What's the difference of light between taking photos near sunset or during midday sunshine if there is any? Why would you go for a photo at sunset instead of a daylight photo when the sun is higher in the sky and vice versa?
Several things change to make photography easier and often more pleasing around sunset:
- The light is not as intense, except with the sun in the frame of course.
- There is less contrast in the scene because the sky is darker.
- Shadows are less harsh, again due to darker light.
- Shadows are longer due to the low sun.
- Color temperature is warmer before sunset and it starts cooling back after.
The lower contrast and change in color temperature give photos taken around sunset a very distinct look which is one of most used by photographers. If you look at good publications and contests, it is easy to see that a significant portion of top and winning images are taken around sunset:
- Photographers call the period before sunset the Golden Hour.
- While the period after it is called the Blue Hour.
Sunrise has very similar properties with a Golden Hour after it and a Blue Hour before it.
All cameras have a limited Dynamic Range which is basically how much contrast they can capture in a single image without any overexposure or underexposure. When the sun is close to the horizon, but outside of the frame, the dynamic range of the scene is lower, so it is more likely that a camera is able to capture details everywhere.
With the sun high in the sky, it stays out of photos more easily, but the shadows it casts are extremely dark compared to lit areas, so scenes can easily exceed the maximum dynamic-range of a camera.
The reason one takes photos in a specific type of light is because a photographer wants a certain look to the image. With harsh shadows, you have to compose more carefully and possibly use fill (flashes, reflectors, etc) to get something satisfying, making sure shadows do not cause underexposure in the parts of the scene you consider important, and that direct light does not overexpose them either. This is an art though, so it is about getting the image that you are looking for, not just taking the photo at that time simply because you are there, otherwise it is more of a snapshot than photography. Many places look amazing around sunset but there also also scenes which look better in sunshine. For example, with narrow streets and very colorful places, I personally find they have more impact when captured in bright light, while I love cityscapes much more at the blue hour when lights are turned on and add yet another element and dimension to the scene.
Sunset light is nice and golden warm, and can make skin tones appear really pleasing. The light is also less intense so people tend to squint less when being lit by it, so it's very easy for anyone with little understanding of light to get someone looking towards the sun, and with any equipment take a photo that looks like that stereotypical awesome warm sunset shot.
Same for landscapes. Sunset (and sunrise) just makes things come alive and a shot that will just look "bla" in midday will look warm and inviting.
Part of the reason behind this is how sunset and sunrise light isn't just a direct source. Because it's coming through more atmosphere, it's defracted and bounced around so that when light reaches a subject it's like it's coming from a much bigger source.
In the theory of light, the further away a light source is, and the smaller it is, the harsher it will light something, so think of midday sun with no cloud. That's a pin prick of light 93 million miles away.. HARSH.
When shooting portraits in mid day sun, a photographer has to learn some tricks to soften that tiny light source.. and really to not use it as the primary direct light source at all.
It's actually better to shoot in the shade, and fill in with flash, or to use a huge diffuser held over someone to turn that tiny sun speck into a huge close by light source. Lots of youtube videos on stuff like this.
When it comes to shooting buildings and landscapes, there is no way to control the light so you get what you get.