I will show why this is a bit simplistic, but stick with it for now. This means that when the clocks spring forward, for BST in Spring, the sun is at its highest over Greenwich at 1pm, not 12 midday. Roughly speaking, the highest point of the sun in the sky, over Greenwich, should have been about 1pm-ish.

Second, Portugal is, and was, in exactly the same time zone as the UK. See the graphic. The dark blue shows countries that are in the same time zone, and that move clocks forward and back at the same time, so they are always synchronised. So, on 3 May 2007, Portugal was on GMT + 1, also known as BST.


If Kate’s camera worked out GMT v BST, which is very simple, then it was at the correct time, not an hour out.

Third, Luz is a little under 9° west of Greenwich. When I say Luz here, I mean the children’s pool in Luz. In this simplistic analysis, I have to allow time for the Earth to rotate around 9° after the sun was at its highest over Greenwich.

The Earth rotates 360° every day, i.e. every 24 hours. If you do the arithmetic, that is 15° per hour, so I need to allow something like half an hour to 40 minutes before the sun was at its highest over the children’s pool.

The sun was at its highest over the children’s pool on 3 May 2007 around 1:30pm, or perhaps a few minutes later.

So, we now need The Last Photo complete with some lines drawn on it. Please bear in mind this is my initial offering, not a highly polished analysis.

The photo attached shows the following. The black lines are the best I can do on matching up shadow features i.e. what is causing the shadow with where the shadow is falling.


The green lines are directly overhead. Simplistically, this is where the sun would be if one was at the equator at the time when the sun was at its highest.

The red lines are 15° west of the overhead line, or crudely, the sun line about 1 hour later.

My first analysis shows where the sun should be at 1.29pm, the green lines. And where the sun should be at 2:29pm, the red lines.

At the moment, it looks like 2:29 is the favourite. The crèche records for 3 May 2007, show that Madeleine was signed out by Kate at 12.25pm, and was signed back in again at 2:50pm, again by Kate. Both 1:29pm and 2:29pm fit the profile.

Is this done and dusted? I think not. I know I need to tweak for Luz being somewhat more than a half hour behind Greenwich. I think I need to adjust for Luz being about 37° north of the equator.

But here’s the biggy. According to Wikipedia “Because of Earth’s uneven speed in its elliptical orbit and its axial tilt, noon (12:00:00) GMT is rarely the exact moment the sun crosses the Greenwich meridian and reaches its highest point in the sky there. This event may occur up to 16 minutes before or after noon GMT, a discrepancy calculated by the equation of time. Noon GMT is the annual average (i.e., “mean”) moment of this event, which accounts for the word “mean” in “Greenwich Mean Time”.”

So, I need to see if I can find out when the sun crossed the Greenwich meridian on 3 May 2007. Should be a doddle, should it not? 16 minutes of wobble time.


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