Building upon a foundation of previous work

We have to keep returning to the landscapes we love, so we can get better at shooting them.

Returning time and time again allows us to dig deeper below the surface and to familiarise ourselves with how the landscape works.

On my first visit to Hokkaido, I was lost. The landscape was nothing like I had imagined. Lost in pre-visualised ideals of what I thought I would see, I learned that turning up to a landscape with any preconceived notions does not help.

Hokkaido is not this simplified fairytale minimalist place I had imagined, but is instead a densely industrialised island that requires a lot of time and effort to find great compositions.

I came home from this trip thinking that I may not return as I doubted I got any decent shots from the trip. The ones you see above were, I felt, handed to me rather sparingly. Or more precisely, happened because these were the few moments when I let go, and worked with what Hokkaido was presenting me with, rather than it conforming to what I wished of it.

As I’ve continued to return, I’ve learned that the landscape is never the same. More specifically, if there is something I feel I missed on a previous trip, it’s rare that I will be able to capture it on a further visit. I never see the same conditions present themselves more than once. Instead I find I just create a set of images that add on to the ones I shot previously. Landscapes offer up something new on each return visit.

I’ve never understood it when someone says ‘Iceland’s been done’. A landscape is never done. Perhaps the conventional view has been made several times, but it is never done. A statement like this says more about the photographer’s limited knowledge than it does anything about the landscape. Nothing is ever the same. We may go back hoping to capture that elusive shot we missed the previous time, only to find that we are being offered up something new instead, and it is our skill in working with what we are presented with, that is key.

There is also the aspect of learning from a landscape, which can go a long way to helping us improve our own photography. Spending time with the same place will show us more about who we are, and how we approach our craft.

We should banish the thought that returning allows us to get more pictures. Sure, of course this may be true, but to think photography is about quantity rather than quality is to forget oneself.

I think we often think of the landscape as an inanimate object, something that we view, and if it doesn’t offer us anything, it is the landscape’s fault, not ours. This is really an upside down view of what landscape is and what it does for us.

Landscapes tell us more about who we are rather than what it is. If we can’t ‘get’ a landscape then the problem most probably lies more with us than it. The landscape is what it is. It has no knowledge of what you want it to be, and in doing so, it teaches us to be more willing to work with what it offers. Any preconceived ideals we hold, constrain us more than it constrains the landscape.

Returning time and time again, offers us a chance to learn. It offers us a chance to understand that the landscape has many sides to it, and the skill is in us working laterally, going with what it presents us with, rather than forcing it to work to our own ideals.

Returning time and time again, also allows us to dig deeper, to hopefully assimilate and build upon what work we have created in the past. Good photography is all about putting the effort in and returning time and time again. It is like mining for gold. We never know when the next great image may come, and they will only ever come if we are out there. As the adage goes ‘if you don’t go, you don’t get’, and of course ‘f8 and be there’ also springs to mind.