I'm sure that all of us have reached for our camera when the evening sun has burst out from the clouds and dramatically high-lighted the scene before us. Rich, warm light, strong shadows, dramatic contrasts, - we have another sunset photograph to add to all the others. It is is such a powerful lighting effect that our photo is arresting even though it may not be perfectly composed in other respects. Lighting in all its forms is key in photographs. Variations on direct lighting* like this are actually somewhat complicated though.
The sun is still just below the horizon, it is a cold frosty morning at the Fulford Docks, and hoar frost coats the deck boards. This twilight lighting is transitory and precious for a photographer. The sky overhead vibrates, casting a blue sheen over the white frost and altering the shadowy red guard rails towards the purple end of the spectrum. The warm colours of the distant sunrise provide direct, warmer light and contrast, each area of warm and cool * emphasizing the other.
A big stump lies on the beach, the light coming from the mid morning sun, is directional and creates interesting shadows which defines the form. But the sun has only just now emerged from a fog bank and the light has a special quality that comes from the remaining fog particles in the air; it is partially diffused and partakes also from the blue sky overhead and from the softer white light from the fog bank in the background. It is actually more complicated than it may at first appear. And that makes this moment special.
*Warm and cool contrasts. In designing with colour, one of the useful aspects is the effect of warm versus cool. Warm being in the red quadrant of the colour wheel and cool being in the blue. One extra effect is that warm colours seem to advance towards the viewer and cool recede, so for example, a warm colour in the foreground set against a cool background ( even greys can be warm or cool) will increase the sense of depth dramatically. Your whole image may be about these colour effects. Try it out.
Direct v's diffused light. Often, as you see in these photos, there is a combination of these two. Direct, is light in a flashlight beam, a single point source. Sunlight is like a flash light and has intensity, colour and direction. Like a flash light which is covered with a tissue, the sunlight can be diffused by cloud, fog, and other particles in the air. The sun at noon is more intense and whiter, and at dawn and dusk less intense and warmer. Winter light on a sunny day seems washed clear and cold, and on a summer day warm and partially diffused by particles in the atmosphere. Heavily diffused in fog, the direction may seem to be from the whole atmosphere and shadows almost disappear. Sunlight through fog may pastel the colours. It is through an intense study of light that we become better photographers.