Photography is a way to document history. Photography is also a way to interpret and create the beauty of nature. What happens when the history of a location is somewhat tainted? Is it possible to make beauty out of that? That’s one of the questions that always lingers when photographing Charleston, South Carolina. Granted, the area has a great deal of natural beauty to offer, but one of the draws to the south are the plantations and the gardens and tree tunnels that they boast.To say a rather dubious history accompanied the creation of those gardens is an understatement, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they are incredibly beautiful.
I met my group of photographers in Charleston for 4 days of photography and fun in the South. After a brief orientation, our group set off to the Cypress Gardens. The south is known for swamps, and this park is just a small microcosm of the larger ecosystem. I like this location because I love bald cypress trees and the way they look. As we explore the park, I try to offer up compositional ideas and point out different things I see that catch my eye. In terms of flora, the area is full of flowers, and various plants that reflect nicely in the jet-black water. In terms of Fauna, there are lizards, turtles, and of course Alligators. This time of year the giant reptiles are just starting to wake from their winter slowdown, so there weren’t too many of them out, but we did see a couple. These guys have a menacing demeanor, but the more time you spend around them, you start to realize that for the most part, they just kind of chill out and soak up the sun. They paid us no attention.
For our evening session, we went to beautiful Lake Moultrie. Here I know a cool little spot where we can photograph cypress trees in the lake. This is a fun place to work on simplifying images and really have fun with longer exposures. Seeing the images on the group's camera screens, there were some really nice images.
On the second day, we spent the morning at the Magnolia Plantation Gardens. We had some interesting conversations about the history of the location and the aspect of creating something beautiful from a location that has a less-than-stellar history. The gardens are beautiful and the ancient oaks and flower combinations are really lovely. A spring rainstorm kept us company for most of the time there, but that allowed the colors to pop and gave us some nice even lighting to work with.
That afternoon we set off for Edisto Island to photograph Botany Bay Beach and the skeleton trees that call that strip of sand home. A hurricane several years ago wiped out most of them, leaving them fallen and buried in the sand..but near the end of the beach, several still sit upright and make for amazing photography subjects. Knowing the tides and beach area is critical because photographing the trees at their best happens at high tide. If everyone is willing to get a little wet and crawl over some trees and bushes, it’s not terribly hard to get out to the good spots and capture some amazing images. The good part is the tide starts to go back out before it’s time to leave, so going back is usually much easier than going out.
Everyone loves this location so much that we go again in the morning for sunrise. The tide this morning was again up, but with not too much more difficulty we made it back out to our spot and got some great images of the rising sun illuminating the trees. It’s fun to see how different light can change the way images look, and what is possible to capture. It’s also nice to see a location 2x and work, and re-work compositions with some experience under your belt. The group got some great images too!
After the beach, it was time for P&P. Pastries and Processing! Two things I love. We got some amazing pastries and found out quickly who does and does not have a problem saying no to desserts. I am guilty. It was fun to see what everyone shot, and how we all saw something slightly different in the same locations. I was very proud of the images this group captured.
In the afternoon we hit up another plantation, not to visit, but to shoot their tree tunnel from the roadside. It’s got a dirt road, which keeps a more ancient feel to it, the moss on the trees here is amazing too! From there it was a short drive to the old Sheldon Church ruins. Twice built and twice burned this old brick building is pretty neat to see and photograph, especially in black and white.
The evening session found us at Folly Beach. We started off with some pineapple whip from the pineapple hut, which is arguably the best dessert ever. From there we shot the newly rebuilt folly pier and worked on a couple of compositions there of the repetitive pillars. The light was quite nice, so we moved to the old ruined pier on the beach farther down. This old pier has become kind of an iconic photography spot and we had some nice subtle light to work with to give some cool long exposures.
On our last morning together we spent some time at Shem Creek boardwalk to photograph the marshlands, birds, and cool old shrimping vessels, that, by the way, never seem to be out working, but always parked. Hmmmmmm. The tide was in, and it gave the marsh some nice high water and reflections and brought in some cool birds as well. The sunrise was beautiful, and the perfect way to end a great time with a really fun group of photographers.
Until Next Time,
Brian and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team
P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.