While it's true that the south has a rather vehement past, it’s hard to deny that the south also boasts some of the oldest and most beautiful parts of our country. South Carolina is one of the gems of the south. Located in lowlands of beautiful swamp land and sandy coastline, this area has tremendous natural diversity. In addition to the natural wonders, South Carolina has some man made areas that are equally impressive. While the old plantations have a troubling history associated with them, in the past decades many of these areas are working towards educating tourists with historical information. Many of these plantations have beautiful entry ways lined with centuries old oak trees, dripping with moss.
A group of experienced photographers met Stephen and I in Charleston, South Carolina, the corridor to southern charm. Our first full day together we started off in one of the most beautiful little swamps in the area. Cypress Gardens had just recently re-opened to the public after years of being closed by hurricane damage. Swampy tree images are all the rage these days on the internet, and in most cases one has to board a small kayak and paddle themselves into the swamps to find these images. Not everyone is able or willing to take those measures to get these shots, so it’s wonderful that a place like Cypress Gardens exists. Here, trails surround the swamp, and it’s easy for folks to walk the perimeter of the swamp, and look for great compositions of these cypress trees and the murky waters of the swamp. It was a fun filled morning as Stephen and I wandered about, helping students create compositions out of the chaos, and find little shots of baby alligators and other little surprises that a swamp has to offer. It was a really great way to kick off our workshop. Many great images were captured here!
The first afternoon was spent at Boone Hall Plantation. This oak lined entry way is awesome, and of course the gardens and surrounding areas provide ample opportunities for capturing images of colorful flowers, and interesting vegetation. It was nice to see the plantation offering some really good information on the area, helping to keep visitors informed of its rich history.
Morning began in the wee hours as we made our way to Folly Beach pier to capture this iconic location in the morning light. This location offered up a few different ways to capture the pier. One from the west side shooting into the rising sun, where folks could silhouette the pier against the warm glow of the morning sky, another shot was from under the pier looking down at the repetition of columns, and silky smooth surf from the long exposures. It was a great spot to start the morning.
The Morris Island lighthouse gatekeeper of Charleston was the next stop. This old lighthouse sits in the harbor, and gave our cameras some wonderful opportunities to shoot long exposures, and work with stacking images for focal depth using some of the skeleton trees along the coast as foreground. On our way back from the lighthouse we stopped to photograph a great old pier that lay in shambles from storms now past. The gnarls and jagged edges of the old pier looked fantastic even in mid-day light with the bright blue sky and puffy white clouds.
Our next stop was to the Angel Oak tree, one of the largest oak trees in the world. This old giant is as gnarly and twisted as they get. It’s under high levels of protection, for good reason. Seeing this monster is really awesome, and we managed to time it well for fewer than usual crowds. There are still signs, and other things to worry about, and it becomes a Photoshop lesson as much as a lesson in composition or photography. No matter, it’s still a wondrous site to behold.
The sunset shoot was out of this world. We set out for Botany Bay, an extraordinary area where land and sea have collided. The skeletons of old trees sit amongst the waves, it’s truly something to see. The most recent hurricane did a real number on the area, but it’s still really impressive and there are always a few trees that have weathered these huge storms and remain resilient examples of the struggle of nature. We braved the bugs and got nice and low to use some of the sea rocks and waves as foregrounds for these gnarly old trees. We had to be off the beach by a few minutes after sunset, so it became an exercise in herding cats to get everyone to stop working and get to the vans. It was well worth it though, so many awesome images here!
Day 3, the final day in the field. We started off at the Tomotley Plantation, this private residence has one of the best oak lined entry of the area. Seeing all the moss, and the lush trees, it’s easy to drift back into time and wonder what it was like to ride down this dirt path. I imagine this had completely different vibes depending on the group of people traveling down it. Right now, our group just focused on exposure, and trying to frame this wonderful looking scene.
Rolling right into the second stop of the morning was the Old Sheldon Church ruins. This poor building has really seen some bad times. Burnt down in the revolutionary war, it was rebuilt, only to be burnt down again in the civil war. What was able to be salvaged was used to rebuild local residences and other buildings. Now this church just stands as an awesome piece of architecture, begging to be photographed. Our group spread out and really tried to use the lush greens of the trees to provide framing and context for these old brick walls. It was one of my favorite spots of the trip.
For the evening shoot we were headed into the heart of downtown Charleston. What a cool old city! I imagine this is a lot like New Orleans, only less so. Old rails on brick buildings, wonderful colored doorways, balconies, and brick-sections of roadway. Really a neat place. We photographed one of the cool old fountains in the area. The pineapple fountain is an icon, and a symbol of Charleston…they represent hospitality (thanks Google!) One thing we all agreed on is that the southern hospitality of Charleston is certainly amazing! We stayed to photograph the fountain until twilight allowed us to get some longer exposures and blur the water. We scooted off right after sunset to get to the Arthur Raveal Bridge, a huge spanning bridge that is a big part of the Charleston skyline. Much the way we would photograph the Golden Gate or Brooklyn Bridge, we lined up and worked on longer exposures to smooth out the water, and get a crystal clear image of this wonderful piece of engineering. The bugs were again up to their old tricks, and our crew escaped as soon as we’d all gotten a few images of this cool bridge.
Concluding our workshop on our last day was our post processing session. It was a great time for Stephen and I to take a look at the great collection of images the group had collected over the previous days in the field. Whether we were tilting compositions, working on exposure blends, or just cloning out people from a giant oak tree, we really had a lot of fun looking over all the images, and helping provide the little tweaks that were needed to make them all shine. Seeing the work of the class is always one of my favorite parts of each adventure. I think for the group seeing the fruit of their labor, and how awesome each image can be one of their favorite parts too! It’s the perfect way to put a cherry on top of one heck of a trip.
Until Next Time,
Brian, Stephen, 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.