The most important ingredient in photography is light. No light, no picture, it’s really that simple. Yes, other factors are important, like exposure, how you frame the shot, and the equipment you use. But what makes a really great photo is interesting light. Once I understood this I had to get used to very early mornings and late nights! As a photographer I am constantly chasing or waiting patiently for good light. And what is good light you ask? It tends to be a quality and intensity that we see in the mornings and evenings, when the light is warm, shadows are muted, and colors are more pleasing to the eye. Alain Briot has a great article on this topic on the Luminous Landscape website.
What this means is that great photos often require being in the right place at the right time, and often that time is when few others are there! Because much of my picture taking occurs in parallel with family and work trips, this works out just fine because no one really cares what I am doing at midnight or 5am. The shot today was taken some time after the sun went down.
It is interesting to watch people shoot away as the sun drops below the horizon, and then leave thinking the show is over. But very often some of the best light occurs 30 – 45 minutes after sunset! So, don’t be too quick to leave that sunset. And keep the coffee brewing so you can head out again before sunrise to prepare for another great shot.