Backtrack For Success

Backtrack For Success

The word “backtrack” has two definitions: retrace one’s steps and also to pursue. Both are perfect for photography if it’s your goal to attain great captures. Serendipity may occur the first time you visit a location, but consistently better images are acquired when one goes back to a place again and again to pursue the perfect photo. Granted, it’s exciting to visit new locations, but to capture an area’s many moods, it has to be revisited often. It’s with this in mind, I encourage you to backtrack for success.

When I ran nature photo tours to many iconic locations in the U.S. to capture their beauty in early and late light, I felt great for my participants when drama unfolded. But there were sunrises and sunsets that were bland, flat and gray. We made the best of what we were given, but we all knew the photos weren’t going to win any awards. The participants still learned how to work the compositions, how important depth of field is in a landscape and other technical and aesthetic aspects of what’s necessary to make a successful image. With this in mind, those sessions were successful, but the high fives, the OMGs and huge smiles didn’t occur. Participants would share that they really wanted the shot of the [insert scene here] in great light but with only the one opportunity to procure it, it would be necessary that he or she go back on their own in order to obtain it. Some promised they would, which always made me happy. My tour motto of “It’s All About The Light” resonated deeply: Glee surfaced when the light was great, but nature doesn’t always cooperate. I encourage all to backtrack for success.

Backtrack For Success

It’s obvious that weather and light strongly impact the potential to acquire a dramatic scenic, but the same applies to wildlife. As a matter of fact, photographing wildlife introduces other variables. For instance, even though everyone knows Yellowstone is synonymous with bison, where will they be on a given day? Will they be close to the road or far away? Will they be on the proper side of the road given the angle of the sun? Will there be a crowd of people and the bison won’t come out as readily? Will the ones who are close be in good coat or still shedding their winter attire? Will they…? Adding in these variables in conjunction with the weather and light further impacts the probability of walking away with a great shot with just one visit. I encourage you to backtrack for success.

Backtrack For Success

I live one hour from a gorgeous city park in the town of Colorado Springs. The park is Garden of the Gods. Over the course of a year I visited it under many possible conditions, from a winter blizzard to the blazing hot Colorado sun in summer, and made thousands of images. I put together a show called Seasons Of The Gods and presented it to many of the local camera clubs. During the presentation, I talked about the importance of revisiting an area and backtracking for success. To give you an idea as to how long I’ve professed this concept, the show was created on slide film and I began shooting digital in 2004. I still practice what I preach. So yes, backtrack for success.

Visit for information about his nature photography tours and safari to Tanzania.


    Russ – what a timely article. I visited Garden of the Gods for the first time today. It was during the daytime, so lighting wasn’t that good. Very nice that you have such a photogenic subject so close. I’d love to come back during golden hours, but couldn’t on this trip. I was here visiting from Michigan to spend time with a friend and shoot the super moon and total lunar eclipse. We got shut out on both events due to heavy cloud cover. But, we came back the day after (last evening) and got some lovely moonrise shots over Sloans Lake in Denver with the city skyline in the background. Thanks for all your articles…they’re an inspiration.

    Couldn’t agree more, Russ. Living near the ocean, I’d always noticed that the ocean is never the same, two days running. But what really triggered this one for me was someone suggesting that you can’t take decent shots near to where you live – I think the reasoning was something along the lines “familiarity breeds contempt” – and I set to work to see what I could do.
    Almost at once, I was struck by the extraordinary variation in light, colour, atmospheric conditions – and here we are a couple of years later, and I’m still finding quite astounding variations.
    Storm clouds are obvious – the sky goes grey, colours on the ground change – what is perhaps less obvious is that after the storm passes, the blue of the sky is quite different. To do justice to what is out there, we need to re-learn how we “see” – develop “the eye”. What happens after that can be quite extraordinary – it certainly has been, for me.

    Henry – It makes me happy that you enjoy my Tips of the Week. I do hope you get the opportunity to Backtrack For Success to Garden of the Gods – it’s a fantastic area to make landscapes!

    Jean – I traveled to the Oregon Coast every year for over 15 years and of all places I’ve gone, the coast offers the greatest diversity of how light changes. This totally supports Backtracking For Success. I hope you get some great photos every time you go out to make pics.

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