Bright green hills, majestic views and colourful flower fields… Val d’Orcia is a dream destination for many landscape photographers. Planning my trip to Tuscany, however, I wasn’t looking for anything like that.
I’ve always been fascinated by the other side of Tuscan landscapes; by the trees standing lonely and the soft curves of the ground being hugged by the mist. So, I went to try and make my vision a reality. The day before my departure the weather forecast didn’t look good – mostly rain and thunderstorms. In other words, great news for those who, like me, love moody, dark skies in their pictures.
It was the first time for me travelling with the FUJIFILM X-T2. After photographing Venice with the GFX 50S I was curious to see what this camera could do. Together with the X-T2, I brought with me the following lenses; XF16mmF.4, XF23mmF2, XF35mmF2 and XF55-200mm F3.5-4.8.
Upon my arrival at the Pisa International Airport, I found out the weather forecast had been accurate: it was raining. I rented a car (a small Fiat 500) and I drove all the way down to Val d’Orcia. By the time I arrived, the rain had stopped, leaving the gleaming green hills topped with puffy white clouds. I spent the first afternoon scouting and, for the first time in months, my camera felt more like a companion than a heavy burden. It was a pleasant tool to carry around, light and sturdy at the same time.
The X-T2 made exploring the landscapes extremely easy and Val d’Orcia felt immediately familiar. Thanks to the multitude of photographs I had seen over the years, it wasn’t hard for me to recognise most of the popular spots, like the row of cypress of Poggio Covili or the Vitaleta Chapel, while driving around (a task, I must admit, made easier by the constant presence of a good number of other photographers standing alongside their tripods).
The following morning the alarm clock went off at 4.00 a.m. Still tired but excited for the dawn, I dragged myself into the car and I started driving. At first, I thought there would have been no mist but, as the first pale light of the day flooded the hills, I realised I had been wrong… and just how wrong I was. Going down, towards the valley, all I could see below was an endless, flawless sea of white, thick fog. It wasn’t long before I hit the cloudy wall. All of the sudden, nothingness swallowed me and I could see no longer.
What followed was a mixture of fear and excitement. I knew continuing to drive could be dangerous but I also knew my next shot could be close, somewhere in the mist. So I went forward and, when I finally arrived to the first location, I couldn’t believe my eyes; the view was stunning. A grove of cypresses was standing, barely visible, in the middle of an uneven field. All around it, smaller trees were floating in the mist, disappearing and reappearing lazily like dark ghosts in the distance.
Feeling both happy and inspired, I spent the next few hours taking photos, moving from one location to the other, until the fog had cleared. As I had expected, the lens I ended up using the most was the FUJINON XF55-200mm. In a location like Val d’Orcia, where the landscapes are so vast and open, using a telephoto lens might be the only way you have to isolate your subjects and the XF55-200mm turned out to be a great choice, being sharp and highly reliable despite its compact size and weight.
I was very surprised not to have met anyone else that morning. In the same spots where, just a few hours before, the warm light of the sunset had lit up dozens of photographers and their tripods, now I stood, alone, photographing what was, in my opinion, a much more pleasant view, feeling almost guilty not to be sharing it with another living soul.
The following days went on like this. I was going out before sunrise, resting after lunch and then out again till dusk. After a few days, however, the morning fog seemed to have gone and the weather forecast had changed, replacing the thundered clouds with a host of small, way too bright suns. It became harder for me to feel inspired without the moodiness of the rain or the mysteriousness of the fog but I kept shooting nevertheless, going out every day before sunrise, waiting for a farewell mist that never came, until the day of my departure arrived.
Driving back to the Pisa International Airport I couldn’t help but feeling satisfied. The trip had been a success and, even though it had only been misty for three out of the seven days I had been there, it was enough for me to be really happy with the images I ended up with.
The FUJIFILM X-T2 was the perfect companion for this journey – small and highly reliable, even in the most challenging situations. Using different gear, for me, has never been about achieving different results. Whether I use a camera or another, my creativity, my personality and the way I see the world remain exactly the same. What really changes, however, is the whole experience of taking those photos.
The way a camera performs, the way it makes easier or harder to relate with a subject, to move and photograph naturally, to explore new angles and locations, it can all change how enjoyable or inspiring the creative process is going to be.
So, even though photography is not about gear, the experience of taking photos is, and for me, travelling and photographing using the Fujifilm X System felt natural and pleasant, to the point that I will never go back using a DSLR again.
Val d’Orcia, with its hills, its valleys and its fog, is absolutely one of the most beautiful places have ever been. I will always carry in my heart the stunning view from the Belvedere, the strong spirituality of the Prata Cross and the loneliness of the cypresses, wonderfully lost in that sea of whiteness.
But, I’m sure, the beauty of the Val d’Orcia goes beyond these iconic landmarks and I can’t wait for the moment when I will drive those twisty roads once again, in a quest to discover the deepest secrets of this unique land, my X-T2 always on my side.