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  • Samuele Bertoli

In the Right Place at the Right Time? Going beyond the mere stroke of luck.

How perseverance and patience led to capturing the coveted shot of Torrechiara Castle


WRITTEN BY SAMUELE BERTOLI


In the most varied situations and circumstances, how often have we lamented, "Why wasn't I in the right place at the right time?"


Undoubtedly, countless times. Arguably, too many times.


And who knows how often we have cursed fate for making us miss a lifetime opportunity by mere inches. But don't worry, I am not here to seize the moment and quote Al Pacino's motivational speech about fighting inch by inch in "Any Given Sunday."


After all, I used that on the second page of my thesis over 20 years ago.

But that's another story.


As landscape photographers quickly learn, some variables inevitably transcend our ability to predict and control. Unexpected conditions can throw a wrench in the works, adding an element of unpredictability that makes our photographic outings more spicy, exciting and challenging.


However, in this new scattered thought, I didn't want to focus on these unforeseen situations that test our scene analysis skills and our ability to react and make judgments under pressure.


Instead, I wanted to discuss other equally essential qualities in our photographic journey that can elevate our shots over time.


Drawing from my experiences over the past two weeks, I wanted to discuss the foresight to recognize a scene's potential and understand under what conditions it would shine its brightest, the patience to wait for all the pieces of the puzzle to fall into place, and the perseverance to keep trying until we achieve the shot we've been yearning for.


Without claiming to be a "white master" of cheap martial arts films or "the old sage of the mountain" who dispenses advice and gives lessons upon receipt of votive gifts, I thought sharing my experience and providing some food for thought would have been interesting.

This story has a happy ending, underscoring the idea that if you have a specific photograph in mind, it's worth putting in the effort and determination to increase your chances of capturing it.


Not all efforts may be immediately or quickly rewarded. It might take months or even years before everything aligns perfectly, or it might never happen in our lifetime.

But the attempt itself should bring satisfaction and deepen our appreciation for photography. Like in sports, the most valuable lessons are often learned from defeat rather than victory.  


But enough digression. Let's dive into the heart of this thought.

As my musings and portfolio photos show, Torrechiara Castle is one of my favourite spots, offering endless emotions and satisfaction.


Not only because it's quickly and easily accessible (for me, at least), but also because it offers diverse views and conditions. The castle of Torrechiara is to me what codfish is to the Portuguese – something that can be enjoyed differently every single day of the year.


That said, one of the castle's aspects that fascinates me the most is when, in mid-June, the hills and paths around it are illuminated by a sea of glowing fireflies under the cover of darkness. An ancient spectacle that transports us back to childhood, evoking sweet memories of our youth. A vision that can't help but touch the heart and fill it with joy and hope.


Last year, I captured this scene and titled it "Fireflies at Court."


Torrechiara Castle, Italy

This year, I wanted to create something different while keeping the two essential ingredients: the castle and the fireflies. I intended to raise the stakes and depict the scene more effectively and spectacularly. Here comes the importance of understanding and recognizing the potential of the location. Coincidentally, the part of the castle I find most photogenic – with its perfectly aligned three towers – is precisely the one framing the castle with the north behind and looking south. So why not raise the bar and try to fill the background behind the castle with the Milky Way and the foreground hill with fireflies?


The screenshot below by Photopills gives a good idea of what I had in mind.


Torrechiara Castle, Italy

Sure, we're in a lowland area just above sea level, and there's light pollution from a nearby village, so I didn't expect to capture a Milky Way comparable to the world's darkest skies. But the idea still seemed intriguing. If only because the fairy-tale character makes this castle unique.


As luck would have it, the hill facing the castle is bordered by bushes, brambles, and trees teeming with fireflies.


My idea was feasible on paper and could have come to life. First, I needed the fireflies, which are abundant in mid-June. Next, I needed the Milky Way, which was best captured during the new moon.


Theoretically, everything was set. In practice, however, unstable weather delivered anything but ideal conditions for astrophotography: persistent low and heavy clouds.


So, what to do? Go home and give up? Absolutely not. I'm anything but a quitter.

And by the way, why would I have done that? 


As Stephen Hawking noted, "Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change", so why not adapt to the present conditions and try to make the most of them?


And so I did in attempting to minimize the uninteresting sky.


Even though a square frame with the castle in a central position would have worked, I opted for a vertical crop to emphasize the fireflies, the scene's undisputed protagonists. Moreover, I decentralized the castle's position, followed the hill's slope, and matched the warm tones of the illuminated castle walls with the lighter hues of the shrubs.


Torrechiara Castle, Italy

The following week, I resumed my "mad and desperate" hunt for my coveted shot, which I believed would have been a fitting tribute to the place's fairy-tale and oneiric atmospheres.


The weather forecast was encouraging, predicting a clear sky for the whole night. Although I lost the new moon's advantage, the moon would set early enough to allow me to capture the Milky Way.


Everything seemed too good to be true, and indeed, upon arrival, I realized my ultimate desire would have remained unfulfilled for that photographic outing.


There were no parts of the sky devoid of clouds, and the weather instability in those weeks had suddenly changed the variables and conditions at the boundary, making the situation dramatically worse.


By then, there was no chance of a clear sky. Still, considering that I was there on the field and seeing that photography essentially is passion and pleasure regardless of the end result, I decided to enjoy my stay and try to do justice to the weather and conditions that there were.

In the end, I decided to start from the basics, so to speak, and I immediately wondered what was attracting my attention and what I would have liked to capture and tell in a photo. It was probably a rhetorical question because the answer was obvious and immediate since the moon segment playing with clouds gave a fantastic spectacle of light and colours. It was also lovely, the glow of the lunar rays filtering from the clouds flooding inside the scene towards the castle. It was beautiful but not so easy to convey and reproduce in one image.


The most logical and effective composition immediately revealed itself: a vertical crop with the castle and moon on the rule of thirds lines, a sufficiently ample space above the moon, and a dominant diagonal glow between the moon and the castle.


Learning from the experience of the first photo session, I lowered the capture point compared to the first shot because I realized that I had missed many of the first movements of fireflies that came out of the shrubs behind me and were directed towards the clearing of the hill. I wanted more fireflies to pass by and in front of my camera lens so that I also had more prominent and more important trails than those from fireflies in the middle of the hill and on the shrubs in the distance. In this shot with less ground than the first, I wanted the fewer light trails present to be offset by a sense of greater dynamism and three-dimensionality.


I wanted the trails entering the scene to give the observer an idea of the movement of these fireflies towards the castle and even more to transmit their ultimate aspiration to ascend to the sky and get to the moon.

Torrechiara Castle, Italy

Even for the following evening, the weather forecast was initially promising, so I returned to the scene with enthusiasm, ready to rechallenge the whims of the weather. In fact, the sky remained a little more free of clouds all night than the previous day. As a matter of fact, it was not perfectly clear, but the situation would have been handled if only there had not been an annoying latent haze that lasted all night.


As a composition, I maintained the philosophy and principles of the previous photo because my assumptions regarding the greater dynamism, three-dimensionality and idea of movement towards the heart of the photo had turned out to be correct. That's precisely what I thought and hoped to capture in my desired shot.


I also kept the castle in the same position, and to complete the photo, balance it and tell a new story, I opted to seize the sky wonderfully embellished by the presence of the constellations of Scorpio and Libra, taking care to maintain an adequate breathing space between the stars of Libra and upper edge and side right. It would have been a shame to penalize this wonderful atmosphere by suffocating the photo, transmitting an underlying and annoying idea of constraint because the primary sensation I wanted the observer to feel was that of awe in front of the wonders and immensity of the starry sky. I wanted There not to be negative and contrasting feelings preventing the imagination from dreaming and flying to the infinite heart of the universe.


Torrechiara Castle, Italy

As in any self-respecting story that deserves to be told and handed down, we have arrived at the final chapter, the story's peak, a chapter full of pathos and drama, as in the style of Tarantino's act.


For the third consecutive evening, I showed up on time just after sunset at the top of the hill as an excellent and irreproachable white collar is used to turning up in the office on Monday mornings at their company.


With confidence and hope, since, for that night, the weather had ensured the best conditions of all the previous sessions: virtually no clouds, no heat bubbles, and no mists throughout the night. No impediment that could have hindered my ultimate goal. Of course, until then, the weather forecast proved unreliable, to put it mildly, but at least the premises were not harmful from the beginning. A pretty dim shade of silver lining.


But also with fear and trepidation because, willing or not,  we had arrived at the last chance, the condition that every memorable film searches, the "make-or-brake" situation.


Over the days, the percentage of the moon had dramatically increased, delaying the time of its setting below the horizon.


That was the last night when it would set at a time that would allow a possible time frame for catching the passage of the Milky Way behind the castle.


The following week, there would be a full moon and probably no fireflies the week after. 

A final duel that would have solved the issue once and for all or that would have postponed it to next year. A thin line between joy and despair, between the success and failure of the photography project.


Fortunately, I am now here to tell a story of stubbornness that was eventually rewarded with a sweet, happy ending. As in the battle at Helm's Deep, the decisive turn came at dawn on the fifth day from the East, so for me, the turning point arose on the night of the fourth attempt at 3 Am from the South.


Here it is, at last, the Milky Way standing out fiercely and magnificently behind the castle. Here is finally the opportunity to realize the photograph that I had in mind, which I struggled with so intensely with nails and teeth to capture.


"Eucatastrophe"!

(The Tolkien's antonym to catastrophe referring to a sudden and unexpected happy ending).


Torrechiara Castle, Italy

In retrospect, therefore, I am pleased that the vagaries of the weather put me to the test so hard and that my obstinacy led me to go several times to try to interpret differently the same scene depending on the actual conditions that were in front of me.


If I had made my shot at the first attempt, I probably would not have returned in the following days and weeks. Now, I would not have a series of different shots that, in their own way,  do justice to the magic and beauty of the place, and that has not only embellished my portfolio but also enriched me as a person and as a photographer for all that they have requested.


Sometimes, we are "in the right place at the right time" even when we are facing seemingly wrong conditions, even if we don't understand it at the moment when we do not rely on the blindfolded goddess alone but when we also put our efforts to make our photographs work by using at their best the ingredients that the environment makes available to us.


Sometimes, it's us who can make the place and the moment right.


This is the beauty and charm of landscape photography.


Nothing should be taken for granted-never. But if you believe and persevere, you can bend time, weather and situations to your advantage, and even seemingly unfavourable conditions might eventually be a blessing in disguise.


There isn't always a need to transcend into the world of magic or be Doctor Strange or Harry Potter.

Just be yourself, and everything will be fine.


 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


I was born and grew up in Lunigina, Tuscany, and now I live in Parma, Italy. Embarking on a visual odyssey, I am not merely a photographer but a passionate storyteller, navigating the tapestry of existence through the lens.

The art of photography, an enchantment that held me captive, has transformed from fascination to a fervent mission in recent years. In the dance of pixels and light, my lens becomes an instrument of ancient yearning- an overwhelming need to tell stories, to share the vibrant tales that pulse within our world. Call it a devotion, a tribute to the sublime beauty and unyielding pride that permeates our surroundings.

Driven by the innate inclination for storytelling, my photography journey is an act of communion with the soul of the universe. Immanuel Kant aptly noted that it is about “showing how reality is interpreted once filtered through the coloured lenses of my eyes.” Each click of the shutter is a passionate declaration, a testament to my deep connection with the diverse facets of reality.


My photography seeks to capture the very essence and soul of the subjects, believing that a sensitive soul should choose a style that harmonises with the message it aims to convey. I strive to channel passion, love, and dedication in every frame. Each photograph is not a mere snapshot but a deliberate act to communicate a profound message and evoke emotions.

As memories intertwine with challenges overcome, my aim is for viewers not to glance indifferently but to be captivated, moved, and inspired. Let the images tickle the imagination and awaken curiosity as they reveal the stories that beg to be told.


 

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