Many years ago, when I started taking landscape pictures, I would just stroll around a nice place, keep my eyes open, and when I saw something “nice” I would snap a picture. This did not lead to many memorable images.
To really capture the soul of a place takes time.
1 Podere Belvedere sunrise
Now, I spend a lot of time preparing, before even going to a place. I use Google Earth to research the topography of a place, looking for the most promising viewpoints. I scour the web in search of inspiration from other photographers that have visited the place. I use apps such as The Photographers Ephemeris and PhotoPills to predict where the sun and moon are going to be in the sky.
Val d’Orcia in Tuscany, around Pienza and San Quirico d’Orcia.
Once on site, it takes still more time to absorb via osmosis what makes a place special. What are its unique characteristics. What visual would make you say: “this is this place, and nowhere else”. That can take me a while to do, sometimes days or weeks. My visit in Tuscany last summer was really useful to get to know the place, but I didn’t get any pictures I liked out of it. But from this visit, after I was back home, I figured out which images I should have taken.
2 Podere Baccolano
Then, after I have figured out exactly what I wanted to capture, I still depend on the light and the weather, which are changing and not always predictable. I use meteorology apps such as Dark Sky and Clear Outside to see what the sky has in store, but there’s no guarantee the conditions will be ideal when you want them to. That’s why I like to give myself several days to get the shot I want.
3Cappella di Vitaleta
Finally, I go to the spot I want, and I wait, often hours, for the sun to rise or the light to change, or the clouds to move in just the right position. It’s a great opportunity to take the time to really enjoy a beautiful landscape.
4 Cypress Circle Sunset
The question I get asked the most by people walking by and seeing me standing by my tripod is “Are you doing a timelapse?”. “No, no, I’m just waiting for the light to be right”, I answer. “Oh”, they reply, walking away with a quizzical frown and probably thinking “what’s wrong with the light now?”
I’m happy with the images I got this time. I think they do a good job of capturing what Tuscany is all about. Of course, it’s still only one view of it. Landscapes and light change with the seasons, so I’ll have an excuse to come back and visit again at different times of the year 😀
1 Podere Belvedere at dawn
The Val d’Orcia is actually closer to Rome than to Florence, the capital of Tuscany. The Florence airport also has fewer flights and can occasionally be affected by the weather. Pisa is another alternative to consider.
The drive from Rome is about 2h.
The many small backroads of Tuscany are best explored at your own pace, by car. Rentals are available in Rome, Florence or Pisa. The roads are well maintained and the sights are easily accessible with a 2WD vehicle. Biking is also an option.
Pienza or San Quirico d’Orcia make great bases from which to explore the area. Also worth considering, the many farmshouses and villas offering lodging.
Photo Spot Notes
1 Cappella di Vitaleta 11.6151, 43.0662
There are two options for the chapel.
First, is to actually get close to the chapel:
- From the road between Pienza and San Quirico (SP146), take the turnoff towards the chapel (sign “Cappella di Vitaleta”)
- Follow the dirt road for 5 min (1.6km / 1mi)
- You arrive at a fork in the road. The chapel is to the right, but the road is closed by a gate. Park at the fork.
- Walk about 700 m / 1/2 mi to the chapel
The second option is to shoot from a distance with a long lens:
- Drive a little bit further, on the road towards San Quirico
- Park on the side of the road at the entrance to “Agriturismo Poderino”
- There is a gate, which is usually open, and you can walk down 100-200m to get a better view
2 Podere Baccolano 43.2004,11.59
The view of the Podere Baccolano is from a field overlooking the road to the farmhouse. There is limited parking available on the side of the road. From there, walk across the field towards the spot, going over a small fence.