TOP 11 PHOTO LOCATION SPOTS IN CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
A List of my eleven favorite engagement and portrait session location recommendations around DOWNTOWN Charleston, FOLLY BEACH, and MOUNT PLEASANT, South Carolina
Whether you're planning your engagement session in Charleston or just visiting this beautiful city and looking where the local photo hotspots are around town, I'm happy to help! As a photographer living in Charleston, SC I'm always traversing the Lowcountry's most scenic spots to meet my clients' demand for Charleston's seductive, romantic, whimsical, photographic Southern charm. It truly is a photographer's wet dream at every turn.
There are a few things to consider when planning your portrait session or picture outing.
Three Things To Consider Before Planning Your Engagement or Portrait Session
1. LIGHTING AND TIME OF DAY
Charleston's historical old buildings and cobblestoned streets hold over three-hundred years' worth of Colonial, Revolutionary, and modern American charm. Bountiful open shade provided by ancient southern oak trees creates enviable lighting situations in downtown city squares, especially White Point Gardens and the Battery. The warm rays of the morning sun before 11:00am paint pink, purple and golden hues over the treeline and rooftops of downtown, while the evening offers darker, more dramatic images with vibrant orange to purple sunsets. You'll want to use apps like The Weather Channel or Sunseeker to check where the best lighting will be depending on where you are around the peninsula or islands.
Speaking of time of day, Charleston experiences an unbelievable mass exodus across all inbound / outbound traffic arteries at rush hour, or between 4:00pm - 7:00pm. I highly suggest planning to be shooting during those hours, instead of traveling. Trying to get in or out of downtown will be a nightmare, as will be getting over to Mount Pleasant, Sullivan's Island, Folly Beach, Isle of Palms, or towards North Charleston and the airport. Find your parking plenty of time before golden hour.
3. FEES + PERMITS
While Charleston is arguably one of the most beautiful destination cities in the United States, it's scenic charm can come at a price. A majority of local favorites and tourist hotspots are starting to now charge flat entry fees, and some go as far as requiring permits from the City to even photograph. Angel Oak tree for example is free admission but not free photography. The permit is steep for photographers, over $100. You can enjoy looking at it in all it's majesty (for free) right here. (You're welcome). Make sure you research locations beforehand and if they have entry fees or permit restrictions.
Ok, let's get to it. Here are my top eleven favorite engagement and portrait session location recommendations around Charleston, South Carolina.
TOP 11 ENGAGEMENT + PORTRAIT LOCATION RECOMMENDATIONS AROUND CHARLESTON
1. The Battery + White Point Gardens
The Battery and White Point Gardens are in the heart of Charleston's historic district, at the southernmost point of the downtown Charleston peninsula. The location is easily within walking distance of several other really neat spots, which I'll take the time to share with you below, which makes it reason alone to put it on your list. In the middle of the Gardens there is a beautiful rotunda gazebo and plenty of giant southern oaks to cover the greenery aspect.
Walk a little ways west down S. Battery Street and you'll come on the William Gibbes House with it's grand marble staircase complimented by well manicured vines growing in tandem. Walk east from here, continuing on S. Battery Street until you come to Church Street.
2. Church Street
Church street is hugely underrated and is one of my best kept secrets. Strolling down the length of the street will take some time, maybe a fifteen minute walk, but I value this time to have personal conversation and build a relationship with my clients before putting the pressure on in front of my lens. The buildings as you'll notice are a sightseeing tour, and a stroll through Charleston's rich early history. Take advantage of Church street's many textures and angles. Pockets of light stream through at every intersection, and you'll be sure to find way more than a few spots to stop at wanting to take photos.
3. First Baptist Church
If you've followed me so far then you're coming up on the beautiful First Baptist Church, a staple for weddings here in downtown and one of the city's oldest, prettiest, and most striking churches. I love not only the church itself but the courtyard connecting the church to its parking lot. Be sure to utilize all the amazing light flowing through that gorgeous courtyard, it's usually open.
4. Tradd Street + Rainbow Row
Enjoying the trip so far? I'd love a comment for the free secrets ;) Continue north down Church street and hang a right on Tradd Street. Tradd is my favorite. Cobblestones line the streets (hope you brought comfy shoes!) which reflect the lighting perfectly, and provide a really unique texture for photos. Shoot your heart out on Tradd, and then you'll want to see Rainbow Row. The houses are all painted in soft pastel colors and provide a backdrop you're not likely to find unless you were in London, England. Rainbow Row is certainly not the last location I could recommend that you trek to downtown, but for the sake of keeping this article short and sweet, I'm going to move ahead to some outlying locations.
5. Folly beach | folly beach pier
Folly Beach is the local's favorite beach and is also a popular tourism area offering a totally different vibe than downtown Charleston. Along the "Edge of America" coastline, beach grass casts a soft green-gold glow behind the palm trees and over the blue ocean water. If you're looking for natural outdoor greenery, you'll love taking photos at Folly Beach. While you're there, be sure to catch fish tacos and margaritas for lunch at local favorites Rita's Seaside Grille or Black Magic Cafe.
6. LIGHTHOUSE INLET | MORRIS ISLAND LIGHTHOUSE
Drive east-northeast down Ashley Ave until it ends. Continue down the trail at the end of the road and you'll find the lighthouse inlet and the eerily beautiful and forgotten Morris Island Lighthouse. Definitely worth taking photos there in early or late afternoon light. The seafoam color palette against the texture of the rock are set with the Lighthouse in the backdrop, providing a super picturesque view of Charleston.
7. ANGEL OAK TREE
I'm sure you're familiar with Charleston's legendary 1000 year old Angel Oak tree, which is over 60 feet tall with an unbelievably wide canopy. I would say bring your wide angle lens, but photography requires a permit here. Be aware before you plan to photograph there. The phrase a picture is worth 1000 words certainly rings true, as the tree is nothing short of majestic. Check out photos here.
8. MAGNOLIA PLANTATION + GARDENS
Selected as one of "America's Most Beautiful Gardens", Magnolia Plantation and Gardens takes you 300 years into Charleston's past and transports you back into a time where Southern roots and tradition are in full bloom. It's easy to see why Charleston is named America's number 1 city for destination weddings when every shot looks like a scene straight out of The Notebook (even though The Notebook was filmed at Boone Hall Plantation, not Magnolia).
9. Creek Club at I'On | MOUNT PLEASANT
On the Mount Pleasant side of the Ravenel bridge lies tucked away one of the area's geographic most serene landscapes located in the Old Village Historic District. The Creek Club at I'On boasts a widespread landscaped lawn overlooking the creek and marsh is perfect for outdoor engagement or portrait sessions with a view. Beautifully landscaped with native foliage including live oaks, palms, and azaleas, the gardens are a sight to behold year-round.
10. Wild Dunes | Charleston Island Resort
Wild Dunes is an island resort located on Isle of Palms and offers condo, cottage and vacation home rentals, dining, health spa, and one of Charleston's top golf courses. If you're looking to come stay in the Lowcountry for vacation, you will certainly experience the Charleston charm. The entire property (and Isle of Palms) is beautiful, take your pick how you wish to spend your day here, or plan your photo session. Their website or a phone call will offer more information for photography.
11. bEARDCAT'S SWEET SHOP
You might be asking me why this location ends the list and the answer is because I believe that NO photo session is complete without ice cream. Ending an engagement session with a hot fudge sundae laughing and smiling looking over the photos on the camera is my favorite part of the day! Beardcat's Sweet Shop boasts an interesting name and an impressively delicious menu sure to please your sweet tooth. For a cherry-on-top photo op to end the night, share a kiss and an ice cream cone on the picnic table underneath the lantern-lit live oak in the parking lot.
Thanks so much for reading and I hope you found this list helpful! Let me know your favorite ice cream flavor and favorite location to photograph around Charleston is in a comment! (Mine is mint chocolate chip!)