I struggled for quite awhile with the idea that photos "should" only be taken during the Golden/Blue hours - those two hours of magical light. Even just a cursory view of Ansel Adams works reveals that he took many photos during the harsh light of mid-day. I figured if it was good enough for Ansel, it was good enough for me.
The incentive to change came through the comments of a photographer I admire. As he looked at one of my pelican/beach photos, he said, "You know, if you had taken this as sunrise or sunset you would have buyers beating down your door. A change in light would make it magical."
Aaargh...time to test my mettle.
I now leave the house about one hour before sunrise and stay out until one hour after sunrise. During the winter months I've had to add extra preparatory time for dressing in cold weather gear and scraping the windshield. And as each week came into view, I had to buy new gear. One week it was gloves with the fingertips cut off. The next week it was snow pants for temperatures down into the -20's. The next purchase...a REALLY good pair of snow/cold weather boots.
I also pack/wear/take safety precautions. First, I only go out on weekends and holidays. Why? Even though I live in a "semi-rural" area, the majority of people around here commute to the Washington DC area and surrounding suburbs. There are too many half-asleep people driving over 2000 pounds of metal at break neck speeds for me to feel safe along the side of the road.
It goes without saying the Iphone is in an easily accessible pocket. I wear a great warning vest. According to the manufacturer, the vest can be see 1/2 mile away. The front of the vest has two strips of red lights that can be set to static light, or different speeds of flashing. Most often, I wear the vest backwards 1) to keep the flashing red lights out of my shot and 2) to (hopefully) catch the attention of any drivers coming up behind me. I also wear a headlamp which is helpful when setting up in the dark. I turn it off prior to snapping photos, but I do turn it back on in between shots. Just another way to let drivers know I am there.
I have to admit, I've come up with some pretty good photographs during those hours. "Money on the Water" was taken at 7:00 a.m. on New Year's Day morning at the National Grotto in Emmitsburg. A reflecting pool circumnavigates a statue of Our Lady. The two dollar bills were floating in the water. I used a Tokina 11mm-16mm wide angle lens, f/2.8. Not only did I catch the bills, but capture the reflections of the trees and the sunrise. And the design elements are pretty strong as well.
Bottom Line: One way to improve my photography has been to discipline myself to hit the road before sunrise and watch the light. This discipline fits well with my insomnia...as long as I get dressed and hit the road.