Landscape Series Part 2: Deja View – It’s Good To Return To The Same Location

Each time I go back I take more images than in the previous year

The first exposure I ever had to the French phrase, deja vu, was when Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young released their 1970 smash hit album entitled Deja Vu. Wanting to know what it meant, I looked it up. Who knew then that some four decades later I'd be writing a photo article about a play on words of that very title. Deja vu - as the song lyrics go - "we have all been here before." I take liberty and present you the photographic version: Deja View - "we should all go back again." If you just sang this to the melody of the CSN&Y song, good for you! If you're reading this wondering what the heck I'm talking about, you're too young but stay with me and you'll learn some good photo tips.

As a leader of nature photo tours, there's a statement I hear all too often. To be blunt, hearing it just once is too often. It goes something like this: "Hi Russ, my name is so and so and I'd like to go on one of your nature tours. I've been to location so and so / so and so / so and so / and I see these are the places to where you lead your tours. In that I've been to these places once before I don't have any reason to return - I've already photographed them. Do you go anywhere I haven't been?"

To not bore you with rhetoric, the point I want to present is while it's true that Photographer A may have been to any given location once before, what was the weather like? How was the light, what time of year was the visit made, how were the conditions, were the animals active, did the photographer look beyond the obvious? Did the photographer notice what was going on behind him, did she photograph more than just the trophy shot, are the pictures the standard cliche or was more done to capture the essence of the location? I could continue on and on but I'm sure you get the point. To me, if you've been to a given location, that's all the more reason to go back to look past the obvious and capture all the images you missed the first time.

Here's the bottom line - I revisit many of the same locations year after year. To the skeptics I pose the following - why is it that each time I go back I take more images than in the previous year? The answer is easy - I look at the place differently - I use my telephoto eyes - I use my wide angle eyes - I look beyond the obvious - I enjoy the nuances in the light - I photograph the intimate landscape rather than the big picture - I'm in a different mood so I see different things. No matter how many times one visits a given location, there's always something new and different to photograph.

To the skeptics, I grant you the fact that going to a new location is exciting and gets the adrenaline pumping. To this end, I encourage you to make excursions to new places. But if it's truly about the photography, hands down, revisiting a location is where it's at. The stress of not knowing what to expect is removed. Being able to return to an old friend provides a comfort level. Knowing that in the back of your mind you didn't capture a specific image on the first trip and that you can now obtain it is gratifying. I offer this thought and I'll let you make the connection: Do you have a favorite restaurant? Have you gone back to it? Have you ever ordered the same meal because it was so good you had to have it again...........?

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    You are completely right, I would add that after returning from a location I have been and processing the photos, how often I have said, this would have looked better from higher up or I left out something important or this would have looked better one hour earlier or latter. Or the nostalgia of the place and wanting to see it again.
    I love a good Pinot Noir from Russian River, the second time you try it, it tastes even better.

    I have a new twist on that. I am moving back to New Mexico and am excited to revisit places I’ve been as well as new ones. The ‘new’ is that I wasn’t into photography then. I can see in my minds eye those places now and I am so excited! Also, I’m getting into fiilm as well as digital that I’m already comfortable with. Medium format MMiya 645. Now I’m not trying to be another Ansel Adams; I’m trying to explore other parts of me. Ought to be an adventure!

    You’re oh so right!! How many times have I looked at my images & thought “if only I had…”. If you’ve thought about your images then when you go back you can put into practice what you have thought about. You may not have your masterpiece but you’re much more satisfied than the ‘first time miss’.

    Russ, I could not agree with you more. Familiarity makes the heart grow fonder, and for me, that means less stress dealing with so many details for which I am already aware. That was especially true for a Death Valley workshop where an entire memory card of shots covering two days, vanished. I still had a lot of good images from the trip but felt a return was necessary to not only replace many shots, but to change some of the methods of capture and explore new ideas. I always look for something new when I return and that keeps the creative juices flowing. Great article! Thanks so much.

    You are so right. I have a favorite location that I’ve gone back to 4 or 5 times, now. My wife, who normally accompanies me, says we should find someplace new. Yet each time I process the latest photos, she finds some new image to love.

    I love that album…(not too young)….and i must agree with you and the others above…It is so worth going back over and over again to the same location, as I never get the same pictures twice. Great advice!

    You are spot on about returning to a place to photograph it again. I travel internationally 3 to 5 times a year and I’ve never been to a place that I felt I covered it as well as I could have. Also time and weather makes the place seem new again. I’ve been to Yosemite at lest 20 times in my life and I still find more to shoot every time I go there.

    My wife and I do a lot of white water rafting, and have done the same rivers many times over. There is a saying among river runners that goes something like, “A man never runs the same river twice. The river and the man never remain the same.”

    I think that this has application to photography as well.

    I can walk every day in tucson at sunrise and get a very very different sunrise at least 1/2 the time. Today, there was a fire on the mountain which changed everything and just didn’t want to carry my heavy camera and I could only take a photo of it with my phone. The sunrises here last 10 minutes or less at their peak. I can turn around fix my camera, and when I turn back around , the peak is gone.

    I agree….we go to the same general location in North Carolina every summer and I always find something new and unique to photograph. I get excited about going back to familiar places to look for new angles. The same actually applies to places around home…it’s a great exercise for your creative brain.

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