Time for a Location

If you frequently go back to the same location for digital photography, how do your photos modify over time? Do you gain a much better understanding of the scene ahead? These questions have been upon my mind recently as I return to old locations regarding various reasons.

To me, revisiting a location is among the most powerful tools in the photographer’s toolbox. One reason is that it forces you to look over and above the obvious shot. In  2015, I first visited a well known overlook of Mt Sneffels in Colorado. The skies was bare, most of the aspens hadn’t changed color, and I didn’t really like the chance I took.

2015 Mt Sneffels Overlook Attempt

Still, I loved the location and wanted to refine the image. I returned to the place a few times and took different compositions under different illumination conditions, finally getting the picture I wanted in 2018. That will year had good colors on the aspen trees, and I visited during a sunrise which includes beautiful pastel light that will complemented the subject.

2018 Mt Sneffels Overlook Fall Colors

It’s a nice refinement of my first attempt, and there’s not much I’d transformation about the light or situations. Although I’m happy about this, it leads to a difficult question: What next?

This is a place which i visit all the time because of the workshops. It’s a beautiful neglect, and I love being right now there at sunrise. But due to the fact I had taken a “classic” shot I was happy with, We (mistakenly) found myself less enchanted with the idea of coming back here and thought almost all I’d be able to take in the near future would be minor variations from the image.

The following year, when I went back during our workshop, I tried neutral density filters, long exposure, and black-and-white processing with high contrast. My goal was to branch out there and avoid putting the same picture in my portfolio. But despite the fact that it’s different  from the previous year’s image, it’s a superficial difference, and it’s not a better shot. The intense post-processing doesn’t suit my impression of the subject. Not to mention that I hardly branched out anyway. Aside from minor differences in clouds and snow, they might have been taken minutes apart from each other and you’d find out.

2019 Long Exposure Monochrome Variation of Sneffels

When I discovered myself back at the same location a couple weeks ago, I no more felt any excitement for your scene or that particular chance. I was almost relieved any time a cloud covered the mountain and gave me an excuse never to take the picture. But some thing surprising happened. For the first time with this location in at least few years, I felt a sudden inspiration to take pictures.

It wasn’t of the obvious subject, which was still included in clouds, but instead in the specific opposite direction with a 240mm telephoto lens. My tripod stood in the same spot as previous years, yet my composition gave simply no indication that it was the same place at all. The image I had taken is one of my favorites of the year’s workshop.

2021 Aspen Details from Sneffels Overlook

Is it better than the 2018 image? Maybe not. But I like it more. It’s the first time in years that I’ve taken a “new” photograph at that location instead of re-using an old composition. It feels deliberate, emotional, and meaningful to me. This image opened up a mental block I had developed, and next year, I can’t wait to go back to this location and try out some new compositions. I haven’t exhausted this location at all, not really by a long shot.

Revisiting a location doesn’t make it boring – actually the opposite. This experience demonstrated me that a particular photo   might get boring to you when you have already captured it a dozen times. But after it will, next time, you’ll instinctively search for unique compositions at that will location beyond the obvious chance. You’ll exercise your innovative muscles almost without considering, and your photography will grow because of it.

On similar lines, a few of my all-time favorite locations for photography are places like forests and sand dunes that offer nearly unlimited opportunities for different, intimate scenery compositions. I think I could take abstract photos of fine sand dunes every day for the rest of my entire life and not get tired. Within locations like these, you will not feel pressure to take the obvious photo ten years in a line, because there may not be   an evident photo. Each composition should be figured out anew.

The images below are an illustration of this what I mean. All of them are monochromatic, semi-abstract pictures taken at the same sand dunes in Colorado over a span of five years. It’s a location I revisit all the time, not just because it is reasonably close to where I live, but because I find some thing interesting there each time I actually go. It’s filled with possibilities.

2016 Black and White Sand Dunes
2017 Sand Dunes Abstract
2018 Great Sand Dunes Black and White
2019 Great Sand Dunes Black and White
Sand Dune Soft Focus B&W Abstract
Great Sand Dunes Abstract

I’m not showing the photos over as a progression from worst to best (I have no much of a preference among them) but to show how much there is certainly to explore when you revisit an area. Even limiting myself to black and white, and keeping all of the compositions abstract, I think every photo “says” something different. Some of the dunes above are welcoming, and others aren’t. Some remind me of the ocean.

When you revisit a location, you start to learn how it works. You notice the things that alter and the things that stay the same. You figure out the weather conditions in different seasons; you figure out different vantage points and what subjects draw your eye the very best. This knowledge helps you get better photos there.

It doesn’t have to be a landscape. For years, the place I revisited was our backyard for macro photography. I began to understand which usually months brought out the most interesting bugs, what plants they will liked, and where to indicate the most colorful backgrounds. I learned things about that particular yard which don’t apply anywhere else, like the best puddle with regard to photographing toads, and it improved the quality of my images.

Photography isn’t almost showing up somewhere, pulling out your own camera, and taking a photo with a good composition. It’s furthermore about having familiarity with your subject. Over the years, the scene changes. You change too. Those changes show up within your photos.

That’s why I encourage you to identify a location that you can revisit, even if it’s as simple as a neighborhood park or your yard. You’ll gradually refine the most obvious shot, and then you’ll start looking beyond it. You’ll discover that the location is filled with possibilities, some of which are obvious while some are hidden. And you will see more than you ever likely to know about that place’s distinctive qualities.

Much of what makes a good photo is conveying emotion. As you revisit a particular place or issue, its emotions become more clear. Maybe the photos will not get  better over the years, per se, yet they’ll get more personal. An area you revisit is an area you understand at a deeper degree.

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