Should you revisit a landscape photography location?
Should you revisit a landscape photography location or explore new unknown places? – that’s the question… and a great one indeed! It’s a question that all landscape photographer have faced one time or another.
When you set out on an outdoor photography adventure, the location you’re visiting always falls into either the explore or revisit category. It’s either a location you’ve been to before or a location that you’ll be exploring for the very first time. There are positive factors to both sides of the discussion. In this article, I tackle each in the hope that the next time you’re faced with this choice, you have additional information you can apply to your decision-making process.
Revisiting a landscape photography location
As landscape photographers many of our favorite images online or in a gallery are not only photographs of beautiful locations, but they’re incredible locations that are photographed under amazing conditions. The latter component of this statement being the key piece of information here – amazing conditions. They don’t happen often and being able to accurately predict when they’ll occur can be a rather difficult task. There are many mobile apps and websites that can certainly aid in determining the likelihood of a colorful sunrise or the likelihood of fog for example, but as with most weather predictions, they’re always subject to a certain degree of error. Having the “perfect” conditions on your initial visit to a location seldom happens. It usually takes multiple attempts and, even then you might not get the conditions you’re after.
Each time you revisit a landscape photography location, the conditions are different. Sometimes these conditions are great and other times not so great, but nevertheless they are different. By revisiting a location, you’re increasing the odds that you’ll receive the conditions you’ve envisioned for your photograph.
Revisiting during different seasons is another positive for this side of the discussion and is something I try to do often. I frequently make an effort to visit my favorite locations during different seasons as this, much like weather conditions, can completely change the look and feel of a location.
Another top benefit for revisiting a location is that you become familiar with the terrain and the location itself. This ultimately enables you to identify better and perhaps more unique compositions. It also aids in the overall exploration of the area. It takes time and patience to become familiar with a location regardless of how much prep work you do beforehand.
Exploring an unknown location
On the opposite side of this discussion is whether or not exploring new locations is a better use of your time. Nothing beats the feeling of exploration when visiting a location for the very first time. I personally cherish the excitement I feel when I first lay eyes on a location that I’ve researched for weeks. I extensively research all of the locations I visit, but there’s something very special about seeing it in person for the first time.
When we visit new locations, we view them with a different level of curiosity than revisited locations. This heightened level of curiosity is a beautiful thing and can lead to powerful landscape and nature photographs.
I believe this is one of the main reasons we find it so difficult to photograph our local areas. We constantly see these local spaces and they become mundane, redundant, and boring, In other words, we view local areas without the same level of curiosity and wonder that we view new locations.
Exploring new locations provides us with an opportunity to get outside of the proverbial box and stretch our creative muscles. Real growth comes from placing yourself in uncomfortable or unfamiliar situations which enable you to expand your knowledge as a photographer. If you photograph the same location over and over, of course you’ll become very good at shooting it. But you won’t broaden your photographic know-how much beyond the skills required to photograph that location. Exploring new locations forces you to deal with unfamiliar circumstances and puts you in unusual situations that you must overcome. This is where real growth is achieved.
Why not try both approaches?
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this debate is that both sides of the discussion are necessary. Each location to which we’ve traveled was once visited by us for the very first time. In order for us to revisit locations, we must have first explored it during our initial attempt.
So, is it better to explore the unknown or revisit familiar locations? I personally don’t believe there’s a right or a wrong answer. I think both are equally important for landscape and outdoor photography. The most important thing, much like everything, is that you have balance between the two approaches. If your last couple of outings were to revisit past locations, then maybe it’s time to shake things up a bit and explore a new destination. By doing this, you’ll have another location to revisit in the future.
Living near a picturesque area of coastal landscape I have often been drawn to photograph there. I’ve returned to one or two locations repeatedly over the years, but come back, realizing the weather and light conditions are ever changing and never really the same. I’ve also recognized that my skills and perception as a photographer are growing–certainly thanks in part to your excellent instructional work! So, conditions change in this favorite landscape and I change too in the way I’m able to see it and what I can do there to make a meaningful image. But yeah, exploring new places is great too, while welcoming a balanced approach is valuable–especially if the freedom of movement to explore the new can seem constrained.
I almost always try to visit a location at least once and often multiple times if reasonably close and convenient. We have a place on Edisto Island on a tidal river in South Carolina. I never tire of shooting there because of the constant changes and the huge assortment of interesting spots to shoot within an hours drive of our place.