A search on the internet for Tuscany returns a lot of images showcasing the wonderful and unique countryside that this region of Italy is blessed with. However, one image seems to appear more predominantly than any other. It’s the image of a farmhouse on a hillock in the middle of nowhere cocooned by rolling hills as far as the eyes can see. A beautiful location that we thought must be on our list as we began scouting for our trip a few years ago.
The images of the farmhouse that caught our eye seemed to have been captured early in the morning or late in the evening which reduced drastically the flexibility afforded in the search of a place of stay. We started mining the internet only to find out that the images and the websites containing information on the farmhouse were titled more or less in an arbitrary manner without even the slightest hint to the location. The most helpful ones described it as “Tuscany Castle” or “Tuscany Vineyards”. Great. Literally in the middle of nowhere it seemed.
In the next days we looked deeper until we stumbled across a sketchy location. We also learned that it's best photographed at sunrise. Sigh. Not being an early riser by any means, it would require serious motivation. There is something quite peaceful about waking up to the warm glow of the early morning sun and easing into the day with a cup of hot coffee and a delicious breakfast but that is a topic for another day.
We rose early and arrived at the location. We were more or less sure of being in the right place as there were a number of cars parked on either side of the road even though there didn’t seem to be any hotel nearby. Any lingering doubts that we might have had evaporated as soon as we got past the olive trees and reached the clearing. More than a dozen photographers and tourists had already set up their equipment or were in the process of doing so. Astonishing. Here we were, apparently in a remote location, half-an-hour or so before sunrise but we were anything but isolated. Any traveller would be quite used to the crowds thronging the popular tourist destinations these days but having never been out so early before, I guess we were unsure of what to expect and were definitely taken aback by the large assembly here. 'Tis no wonder then that the internet is inundated with images of this farmhouse (and I'm glad I could inundate it with even more of the same old boring images).
The sun began to rise and washed the landscape with a soft, beautiful light. The initial images were quite disappointing as I struggled to grapple with the enormous difference in the light intensity between the sky and the landscape. After a few tries and having belatedly resigned to the use of filters as a last resort, there were some improvements. A picturesque landscape that was well worth waking up early for.
During the day however, under the harsh light, the same landscape would hardly raise one’s pulse. You could drive by it many times and not even notice. Normally that would be that on a holiday and one would have to move on to other sightseeing locations as it would be infeasible to return to the same location hoping to be more successful the next time. On this occasion however, being accommodated nearby provided the perfect opportunity to experiment a few more times. Also, before sunrise meant that the plans for the rest of the day remained unaffected. Off we went in search of other vantage points to capture the farmhouse.
The next morning, a bit further to the east than the day before, the image could be composed a bit differently and the rising sun could be completely left out of the frame. This was quite useful allowing us to better balance the illumination of the sky and the landscape.
We moved in the opposite direction the next morning. Roughly south-west of the farmhouse. Although the sunlight was quite harsh in this direction, it provided a completely different perspective as together with the strong shadows the image radiated an ethereal quality. Also the altered orientation of the olive orchards added an interesting appeal to the foreground.
We were presented with an opportunity to experiment, understand, learn and improve in the unlikeliest of places. Rising early every morning was a formidable challenge. It was only the thought of witnessing a lonely landscape transform into something extraordinary and the urge to satisfy a curiosity that made this fantastic experience possible. A relaxed morning had to wait until we were back home.