As a landscape photographer, I’m always looking for new and compelling locations to photograph. There’s a certain excitement that comes from showing up at a new spot and discovering fresh compositions and subjects. However, I’ve found that there can also be benefits to returning to shoot at the same location over time.
For me, there’s a place nearby that I often go to for sunrise, called Royston Wrecks. It’s a small viewing area over an old breakwater with sunken and rusting ships. Admittedly, I frequent this spot because it’s the closest beach to me and I am not a morning person! Having a few more minutes in bed and making the quick drive down to the Wrecks is often preferable to an extra early alarm and a longer drive.
Over time, I’ve come to realize that returning to the Wrecks so often has some benefits when it comes to my photography. Aside from justifying my lack of morning motivation, I’ve found validity in documenting one location over time. Below are three reasons I’ve found returning to the same landscape location to photograph can benefit your photography.
1. It forces you to get creative
I’ve frequented the Wrecks so often that I really have to get creative when I go take photos there. Each time I arrive it’s like a challenge for me to come up with something new. Even if I have a spectacularly colorful sunrise or sunset, I’m still trying to find unique ways to capture it.
Using different techniques like panning and long exposures have given me totally different looks to my images there. Or, using my zoom lens and forcing myself to only shoot with that can also be a great way to come up with some unique compositions. Finding different angles, or incorporating other elements like people and wildlife are all other ways I’ve diversified my photography from this one vantage point.
If you don’t want to go home with the same photo every time, you’re forced to get creative. This can help evolve your photographic eye and process.
2. You start noticing the details
Often with a beautiful landscape view in front of you, it’s easy to overlook the small details. Returning to a place repeatedly allows you to take better stock of the smaller details. You can focus on one aspect of a location versus the bigger, wide-angle view.
At the Wrecks one early morning, I found myself noticing dew drops shining on the shore grass in the morning light. I ended up spending an hour just photographing them. Once when the tide was low, I focused on the barnacles growing on the old pilings instead of the entire wrecks themselves. Another day I focused solely on the birds that inhabit the area. I’m not much of a bird photographer, but there’s no denying that they are a part of the environment there, and thus a part of my story to tell.
The more time you spend in a place, the more familiar you become with it. This intimacy will translate into your photography,
3. You create a body of work
Showing the passing of time at a singular location can also benefit your photography. You start to create a story or history about that one place. You can show it at different times of the year, through different weather and different times of day.
One of my favorite ways to create unique imagery is to photograph places at night; suddenly the whole scene is different under a shroud of darkness. Twenty years from now, I will be able to look back on all my photos and see the degradation of the wrecks as they rust and settle deeper into the ocean. Maybe the water levels will change over time, or a family of otters might move in. Whatever happens, I’ll be there to document it.
Along with showing physical changes over time at your location, you might find that you start to see changes in your own photography. I know when I started taking photos at the Wrecks, I was pretty new to photography. When I go through my images from that location over the last number of years, I can see the growth in my own skill set. The images have evolved over time. I can see when I got my 10-stop ND filter and started taking long exposures. I can see my experimenting with panning and my compositions getting stronger. My own history and evolution is evident as well.
So, the next time you’re feeling uninspired to go out and hunt for a new location to photograph, don’t stress. Return to somewhere you’ve been to before. Look for new angles, compositions and details. Search to see what has changed at the location since your last visit. Try going at a different time of day or night. Pull out that old filter you haven’t used in awhile.
Challenge yourself to create something new out of the familiar. Over time, you might find yourself with a cohesive body of work that tells a story, about the location and yourself.