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It is often said that Tuscany is an enormous museum, where a timeless village clinging to a rocky hillside is treasured as much as the great palaces, cathedrals and piazzas found in Florence, Pisa and other principal cities. The landscapes, both subtle and spectacular, look more like a Renaissance painting than the reality shaped by humans for millennia.
These are the visions that often capture and hold the attention of casual, serious and even professional photographers; but to concentrate on only these would cause them to miss the images that reveal the soul of Tuscany, which is more often found on the streets.
In Florence, the skyline is magnificent, and it grandly represents the creativity of world-famous architects and artists. Bring your gaze to street level, however, and you’ll discover the constant pulse of life that has nothing to do with the mobs of tourists gawking at the sights. Spend some time observing the activities on the streets before starting to shoot and you’ll notice that people don’t just use the streets to travel from point A to point B. For many residents, the street is an extension of their homes. They stroll through their neighborhoods to greet neighbors and merchants; they may sit for hours just to watch the passing of life; or they meet a few friends to chat over a bottle of wine in a nondescript street café without any regard for the time.
The streets of Florence or any Tuscan town and village also present a collection of unique and eclectic objects that also seem to be infused with life and a bit of the soul of the place. What would otherwise be plain entrances to unassuming homes are magically transformed with flowers and greenery often growing in handmade pots, jars and planters. Street surfaces may be beautifully designed with laid tile work or ancient cobblestones.
The exterior architecture may not be as glorious as the buildings of the Renaissance masters, but the rough, irregular stonework, plastered walls and small arches spanning a street reflect an eye for beauty among the common people. Doors and windows of homes and buildings can be exquisitely designed and carved in stone or wood or be simple, but equally artistic after centuries of being worn by thousands of hands and the effects of weather and time.
Many streets are too narrow for cars and trucks, having been planned or haphazardly occurring to be only accessible by cart or foot. The tight passages echo with the sound of countless peddlers marketing their wares to the women of the homes lining the streets. Now, these merchants display their goods in tiny shop windows or bring them outside to lure passersby with vibrant colors and the heady aromas of flowers, cheeses, breads and meats. The exchanges between merchants and customers are often animated and reveal that wonderful Italian character for finding and demanding the best bargain, making for excellent images for your camera.
As explained in the PhotographyTalk article, Why Light is the Essential Element that Defines Tuscany for Photographers, light is often the key to capturing wondrous images of the streets of Tuscany. Throughout much of the day, the sun creates subtle shadows in the winding, narrow streets that provide the perfect balance of contrast for your photos. Then, there are those brief moments when the sun—early morning, midday or late afternoon—align with the street, bathing it in the honey light that is only found in Tuscany.
For a different street photography experience in Tuscany, visit many of the small villages, some nestled in gentle valleys and others astride a rocky hill. Some like San Gimignano, Pienza and Siena have very active street lives, while others, such as Santa Fiora, Castelnuovo dell’ Abate and Sovana often with fewer than a thousand residents, are quiet, but with streets as photographic as any in the region. By day, there may be only an occasional person walking certain streets, but at night, many of the villages come alive, with quaint outdoor restaurants illuminated by strings of overhead light and filled with patrons enjoying the local cuisine, wines and the delightful evening air.
Maybe, the best way to capture the life and soul of Tuscany on the streets of its cities, towns and villages is to follow the example of the people. Pick a neighborhood, stroll through it for hours and occasionally find a bench to sit and watch the activities around you. Soon, you’ll discover a wealth of images for your camera.
To learn how you can experience the street life of Tuscany and bring home the most interesting pictures of what happens there, visit TuscanMuse.com.