A Black Cottonwood (Populus balsamifera ssp. trichocarpa) at Silver Lake Provincial Park in Hope, British Columbia, Canada.
Black Cottonwood (P. balsamifera ssp. trichocarpa) at Silver Lake Provincial Park (Purchase)
Someone asked me recently why I would go back to a location where I have already made a lot of photographs. I’m not quite sure why this is a question I see asked on occasion, but perhaps it is related to the “trophy hunting” mentality of some photographers. They’ve got “the shot” at that location so it is done now? Just because you have visited and photographed a location a few times, doesn’t meant that it won’t yield new ideas and photographs on subsequent visits. Looking for the compositions that are beyond the obvious or “iconic” is much of the point. Subjects look different at different times, though personally it can just be the mood I’m in that likely makes some of the difference in spotting what I’ve missed before. I’ll use the above photograph as an example.
I made this photo at one of my favourite Fraser Valley locations – Silver Lake Provincial Park near Hope, BC. I’ve been here many times, and am usually treated to a nice reflection of Hope Mountain in the water of Silver Lake, even when photography conditions are otherwise poor. I wasn’t really expecting to see something completely new at this park considering how many times I’ve visited it – but I was looking anyway. Then I noticed this small tree growing out of a stump/deadhead in Silver Lake. I’ve been by this spot many times, but just never noticed it – and this subject isn’t exactly hidden or hard to find!
I think one of the reasons that repeated returns to a location are worthwhile is, at least for me, first visits are a bit more “big picture” than later ones. Silver Lake, for example, has an immediate appeal due to the reflections in the lake and the surrounding mountains. So these are the sort of subjects I pick up on initially. In some locations this might be the “iconic” location or simply the easiest to get to. I try to look for everything but that isn’t always possible. Repeated visits to any location are going to yield new ideas if nothing else because you may be there at a different time of day, during a different season, or simply while in a different mood. Time constraints often limit what I can explore in a single visit as well, even for relatively small parks like Silver Lake. I often have a mental checklist of things I notice at a location (which I’ve started to write down) and I’m hoping to find them in better light/conditions when I return. So it isn’t always about seeing new things, but photographing the ones you have already spotted in conditions that have of more appeal.
It isn’t always changes to a location or attempting to spot new subjects that are reasons for my return visits either. I have some older photographs that I like, but could use some improvements. Sometimes I am overcoming limitations of older equipment (sensors in 2007 weren’t quite up to 2020 standards). My level of experience in 2007 could be categorized as an equipment limitation as well! As we evolve as photographers, or buy a wider/long lens, the possibilities at a location change. I know my newer 100-400 lens has added to the possibilities of what I can photograph almost anywhere. I also occasionally update a photo (or just add it to my library) if I can now make a photograph with a higher resolution than before. Having to point out a file that someone is interested in for a wall mural (or a larger paper print) isn’t quite up to the task is something I’ve had to do, and that is always disappointing!
You can view more of my many trips to Silver Lake in my Silver Lake Provincial Park Gallery.
4 thoughts on “Benefits of Returning to Familiar Photo Locations”
Well said Michael! I return to lots of locations for all of the above reasons. For me it’s similar to getting to know and become friends with a person. Sometimes they have nothing to say or reveal to you, but it’s nice being with them anyway.
Thanks Alan – that is a great analogy. There are some locations (Picture Lake, for example) I always visit when I’m there, even if I’m 99% sure I won’t be using the camera. Some spots are just great for repeated visits for lunch. 🙂
There are a few spots I return to often and not always with thoughts of a new photograph. Sometimes it’s just to see a place that has been welcoming. Knowing a place well is a soulful experience in itself. Over time the images become more intimate, more personal and less ‘commercial.’ Yet, it’s those small scenes that for me are the most rewarding when I’m reflecting on a familiar place.
I agree – a photo can be more meaningful just because of the relationship we have with that place. I visit many spots simply because I enjoy them. The camera comes along only because I won’t leave it in the car!