Returning to a Photograph a Location
I often communicate with my parents about each location on my photographic journeys and one of the questions I’m almost always asked is, “Didn’t you already take photos there?” For the most part, the answer is yes… which often results in perplexed looks as if I’m some kind of crazy person.
The truth is, I return to photograph a location more often than I travel to new ones. This is, in part, because it’s usually difficult for me to escape the desert. But staying in the same location also allows me to think differently each time and to try to come up with new, unique compositions. It’s also possible that the weather and/or timing weren’t favorable during a previous visit. Maybe the stormy day that I was hoping for turned into a sunny day or vice versa. Maybe I was too early or, even worse, too late for the stunning display of colors from wildflowers or fall foliage. By returning to the same location, I can plan for more dynamic conditions.
The two images below were photographed in the Subway at Zion National Park. I really enjoyed the composition directly opposite the subway feature but, on my first visit in 2014, I had trouble shooting the scene due to the lack of fall colors above the canyon. The tree (practically invisible in the left-side photo) was barren and colorless. I returned a year later with the same image in mind and, to my delight, the tree still had its leaves and was in perfect autumn display. Even though the first trip suffered from poor planning and timing, it gave me a better understanding of how the light plays in this canyon; this knowledge contributed to the successful second trip where I was able to come away with far more images.
I visited these incredible sunflower hills (photos below) outside of Flagstaff, Arizona in 2014. During that visit the days provided minimal cloud cover. Although the scene was still beautiful, the sunrises and sunsets were sub-par. I focused on the flowers as the main attraction and the mountains as a backdrop. Since these flowers bloom during the summer and only for a very brief period of time, I hoped to return the following year and capture some of the monsoon action above the golden hills.
The following year on my way towards Page, I noticed that the flowers were in prime condition. I scrapped my plans to visit Page and stayed in this location the entire weekend. The sunsets on both evenings were quite beautiful and provided the colorful skies I had hoped for the previous year. The fact that I was also able to capture some midday lightning and rainbows only added to the plethora of available photographic opportunities. During this second visit I wanted to emphasize the overall view rather than the flowers themselves. By backing off of the flowers, they still contributed to the scene but no longer pulled attention away from the image as a whole.
I often plan well in advance to return photograph a location. But there have been times when, although I was happy with my images, the conditions changed drastically the next day, providing an even greater photographic opportunity. The images on this last side-by-side below were photographed earlier this year. The landscape in this particular place fuels my creative juices so I try to return often. This was my sixth visit to the location and fourth visit this year alone.
On this particular trip, I experienced what I call a “double whammy” when I returned to photograph a location. I knew the area I wanted to photograph and set out for the spot around sunset. I found a composition that used great leading lines, great light, and a fortuitous bird that flew by at exactly the right moment. With the chance of thunderstorms overnight, I kept thinking about how cool it would be to have water just below the spires for a reflection image. The weather and photography gods must have been listening because I woke up in the middle of the night to pounding rain on the roof of my Jeep. It didn’t last long but, as we made our way out to the rocks in the morning, I knew I had to check to see if there was a pool exactly where I wanted it. When I saw the scene, I ran down the rocks and eagerly set up my gear. I fired away as the sun poked in and out and lit the thunderheads in the background. The difference in mood in a matter of hours provided two very different, yet excellent images from almost identical spots.
Visiting a new location once is exciting, but for me it usually lays the groundwork to create even better images than what I took the first time. It gives me a sense of scale to the place, the surroundings, and its particular features. So, the next time you think there’s no reason to return to photograph a location consider that, by returning, you may create a better image and have a better overall experience in that place. Conditions change, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worst. Get out there as often as possible and keep creating!