Light and Seeing its Subtle Effects is something lot of photographers struggle with. Once you have learnt how to change the settings on your camera and are beginning to come to grips with depth of field and other technical aspects, one naturally gravitates towards trying to see and use light more effectively. Learning to see light is something you will continue to learn and improve on for ever. It is one of the reasons you can never get bored with photography.
The Golden Hour
Everyone has heard of the golden hour - it is the glorious light that is available around dawn and sunset. The light is low providing shadows and is warm and sometimes glowing. Then there is the blue hour before dawn and after sunset. This can be equally moody and beautiful.
But..... it isn't always there! if you have heavy cloud or rain, it doesn't happen.
Light can be Good at Other Times Too.
There are other times of the day when you can have really effective moody light. It depends on your subject, the weather and the time of the year.
Some of the Qualities that Make Light 'Good'
When the light on your subject separates it and makes it look 3 dimensional
When it hits the subject and not the background
When it creates a mood that you want to show whether it be sombre, joyful, peaceful, foreboding etc.
When it creates shadows that lead your eye to the subject or enhance its look
When it provides the detail you need in your subject
Time to Test your Theory
You have an idea of what to look for and when. You choose a location, find a good subject, go there at the right time of the day and take your photos. You got some great photos. Feeling confident now, you try another place and time.
This time you are disappointed in the results. They are good, but not great - What happened!
No matter how good a scene is, you can't make a great photo if the right light is not there.
Light is Ephemeral
Sometimes it is there for only minutes. In early morning you can actually watch it move over your subject and it happens very quickly. Sometimes it is reasonable, but not spectacular. sometimes the concept is right, but you won't get what you seek at that time of the year.
Patience and Persistence
Photographers need these two qualities. You can't make OK light look great. You just have to wait or return or be there when it is great. That is why I nearly always carry a camera with me so I am ready for when I see the magic!