Wildlife photographers can spend many days or weeks working with the same subject at the same location and, due to ever-changing behaviors of their subjects, they can continuously capture unique images. Sports photographers have unique action at every game/meet/match/race/etc. at the same field/track/event location. Street photographer are always finding new entertainment at the same locations. Wedding, event and portrait photographers have a steady stream of new subjects coming through the same locations. But you, landscape (and cityscape) photographer, usually find the same subjects in the same positions each time you go back. However, you still have reasons for going back.
Basically, you most often go back in hopes that something might be different this time.
Perhaps you didn't get it right the first time. You didn't provide adequate depth of field or didn't focus to the right distance to keep everything in the image sharp. Or, perhaps you want to use a wider aperture lens to better define the primary subject. Perhaps the focal choice was not ideal and part of the scene was cropped too tightly. Maybe you were too close or too far away and didn't get the ideal perspective. You want to move up/down, left/right or closer/farther to get it right the next time.
You now have better skills. Closely aligned with getting it right this time are your improved photography skills. You are now better at reading a scene and better able to select the composition, perhaps including a foreground element or better aligning the background within the foreground framing.
You go back to work on your creativity. The more bored you become with photographing a scene, the more likely you are going to find a creative new way to photograph it.
You go back because you have better gear. While we sometimes think that camera and lens technology is not moving forward fast enough, what is available today is far better than what was available not long ago. Taking your new camera(s) and lens(es) to a past-visited favorite location is an easy recipe for bettering your portfolio. Your higher resolution, lower noise camera and sharper lens will create results that look better, especially at high resolution. Taking a circular polarizer filter, a neutral density filter, etc. that you did not originally have can make a huge difference in your repeat visit results.
You go back in hopes for better weather conditions. You hope for better skies, a better sunrise, a better sunset, better clouds, more/less fog, less (or possibly more) wind, warmer light, etc. Everyone loves a fiery sunrise or sunset and those don't happen every day – you might need to go back repeatedly to find these. Fog? Some locations have it with some regularity, but many others have it only occasionally.
You go back because the timing is different or better. You may have better water flow, creating better waterfalls that give images a completely different look, one well worth the effort of a revisit. The seasons of the year provide a very different look to many locations. Spring brings bright green foliage and (usually) good water flow. Summer brings darker foliage and warmer weather (required for the snow to melt enough to access some areas). Late summer and fall brings amazing color to the trees in many areas. Winter brings snow, completely redecorating the landscape.
The timing of the visit also dictates the position of the celestial bodies. Go back when the sun, moon and/or stars (the milky way) are better aligned. Perhaps the sun shines between two mountain peaks at a certain time of the year. Perhaps you want to go back when the milky way is best aligned over a scene. The same applies to the moon with a specific desired phase and position.
Perhaps the scene has indeed changed and is no longer physically the same. While there are not usually macro changes occurring to landscape without a significant environmental disaster (such as a tornado, hurricane, fire, etc.), micro changes frequently happen. Trees fall, erosion occurs, sediment moves in streams during strong flows and fields have a different crop in rotation. If the scene is significantly altered, new images will be more current than those taken before the alteration. Before and after photos may be valued in this case.
Sometimes, you go back just because things can happen. Wildlife showing up can add a prize-winning element to any image.
If you are considering going back, the location is probably amazing and somewhere you love to be. That alone is a great reason to go back as just being there is awesome. There is no reason why the same location cannot be enjoyed time and time again. If you like the location that much, perhaps you want to share it with a friend or friends.
You go back because the location is a known entity. You know that it is repeatedly good for a quality image – an image worth sharing is sure to come out of the effort.
You go back for practice. If the location is relatively close to home, visiting the location to practice skills and technique prior to a big photo trip is a great idea. Unlike riding a bike, more like distance running, photography requires practice to stay in top shape. It also affords the opportunity to test the camera gear that will accompany you on the trip.
Again, a primary reason to go back is that something might be different this time and the reason that different is desirable is for, minimally, variation and, ideally, for bettering. Photographers are constantly striving to better what we have already done, to raise the bar, to take another step forward in our passion/profession.
The previous time I visited Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, was convenient, but not so well-timed for photography. It was mid-summer (not bad in itself). The sun was high and the leaves were green. The sky was forest fire-hazy. While my cameras and lenses were the best-available at the time, they were not as good as those I'm using today. I was happy with my results at the time, but they do not hold nearly as much value to me from a photographical perspective now.
Recently, I was blessed with a revisit to this very photogenic location. And, the results from my revisit were much higher grade in many accounts. Though I'm missing the moose that was in my first set of images (it was so small in the frame that I didn't know it was even there until reviewing the images back at home), but my late summer (photographer's fall in this location), early morning timing for the second visit to Oxbow Bend combined with my now-current camera gear and 9-year-upgraded skillset turned in much better results this time around. I'm sharing one of my favorites with you today.