As a devoted wanderer, the joy of visiting a new photography location is like food for my soul.
Fresh sights, sounds, smells, and experiences await with every unknown place I go, and the whirlwind of excitement is all-encompassing as I make images of all the things I’m seeing for the first time.
Because I know this experience so well, I can attest to one fact: the pictures almost always turn out better the second time around.
I know, I know – how can this be? Isn’t art a product of passion? How can anything improve after the initial enthusiasm wears off?
Photographing in a state of elation is fantastic, and no less important – it can be both inspirational and meditative, but it doesn’t always produce the most well-crafted images. This may seem counter-intuitive, but there are many reasons why subsequent shoots tend to be much more successful than the first.
For example, I spent this past summer in Sidney, British Columbia, only a short drive away from the world famous Butchart Gardens, which is the most popular tourist attraction on Vancouver Island. It’s beautiful, manicured, crowded, and perhaps not somewhere a person who likes to be alone in nature would go. But I bought a season’s pass so I could visit multiple times from early spring to late fall and I used the opportunity to exercise my creativity.
Here is what Butchart Gardens looks like when you see it the first time – the standard postcard shots.
Please click the images to view larger versions.
As I returned to the same location again and again, I started seeing new compositions and noticing more intricate details in the landscape. With each visit, the photos kept getting better.
Photography is a different kind of art from any other. No matter who is behind the viewfinder, the camera sees things exactly as they are. On its own, the camera won’t pick out the important parts of a scene and filter the rest from view, the way our brains do. They render just as much detail in the mundane background elements as they do in the main subject.
That’s why it’s up to the photographer to make considered decisions about composition, focus, depth of field, and perspective to turn an everyday scene into a striking still image. Those decisions are usually better made once you have had a chance to get over the awe of being in a new location.
The Portrait of a Landscape
Places are like people; they have unique personalities and histories just like we do. And, just like people, you get to know a place better the more often you meet it. With every visit you notice something new, and become more in tune with the landscape – its geological makeup, its natural lighting, the way the sun moves across the sky – and this deepening perspective will be made apparent in your photographs.
Notice the Details
When we first experience a new location, we’re likely to react in the same way as most other people. Our eyes are drawn to the largest, most prominent features of the area, and we instinctively want to try to fit it all in the frame at once. This is not necessarily bad, but it will probably leave you with the exact same photos that have been made by every photographer who walked in your footsteps before you.
Once we get those obligatory shots, though – that is, once we’ve had a chance to shoot freely and get ourselves acquainted with the space – we can begin to examine it more closely. On a second shoot, we are ready take an entirely different approach by focusing in on the more overlooked details that make up the larger picture.
After your first shooting session, it can be very helpful to look over your images and ask yourself, “Could I have done this any better? How?”. Once you identify ways in which the shots could be refined, you can use those notes to go back and re-create the pictures the way you really want them to be.
This type of self-critical exercise will help you in all situations; by identifying aspects of your work that need improvement, you can begin to understand the way you shoot and what you can do differently to become an even better photographer.
No matter how much research we do, it’s impossible to know exactly what to expect when we visit a new place for the first time. As we’re packing our camera bags, we often have to make tough decisions about what equipment to bring and what to leave at home.
No matter how well we decide, at some point during a first shoot at a new location we’re going to kick ourselves for not bringing a tripod, a neutral density filter, a different lens, or some other piece of equipment that would have been perfect for the situation we find ourselves in. It’s no big deal, though – if you make note of what gear you wish you had and why you wanted it, you can remember to bring it along on your second shooting session.
Refine Your Personal Vision
Due to the nature of photography, your personal vision as an artist doesn’t always come about right away. It is usually developed as you are shooting by making small adjustments to shape the way the camera captures the scene through careful composition and exposure control.
Once you’re familiar with a location, you can start to formulate your own unique ideas about the way you want to present it, and how you can accomplish that.
Time and Season
As long as your location is natural, or gets any natural light from the sun, it will change quite a bit depending on the time of day and the time of the year. Of course the sun moves through the sky between day and night, but what we notice less is the way it moves from summer to winter, sinking lower in the sky throughout autumn and rising up again in the spring. In the northern hemisphere, the sun always sits toward the south, and in the southern hemisphere, it’s in the north. How noticeable this change is depends on how close you are to the equator.
Every location changes throughout the day and year, as the weather, lighting, and plant life go through their many seasonal stages. All these elements work together to create the atmosphere of your final image; therefore, every visit will be a little bit different, and every shoot will show you the place in an entirely new way.
The natural world never stays the same, even when it is a manicured garden like the stunning Butchart Gardens where all the photos in this post were made. It is in constant change and, like a river, is never the same twice. While new places are an important source of inspiration and vision, greater images can be created by building a relationship to a location that you love, and returning again and again to photograph it in its many different forms.
Do you have a favourite location you like to revisit and reshoot? Has it helped your photography? I would love to hear about it, so please let me know in the comments!
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