In real estate it is said that the three most important things are “location, location, location.” In photography it’s “light, light, light” (indeed my photo instructors’ second unofficial rule of photography is: “always have light”).
There are times when it may seem like there is no light with which to shoot, but if there is even a little bit, you can still take a picture. Even in the darkest wilderness far away from civilization, you can take pictures by starlight, albeit with a long time exposure. Conversely, if you close yourself off in a pitch black room with absolutely zero light, then it won’t matter how long the shutter remains open, no image will be recorded.
The question, then, becomes the quality of light. Bad light can turn an interesting scene into a ho-hum photo, while good light can magically turn the ordinary into something special.
The best times of day are either early morning of late afternoon. The low angle of the sun helps to create more warm and interesting light.
Try to avoid midday sun, especially for portraits. The harsh sun can create deep shadows on a person’s face around the eye sockets and below the nose. You can help to make up for this by using a technique called fill-flash. It’s the use of your flash in the daylight to help fill in those harsh shadows. Or you can look for some diffused light. Look for some open shade under a tree or the shadowy side of a building. Indirect window light can also be a great asset.
The kitchen window at my house faces south, and I get great light through it in the mornings and afternoons. Recently, while boiling spuds for my mom’s recipe for potato salad, soft light filtered in. I placed the bowl on a nearby counter top. The light streamed through the rising steam of the freshly cooked potato chunks and bounced off the off-white counter tiles to fill in some of the shadows.
A few days later, the window light made for another ordinary-turned-beautiful picture. At my house it’s the rule that whoever doesn’t cook dinner has to clean up afterward. One evening after eating a sumptuous chicken dinner made by my lovely wife, it was my turn to clean up. However, I got lazy and let it go for the evening. I started on my chore the following morning.
The early a.m. light once again beamed in, this time a little more directly. It turned something that would normally be swept up with a rag in a single stroke, a light powdering of spilled flour and a few grains of uncooked rice, into a study of light and texture. Not one to waste such great light, I got my camera and shot until the sunbeam moved out of position. Then I wiped off the counter and loaded the dishwasher.
Photographers are always complaining about the quantity of light there is (specifically not enough light), but the quality of light is just as important as how much.