Here is a collection of about 70 photographs taken in Tuscany, mostly on my latest recce mission. I’m putting the finishing touches to this September 2020 workshop and the last parts of the puzzle are to find shoot locations and test models. The shoot locations are now sorted and I’m still considering the final two model options. Ultimately, Blaise, my PA will shortlist and choose the models.
Every year I am drawn to Italy and Tuscany in particular. The majesty of the ancient hill top towns throughout the region make beautiful punctuations in the landscape. The rolling open fields near Pienza offer instantly recognisable views dotted with sumptuous villas surrounded by cypress trees. The climate is wonderful and so too is the light. There is a visual warmth everywhere I look and that excites me. It is a subtle but welcome contrast to the cool crisp light of the UK that I have endured for most of my life.
01. Martina relaxes on the terrace at our Villa, the luxurious Podere Bugnanese. She will be joining us for one of the four shooting days of the workshop.
The villa complex we will call home for this workshop lives under the banner of Hortulanus, meaning gardener, and the grounds are beautifully designed and maintained to the highest standard. There are formal rose gardens with fish ponds, a wonderful infinity pool and grounds that seamlessly extend into the olive grove and vineyard. At every turn there are wonderful picture making opportunities and I look forward to realising their potential with the group early next September.
02. Martina sits among the grasses beneath the canopy of an Italian Stone Pine tree. These trees have a wonderful bark pattern and a high canopy in the shape of an umbrella. GF110mm lens at f/2
This assignment: To seek out new shoot venues and to test shoot with models.
The location: Hortulanus near Seggiano and the surrounding area.
Models: Martina Belacima, Erika Mamon, and Serafina.
03. Centuries old Olivastra Seggianese trees surround the villa and give a unique and rare oil. I love the play of light on the olive leaves. There is a chalky matt hue to one side of the leaf and sheen that sparkles in the sunlight on the other. Martina wears a dress that I bought in Morocco.
The camera kit: I use a Fujifilm GFX50s with either the GF110mm or GF32-64mm lenses. I always use a tripod, out of choice, not need.
The lighting kit: I occasionally used a Lupo Dual Colour Superpanel during this shoot. It was battery powered and rigged on a Matthews compact stand. I will probably add a Godox AD200 or AD600 flash to my kit for the workshop.
The camera equipment for a shoot like this is almost irrelevant. An iPhone 11 pro would have done quite a good job, that is until it comes to the making of prints. I love to produce books and prints and I find the GFX50s dynamic range to be a wonderful asset and it is certainly appreciated by me. The Fujinon lens quality is second to none too. No matter how good the digital jiggery pokery gets on the small sensor iPhone it can’t match the calm, delicate bokeh of the GF lenses. I like a bokeh that doesn’t detract from the core subject or draw attention to itself.
04. Martina is on a tree platform at the villa. The morning light gives a wonderful dapple through the oak leaves. These trees had Oak Apples on them and I love to discover these natural elements.
05. I used the 110mm lens for the shot on the left and the 32-64mm for the shot on the right. The grapes were ready for picking. This plot of vines is managed by an Englishman living in Tuscany. He manages the vines on quite a few parcels of land and produces fabulous wine for the UK market.
06. These bamboo leaves spoke to me and beckoned for a shot. I used direct sunlight for these photographs of Martina. Good crisp sunlight is wonderful but challenging to use.
07. Autumn in this part of Tuscany was about one week ahead of Somerset in the UK and I was drawn to the colour of these few leaves on a tree by a stone hut. I wanted to shoot with the sun behind the leaves and Martina so I rigged the Lupo to act as a fill light. It’s the first time I’ve used the Superpanel this way and I liked it. This is why I spend time trying out new ideas because every now and then they work out okay. You can see the Lupo in the picture bottom right.
08. If there is an abandoned building I’ll try and get in. This shack was perfect for my kind of shoot style. The lintel above the door looks a bit precarious but I checked it for soundness before we entered the shack. Part of my trip is to risk asses each location. There are always risks but the aim is to minimise these using common sense and good communication. More than half the places I check out are too dangerous to shoot in let alone take a group. I used the GF32-64mm lens at 32mm to pull in the ceiling and environs.
09. We struck gold with this recommendation of a location from Emiliano, the manager at the villa. This gorge or ravine in the woods is where two rivers meet and is quite a wonderful place. You’d never know it was there and it’s not marked on the map. The location is well off the beaten track but with local knowledge we found it. Needless to say we were alone with no one around.
10. I used 1/15th of a second here as my exposure duration to capture the movement of the water. I know the group will love this gem of a place when we return next September. I could sit for hours here just watching the water and the wildlife.
11. This vineyard on the Hortulanus estate near Seggiano is perfectly kempt, much like the vineyards of nearby Montalcino, the source of the world renowned Brunello wine. This shot was taken from the top of the estate by the road at about 5:30pm in evening autumn light.
The next day we were scheduled to photograph Serafina, a girl I found on an internet model hosting site. Her roots are from Estonia and Russia but she currently lives in Italy. We met up at a cafe in the town and established our rapport over a doppio macchiato coffee.
12. I had eyed up this scene the day before and although I had the right viewpoint the GF110 lens wasn’t quite tight enough to get the frame that I wanted. I made do as I choose not to crop my images except in extreme circumstances. I spent the first 15 years of my photography life shooting medium format transparencies for stock libraries so I’m used to framing in camera. Serafina wears the Moroccan dress.
Just after our shoot on the tree platform Serafina decided to climb the tree to the top. A few moments later she regretted that decision when she upset a nest of ants. The dress was peppered with ants when she descended in a hurry.
13. Tim and I took Serafina to the shack so that we could explore some more opportunities for light and mood. Serafina came to the shoot with minimal resources and we had a great time shooting natural images. There is no make up at all, no Photoshop, just raw beauty.
14. The power and intimacy in Serafina’s look doesn’t tell the whole story. We had a lot of fun and laughter throughout our shoot but I did manage to direct this moment of solemnity and I love it.
15. I love Serafina’s delicate placement of hands in this simple sunlit shot. GF110mm at f/2. The setup of my camera screen is vital for me to be able to make the correct exposure settings. I use the jpeg settings to simulate the highlight and shadow tone details that are in the RAW file. I set the white balance carefully in camera before switching to Acros G in this case.
16. After a Pizza lunch in Seggiano we headed for a small copse. We took the Lupo with us and lit Serafina with the Superpanel rigged just out of the shot on the left.
17. Serafina is a live wire, a bundle of fun and made this day of our recce a wonderful experience. The GF32-64mm really came into its own here.
18. We found a cascade up river and Serafina wore my red dress, made by British designer Molly Mishi May to give some focus to the shots. Top left: 1/15th second gave the water a lovely look and Serafina had to hold her pose still. Top right and bottom: I lit these shots with the Superpanel and I increased the shutter speed to give Serafina some freedom to dance.
After the shoot we went chasing the light as we headed North to drop Serafina at a railway station. We learned a valuable lesson. When shooting landscapes arrive at the location an hour before you think you need to.
On our third day of shooting we had the pleasure of working with Erika. Erika’s regular genre is glamour and I wondered if I could remove the glamour from her poses using good direction. For various reasons the shoot started 1 ½ hours late but we went at a flat out pace until the finish on the streets of Seggiano. The workshop is billed as ‘fashion and nudes in Tuscany’ and I had Erika in mind to possibly fill the nudes slot.
19. Erika at the secret waterfalls. Luckily it was 22°C in Tuscany and we will be there a few weeks earlier next year so it may well be nearer 30°C in the heat of the day. The sun doesn’t get into this part of ravine at all in September. I expect to use a splash of flash on the workshop to pick the shots up a bit.
20. Erika has great hair for the wild look. The contre jour tones created by looking downstream give a lovely rim light to the shot.
21. The infinity pool at the villa is quite a masterpiece of illusion creating a bigger picture.
22. Back to the shack but this time I lit Erika from outside using the Superpanel. It’s a technique that I used years ago on set at the BBC. It gives a higher contrast look and adds more drama to the scene.
23. This location in Seggiano was dark too so I added the Superpanel. We are going to have a great time shooting in Seggiano. It’s the nearest thing to a ghost town but still completely up together. A place where the cats seem to outnumber the residents. Seggiano has bags of character and charm with its twisting alleyways and cobbled streets.
24. I’m not sure about the leather jacket and tutu skirt look but the white dress works well. This was the light at about 5pm and it’s a dream to work with.
25. Glancing moments of sunlight come and go as the sun tracks across the sky. The magic can appear and disappear again in a matter of a few minutes.
26. I love how the contrast goes up at sundown. On my workshops I show how to hold the shadow detail where it is needed without creating black holes in the resulting photographs. So much fabulousness can be achieved within zone 1 and 2 of the Zone System.
Here are three panels of pictures taken at the locations we will be shooting at near Pienza. We will capture shots with a similar nature to the ones you see below. I mix up the shots and styling on each of the workshops that I run and once I have achieved my potential at a location I drop it from the next event’s itinerary. This way it keeps my vision fresh and the desire to capture fabulous images at a peak. I believe this next shoot in the Pienza area will be one such pinnacle. I expect we will move on to a new area for the 2021 excursion but still base ourselves at Hortulanus in Seggiano.
27. Martina will be one of our models on the 2020 workshop. These shots were taken on a day trip to Pienza to shoot in the Val d’Orcia region. There are many abandoned farmhouses, wonderful views and the world renowned Cappella Madonna di Vitaleta (Top middle).
28. I took these pictures of Martina just a few weeks ago on a workshop in our Pienza area locations. I’m in my narrow colour palette, rich texture phase at the moment and Tuscany delivers the perfect locations.
29. This panel of shots taken this year in the Pienza region feature Terez from Prague. We have yet to finalise two of our models for the 2020 trip but Terez will certainly be on the shortlist.
30. The landscape around Pienza is rich in views with many opportunities to isolate elements using a telephoto lens.
Join me for four fabulous days of shooting under the Tuscan sun. This really will be a lifetime experience for all of us. There are many opportunities to extend your trip with visits to Siena, Florence, Montalcino or Rome. The full details of the workshop are here.