Ways to show the rolling hills of Tuscany in your photographs

Rolling hills in Tuscany

Why rolling?

Rolling hills is an expression often heard when people talk about the beauty of Tuscany. Many of the hills in Tuscany have a wave-like form, and I suppose the expression is derived from there. The gentle shape of the hills going up and down are like the waves in the sea. So instead of the waves of the sea rolling in, the Tuscan countryside is flooded with rolling hills. In Italian rolling hills are translated with ‘dolci colline’, literally ‘sweet hills’, which might explain better why we like them so much. Wherever the expression comes from, the one thing I’m sure everyone agrees on, is that these rolling hills can look beautiful in your photographs.
The natural, harmonious shape of the waves result in a very natural environment, even if most of the area is cultivated and has been like this for centuries. This shows how human and Nature can be in harmony. The beauty in Val d’Orcia is enhanced by numerous patches of trees and bushes between the fields and trees that are left in the middle of the fields. It is also quite easy to spot deer and pheasants in the early morning wandering around in this area. It’s an area where hunting is forbidden, and wildlife seems to thrive. Nature and people can live side by side and the beauty of it is for everyone to see.

How can we show the waves in our photos?

Playing with light

A photo is in two dimensions and flat, so to show that the hill is three dimensional light and shadows can do the trick. A sphere with no lighter or darker areas will look like a flat circle. So one way to accentuate the shape of the hills is by using side light. This creates shadows on one side of the hills and light on the crest, thus stressing the form. This gives quite a strong contrast of the shape.
The two photos below show the difference between having direct sunlight and just ambient light on the hills. The position from which I took this photo is slightly different, but the idea remains the same. Without direct sunlight (the first photo) the shapes of the hills show much less than when the sun finally broke through the clouds. The hills in the background that were lit up by the sun in the second photo, show their structure, while it is difficult to distinguish in the first photo.


Podere just before sunrise with red poppies in the foreground
No direct sunlight on the hills. It looks a bit ‘flatter’.
Podere short after sunrise with the sun breaking through the clouds and red poppies in the foreground
Look at how the structure of the hills comes out now that there is direct light on the hills

In the photo below the effect is not so strong because the orientation of the rolling hills is almost  in the same direction as the low sunlight, but the effect is present nonetheless. There would have been more contrast if the light was perpendicular to the direction of the waves.

Solitary tree in a wheat field at sunset casting a yellow glow over the field
Side light in the same direction of the waves. This creates a more subtle effect

Another way that shows the hills with not too much contrast, is to wait until the sun is higher, so the shadows will be shorter, or on a clouded day, even absent. The photo below was taken on a cloudy day. Even though the sky was completely overcast the diffused light still creates light and dark areas showing the wave-like shape of these hills, turning it into a green sea. The way the wheat was sowed replicates the shape of the hills and the little stream below. This helps to show the shape of the hills.

Green wheat fields in Tuscany with a little stream winding down like a snake flanked by two cypress trees
Green hills on a cloudy day


One thing I enjoy is finding spots where I can take a photograph that becomes almost abstract, with just the waves of wheat and the sky. I love the dynamic feel of these photos, they seem to move… the hills really seem to be ‘rolling’. The movement is very calm though, there are no tight curves, and the cool colours give a sense of peace as well. The photo doesn’t shout Tuscany anymore, but show the characteristic waves that are so typical of this territory.

green wheat with waves and moving clouds in Tuscany in spring
Gentle green waves under a cloudy sky
Rolling hills in Tuscany with green wheat fields moving in the wind
Rolling and rolling…

Do you want to take your own photos in Tuscany?

I hope this gives you inspiration to take your own photos of rolling hills.
All photos were taken in spring in Val d’Orcia, Tuscany. Also next year organize a 4-day photo workshop in this beautiful  area of Tuscany. In spring the fields will be green, there will be wildflowers like poppies, we might have morning mist hanging between the hills at sunrise. Join us in May 2020! You can find all the information here or you can send us a message.

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