Capturing the Lowcountry of South Carolina

January 22, 2024  |  South Carolina

I recently had the opportunity to travel to South Carolina to visit a friend near Charleston. Thankfully, this friend is also a photo enthusiast so we spent most of our time chasing the light and visiting various locations around Charleston and the Lowcountry to photograph. It had been about eight years since the last time I was down that way, so I was anxious to visit some places I hadn't been to, as well as some places I'd photographed last time, but wanted another chance at.

The sun sets behind the Angel Oak Tree in Charleston, South Carolina.
Sunset at the Angel Oak

The setting sun illuminates the canopy of Johns Island, South Carolina's Angel Oak Tree. Standing 66 feet tall and a circumference of 28 feet at the trunk, the tree is thought to be about 400 years old.

One spot I wanted another chance at was the Angel Oak Tree on Johns Island. The Angel Oak is an enormous Southern Live Oak estimated to be between 400 and 500 years old. It gets its name from the estate of Justus Angel and his wife. Local folklore also tells tales of the ghosts of former slaves appearing as angels around the tree.

The tree is over 66 feet tall and its canopy covers over 17,000 square feet. The last time I was here was in the fall of 2015, and the day I visited the tree it had been overcast and rainy. The light was pretty flat and it made it difficult to create dynamic photos. My hope was that this time, I'd be able to get some sunlight filtering through the canopy to create a warmer, more inviting image.

As my friend Fred and I planned out our week, we decided to visit the tree in late afternoon on Wednesday. The weather looked promising and I was hopeful I'd get what I wanted. One of the issues with photographing a location that is popular with tourists is that it can be difficult to get a photo completely devoid of other people. Another issue is that the city of Charlotte, who manages the park, has placed signs all around the tree reminding people not to sit, stand or lean on the branches, as well as a list of other things that may not be done or used in the park. I waited quite a while for the people walking around the tree to either be hidden behind the massive trunk, or to move out of the scene. I also spent quite a bit of time in Photoshop removing the signs that had been placed. I understand why they're there, but they really ruined the overall scene. The finished image above is one of my favorites from the trip.

A creek meanders through a salt marsh at the tip of Folly Beach, South Carolina, near Lighthouse Inlet in the abstract looking...
Salt Marsh Symphony

A creek meanders through a salt marsh at the tip of Folly Beach, South Carolina, near Lighthouse Inlet in the abstract looking aerial photo.

Something I wanted to spend more time photographing on this trip was more of the lowlands around Charleston. I didn't get quite as much chance as I'd hoped from the ground, but I was able to fly my drone over some of the marshes and get the aerial view I've come to enjoy from the drone. One of my favorites of the marshes is "Salt Marsh Symphony", above. I really enjoy the way the water reflects the light, creating gradations from light to dark, and I love the patterns and shapes created by the creeks that meander through the marsh.

Morris Island Lighthouse near Charleston, South Carolina, at sunset.
Morris Island Sunset

Sunbeams stream from behind a cloud bank as the now defunct Morris Island Lighthouse stands watch over the entrance to Charleston Harbor. The lighthouse was completed in 1876, when it was 1200 feet from the shoreline. Jetties built to protect the shipping lanes increased natural erosion on Morris Island, and now the lighthouse sits several hundred feet offshore.

Another subject I wanted to revisit was Morris Island lighthouse. Sitting just offshore from Folly Island and Morris Island, the lighthouse once guided ships into Charleston Harbor before it was decommissioned in the 1960's. There is an effort on to preserve the lighthouse by SavetheLight.org. The lighthouse has been imperiled for quite some time. Originally built on Morris Island 1200 feet from the water in 1876, the construction of jetties to protect the shipping lanes accelerated erosion, and by 1932 the lighthouse sat at water's edge. The lighthouse now sits several hundred feet offshore.

The last time I photographed the lighthouse, a hurricane was sitting offshore and I got a stormy view of it from the tip of Folly Beach. This time, I wanted a different point of view and the drone was the perfect means of doing it. Above you can see one drone image, looking back towards the inlet between Morris Island and Folly Island, as the setting sun streams through the clouds. And below is a panoramic image of the lighthouse showing Morris Island in the background.

Clouds obscure the sunset over Folly Beach and Lighthouse Inlet as Morris Island looks on while marking the entrance to Charleston...
Sunset Over Folly Beach

Clouds obscure the sunset over Folly Beach and Lighthouse Inlet as Morris Island looks on while marking the entrance to Charleston harbor in South Carolina.

While staying in Folly Beach, I wanted to photograph the pier there. It's a beautiful pier, the centerpiece of the beach, really. It extends 1049 feet out into the ocean, allowing for panoramic views, fishing, and birdwatching. While I do have some photos taken from beach level, I again sent the drone up to capture the pier from above, and photographed a 180º panoramic image that shows the beach extending in either direction as the pier stretches into the Atlantic just before sunrise. You can see that image below.

The Edwin S. Taylor Folly Beach Fishing Pier extends 1049 feet into the Atlantic Ocean at sunrise on Folly Beach, South Carolina.
Folly Beach

The Edwin S. Taylor Folly Beach Fishing Pier extends 1049 feet into the Atlantic Ocean at sunrise on Folly Beach, South Carolina.

One morning we headed into Charleston for sunrise. I'd wanted to photograph the Pineapple Fountain in Waterfront Park, but I also wanted to capture the early morning light on the antebellum homes that line the Battery. The Battery is a defensive seawall and promenade that was the site of a Civil War coastal artillery installation, and the antebellum homes are a favorite of locals and tourists alike. Seeing the facades of the homes glow as the sun begins to rise just adds to their grandeur, and I found a little spit of land on the water side of the seawall that allowed me a more frontal view of the homes.

The Battery in Charleston, South Carolina, as the morning sun rises over Charleston Harbor.
Morning at the Battery

The morning sun shines on the antebellum homes that line the Battery in Charleston, South Carolina. The Battery is the site of a Civil War-era coastal artillery battery, but now is famed for the historic homes that line the seawall there.

Another place I'd heard about but never photographed was Shem Creek. Shem Creek flows through Mount Pleasant and is now the heart of the town's dining and night life, filled with bars and restaurants. You'll also see shrimp boats docked along the creek. There's a boardwalk that allows you to walk the edge of the creek and into the marsh that surrounds the area. I wasn't quite sure what to expect here, so I wandered in with a pretty open mind. This isn't always a good thing for me. It can make it hard to find a composition because I really have no idea what I'm looking for. Thankfully, I quickly came across this group of brightly colored shrimp boats and fisherman's shack along the dock, catching the last light of sunset. It was exactly what I hoped I'd find.

Shrimp boats watch the sunset while docked along Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.
Shem Creek

Shrimp boats watch the sunset while docked along Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

As I do before every photo trip I take, I I hopped online and did some research to try and find interesting photos. I came across Cypress Gardens in my Googling, and while I didn't get there this time , I saw a photo of the abandoned church they have. I began to wonder if there were others in the region. Sure enough, I came up with three other church ruins. One of them, the Old Sheldon Church, was perfect.

Built in the Greek Revival style in the 1750's, the church was partially burned in 1779 during the American Revolution. It was repaired by 1826, before seeing its demise in 1865. There are differing ideas regarding the cause for its demise. One story tells of the church being burned by Union soldiers during Sherman's March to the Sea. However, there is evidence the church was actually spared, but was looted for materials when locals whose homes were burned down needed to rebuild. Whatever the truth is, all that remains are the four brick walls and four columns at the front of the building.

The Old Sheldon Church was originally built between 1745 and 1753 and known as Prince William's Parish Church.
The Old Sheldon Church Ruins

The Old Sheldon Church was originally built between 1745 and 1753 and known as Prince William's Parish Church. Built in Greek Revival style, it was then burned down by the British in 1779 during the American Revolution, and again by General Sherman in 1865, during the Civil War.

When I first saw the ruins, I began at one corner and made my way around the entire building, photographing from the ground. But as I saw the shadows being cast by the walls and windows in the sun, I decided an elevated view would make great use of those shadows, so once again, up went the drone. I had to be careful here as there were a lot of trees surrounding the ruins, but I was able to get the perfect angle to make the most of both the architectural features of the ruins, as well as the shadows being cast. I finished it off in black and white as I felt the tonality worked better than the color image.

All in all, it was a productive trip and I was thrilled to see the new places I was able to see. You can view more of my South Carolina photos HERE.