My first visit to Val d’Orcia

In June 2022, I made my first visit to Val d’Orcia in Southern Tuscany. An iconic location that is gifted with subtle light and gently rolling hills. It took nearly four hours of driving from my home in Northern Tuscany. It’s a big place.

I found a cheap hotel in Chianciano Terme, got up at dawn and drove west, looking for locations. As I left San Quirico d’Orcia towards Belvedere, I saw a house nestled in the hills just as the Sun started to rise. It looked like a great spot and turned out to be Podere Belvedere (Belvedere Farm), a well known view. I parked up and saw an Italian photographer, who was also out and about.

He had everything, a large DSLR with a big lens, filters and a tripod. I carried my rather dated Fujifilm X-A1 (bought as old new stock, for very little money) with an 18-55mm OIS Fujinon 2.8-4 lens (which was a kit lens at the time, but has received excellent reviews). I had other equipment in the car, but was I was keen to test out this combination. I wanted to see what could be achieved on a budget. Total cost to me… around €380.

I had never really taken a landscape shot of any consequence before but I had done a lot of research, reading and watching YouTube videos. I made my own list of rules and I was about to try them out for the first time. I had a tripod and a graduated ND filter but neglected to use them this time. The sky was too dim for the filter and I needed some agility to navigate the field to approach a likely vantage point. The camera with lens is very portable. No viewfinder, just a flip up LCD screen. Not ideal, but it’s fine when the light is not too bright. I use aperture priority (usually ƒ/11 on this lens) with as low an ISO and the fastest shutter speed that I can get away with plus auto focus.

I walked around snapping here and there. Because I come from a film background I don’t take a lot of shots and try to treat each one as film frame so I tend to think about it, then review in-camera and very often I delete rather than trawl through them later.

The other guy had stationed himself on one spot. He didn’t have a lot of mobility and I learned a lesson from that. A tripod is not totally essential with the sensitivity of modern sensors and optical stabilisation. As the light grew brighter and softened behind thin clouds, I caught this shot.

FUJIFILM X-A1 XF18-55 2.8-4 R LM OIS (at 55mm) 1/60 SEC. ISO 640 @ ƒ/11

Back at the hotel with Lightroom on an iPad 12.9 inch Pro, I increased vibrancy a touch, added full sharpening and adjusted the exposure a little. I shoot in RAW, which I believe gives me more latitude in the shadows than JPEG. I will do a first edit and publish while I am on the road. It saves stacking up work for when I get home. I might adjust a photo in Lightroom on the Mac for printing. A calibrated monitor and decent printer profile is essential for this.

There are other shots from the same location or near about, but this one is special. It is painterly, dreamy and heavenly to me. Much better than I imagined and worth the whole trip just for this one.

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