Variety is king during a one to three-week landscape photography trip. Visiting a few points of interest per day ensures at least one spot will work out. But to take your photography to the next level, it’s crucial to revisit the same location many, many times — and not just for the weather.
When I started my year of travel for photography, I expected to follow the same breakneck pace I typically planned for three-week trips. But this has a lot of disadvantages. A dense itinerary is at the mercy of weather, parking, and ignorance about the location. Sometimes getting a good shot comes down to gambling frequently enough for an occasional win.
Luck. How can we get to a point where intentional, strategic effort plays a larger role in successful images than flawless weather forecasts?
Revisiting the Same Location Dramatically Accelerates Your Growth
I’ve learned a lot from traveling long-term. In particular, you can’t approach a year of travel as an extended version of short landscape trips. Consequently, I’ve spent weeks in the same region, visiting one new point of interest every few days. The rest of my time is spent revisiting spots I’ve already scouted, sometimes without my camera. Typical of an English winter, one day out of ten might have usable lighting conditions. By staying in the same region and building up a shot list, I make the most of the best conditions.
Waiting for exceptional light is the obvious benefit of revisiting the same location, but more importantly it sets you up for accelerated growth. The fastest way to grow as a photographer is to learn from your personal failures through a retrospective: identify the issue, hypothesize changes that would have prevented the issue, and test those changes under similar circumstances.
Learning through retrospectives works best with a tight feedback loop. Moving from place-to-place without a chance to process the shot and revisit the location means you’ll make the same mistake on your next shoot, but this time, with a different set of circumstances to mask the issue altogether.
In effect, a condensed itinerary limits you to learning on a trip-by-trip basis, rather than a concrete day-by-day basis. That’s wasted time, takeaways, and shots.
Revisiting the Same Location Raises the Caliber of Your Photographs
Few photographers would object to accelerated growth, but sacrificing variety to invest in fewer images is a difficult tradeoff to justify. If you’re used to snapping two portfolio images per day, you might only get two per week. But those two images will redefine your portfolio, not just expand it.
Here are a couple of my favorite shots that I never would have snapped without revisiting the location many times.
Loughrigg Fell spans a few small towns, and consequently has dozens of ascents and crisscrossing paths at the top. When I first visited in 2017, I spent an hour trying to find parking, then got lost for a few hours at the top. Although I missed sunrise by a couple hours, it paid off a couple months ago. Even in the dark, I knew exactly which ascents to take and which side of the fell would look best at sunrise.
During a month in the Lake District, I revisited Loughrigg Fell several times a week. Half of the time I didn’t get keeper shots, but sometimes the value of revisiting a location is as simple as figuring out where to park for next time.
Mam Tor is one of the better known spots in the Peak District, but my visit in 2017 didn’t produce any portfolio images. I scouted the area and tried some compositions, but wasn’t happy with the color palette or lighting. This year I rushed to Sheffield for the promise of fresh snow in the Peak District, followed by a clear sunrise.
Although the snow covered up the trail, I knew exactly where to hike and what composition to set up for. If I hadn’t visited before, I probably would have turned back on seeing the icy side-roads or missed the trail.
Yesterday night, I visited Durdle Door for the third time. I arrived well after dark on a moonless night with howling winds, so I went off memory to some compositions I wanted to try with the starry sky.
The location was stunning, but the shots were unusably noisy. Tonight, I’m going back to adjust my compositing technique with similar conditions. I may not get a new portfolio image, but the retrospective may save countless astrophotography shots on future shoots.
Revisiting the Same Location Helps Break Your Status Quo
I’ve booked a couple more nights in Dorset so I can visit the Door again for a sunrise and produce an image I’m proud of. As you plan your next trip, I encourage you to carve out a substantial portion of the trip to revisit spots. It just might be what you need to break out of your status quo and take your portfolio to the next level!
Do you frequently revisit locations on your landscape trips? Has it helped you produce higher-quality images more often? Or have you experienced the exact opposite? Share your experience in the comments.