There are various reasons why the golden hours are the best times of day to shoot. But to just dismiss regular daylight hours out of hand is just silly. Because daylight can be beautiful too.
One of the first things I learned when I started landscape photography was that midday sun was the worst time of day to shoot and that I should always aim for a golden hour. While this is true to a certain extent, I tended to forget about those hours in between. Sure, midday sun on a clear day produces the harshest of shadows, which tends to make me wince when I see photos taken during that time — especially my own — but the light during the few hours after sunrise and the few before sunset can still produce incredible images if you know what to look for and have an idea for a final image.
Spikes and Shadows
While I would still try to avoid clear skies; when the sun is low, but not quite at golden hour, try to make the most of the dynamic range of the camera. Being able to get a sun-star without blowing out the rest of the highlights can result in striking images with the options of raising the shadows to bring out some detail or leaving the shadows dark to create some interesting silhouettes.
Back to Basics
Aim to shoot for black and white. Because of the natural contrast provided by the harder shadows, aiming to shoot for black and white post-processing can hone the eye, rather than going out and winging it. If I know that I want my final image is going to be monochrome, I'll look for specific details like big, dramatic cumulus clouds or shafts of light that shine a spotlight on an interesting feature.
"The Majesty That Shuts His Burning Eye."
Cloud cover, especially on a windy day, can really help to bring some dynamism to a shot. Make use of a strong ND filter, like a 10-stop or a 15-stop, to get those creamy, stretched-out clouds. Images like these can be interesting in monochrome or color if the colors complement each other. Sometimes, if the cloud cover is really low, photos can have an ethereal feel, because it's essentially mist. This can be particularly striking during a cloud inversion around hills and mountains, as there is often very little midlevel or high-altitude cloud cover; when the light does break though that low layer, the result can be breathtaking.
Dark, moody, and stormy clouds will add great drama to any photo, even in regular daylight hours. This effect is multiplied when the light does manage to break through. It can add superb contrast to a scene if framed correctly.
Embrace the Blur
Mist and fog will soften light like a giant, smoke-filled softbox. This can be challenging, as gear can get wet, and the contrast might be too low in some instances, but if there is a suitable subject, like a castle or a lone tree, prepare for air to clear a touch or use the low visibility as an advantage.
What About You?
These are just some tips based on my own experience. Do any of our readers have any tips they'd like to share? Have you some examples of striking daytime landscape photography? Please let us know in the comments below.