Landscape Photography Tips

Revisiting Landscape Photography Locations

Kaizen & Gemba

I come from a manufacturing background. The Japanese word Kaizen means continuous improvement. In the workplace, we are referring to the improvement of process, people, quality, in fact, of all things. The word Gemba translates as “the real place”, in manufacturing it’s often the place where value is being added or work is done. What relevance does this have to photography? I think landscape photographers are some of the greatest practitioners of Kaizen, but we don’t think about it or even realise we are doing it when revisiting landscape photography locations.

Dartmoor National Park

In 2019, I visited a location very close to my home so close in fact if it wasn’t for some houses in the way I could probably see the place. I planned to photograph hawthorn trees in full bloom at sunset. I envisaged the white foliage standing out against the fading blues and pinks in the darkening sky.

Seasons vary on Dartmoor. Sometimes spring comes early, sometimes late. Dartmoor National Park only rises approximately 600 meters but even with that small gain in height, you can see spring grow from the river valleys to the tops of the moorland over a couple of weeks. A cold spring can hold back the coming of new life by weeks. I am lucky to live in the National Park and witness these changes. It’s the observation of changes over repeated visits to the place – Gemba – where value is added to my work, that small continuous improvements – Kaizen – of my understanding of the landscape take place.

The Value of Repeat Visits

Sometimes you know that on revisiting landscape photography locations you’ll find they have more to offer. On my first visit, my timing was completely wrong, there was no blossom, I had left it too late. I came away with photographs which I liked. I captured warm summer light, used a shallow depth of field to soften the background which added to the softness of the last rays of sunshine, but no blossom.

I returned this year with more knowledge, having visited once before, with a better understanding of the trees and landscape through nothing more than careful observation of the changing foliage, its upward procession out of the valleys, this time I had found the blossom.

I had not fully realised how much my style of photography has evolved over a couple of years between visits, and how much this would change the photographs that I wanted to capture. Last time I carried a pre-visualised scene in my mind of what I wanted to capture. Despite not having the blossom I imposed my will on the landscape. Spending more time in the real place, where value is added to my photography the greater the understanding and connection I have with the world around me. The more I try to capture the subtle nuances of each location.

Visiting the same location this year I approached the scene with an open mind. Yes, I wanted blossom on the tree, but my approach to photography is different. It is synergistic. I am working with the subject, happy to photograph what I find. If you bring too many preconceived ideas, your conversation with the landscape is silenced before it begins. To improve as a photographer you have to listen to the subject. So with growth in my photography, I approached this location I had visited two years ago with fresh eyes, greater understanding and a desire to connect with the landscape at a deeper level.

Hawthron trees, Dartmoor National Park - revisiting landscape photography locations by Brian Northmore.

No more than 15 minutes drive and a short walk, I am able to return to this location often.

Golden hour over Dartmoor - revisiting landscape photography locations by Brian Northmore

Happy with the colours in the sky but the tree devoid of blossom, I took the photograph anyway.

Hawthron trees, Dartmoor National Park

This year’s visit didn’t offer such interesting light but the tree had blossomed and the resulting photograph is closer to the actual scene in front of me.

A Hawthorn Tree on Dartmoor.

Taken some minutes after the last photograph. I like the way the last of the warm evening light was picked up in the granite boulder as the Hawthorn Blossom danced in the cool breeze.

Final Thoughts

So is there any benefit to revisiting landscape photography locations? Absolutely. Going back you make deeper connections with the landscape. Using the experience and knowledge that you have gained since the last visit, can only result in a set of images that please you. Not only at a technical level but at a deeper level connecting you to the places you love. Go out and give it a try. I am sure you will find that returning to locations that add value to your photography and a little photographic Kaizen will bring new images to your portfolio.

To find out the full story behind these photographs please visit my YouTube Channel and watch this video:

Brian is a landscape photographer based in the Dartmoor National Park, United Kingdom. With over 30 years of experience, he enjoys sharing his knowledge through landscape photography workshops and talks.