Charleston Redux – Magnolia Plantation

The second day of our photo workshop in Charleston, our intrepid leaders took us to Magnolia Plantation & Gardens, providing access before the official opening time of 8 a.m. for the public. As landscape photographers know, being able to photograph around sunrise and sunset is crucial to capturing images in what is called the “sweet light.” Mid-day sunlight is harsh (as witnessed by my struggles with the pictures I took at Middleton Place).

We began by photographing an avenue of live oaks on a deserted road leading into the garden grounds. Azaleas provided splashes of color against the gray moss hanging off the gorgeous, huge oaks.

Magnolia Plantation Gardens, Charleston, live oaks

Magnolia Plantation Gardens, Charleston, live oaks

I have to confess that having spent almost my entire adult life (except for two years in college) in climates where azaleas are as common as dirt, I have come to take them for granted and dismiss them as uninteresting and overused in the landscape. Imagine my shock, then, to find myself really appreciating their beauty for the first time. We were catching them at their peak bloom, and the effect was stunning throughout the entire trip.

Magnolia Plantation Gardens, Charleston, live oaks

In a hidden part of Magnolia Plantation Gardens, a rose-colored azalea stands out against a small outbuilding in the background.

Not all the beauty was in the azaleas, and I had more opportunities to photograph flowers using my usual approach,

Magnolia Plantation Gardens, Charleston, Siberian iris

Blue Siberian irises

as well as a more impressionistic capture:

Magnolia Plantation Gardens, Charleston, irises

A "swirl" of white Siberian irises, a la Tony Sweet.

(Which one gets your vote?)

I will close with two of my favorite photos from the day – one of yet another clutch of azaleas near a fence, and the other of a “catch” at the petting zoo on site.

Magnolia Plantation Gardens, Charleston, live oaks

Red azaleas near a fence at Magnolia Plantation Gardens

Charleston, Magnolia Plantations & Garden, albino peacock

An albino peacock on display at the "petting zoo" enclosure.

Related posts:
Less Becomes More
Middleton Place & Cypress Swamp

Explore posts in the same categories: landscape, photography, Travel

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13 Comments on “Charleston Redux – Magnolia Plantation”


  1. Wow what an amazing place and fabulous photography Melissa. Your work is stunning. I love the shot of the red azaleas near the fence and the rather artistic “swirl”. Inspiring.

    Happy Easter,

    RO xx

    • Melissa Says:

      Thanks! I just visited your blog and saw a perfect daffodil photo!! They are up in abundance around here. Hope your mom continues to recover – I’m sure she loves having you around.

  2. Lori Timan Says:

    i vote for the Swirl!

  3. Edith Hope Says:

    Dear Melissa, A lovely sequence of early spring images and from them it is very clear that you made good use of all that the course has to offer. Like you, I have a rather ambivalent view of azaleas but your pictures capture them in a new light.

    However, it is the albino peacock which has stolen my heart. Such perfection, all round!

    • Melissa Says:

      Yes, the peacock is a favorite of mine too. He/she spent about ten minutes preening in front of a couple of us with cameras clicking away on our fastest continuous settings. What amazing creatures. So glad to have you back!

  4. gardeningasylum Says:

    Hi Melissa, Love both irises! This place is so special, I have such fond memories of all the magnolias and camellias and magical views of bridges, live oaks and water.

    • Melissa Says:

      Cyndy, it’s great you know these places. We were supposed to go back to Magnolia Plantation for one more shoot the morning the workshop ended, but it rained (sigh). Another time I hope to write about the other spots we visited – less gardeny, but full of photo ops. Happy Easter!

  5. Jean Says:

    Hi Melissa, Since I love Siberian irises, I prefer the photo where I can actually see their gorgeous blooms. And it’s amazing to me that they are already in bloom in the south; mine are just starting to push little green shoots out of the ground and won’t bloom for another 2 months.

    • Melissa Says:

      Mine are where yours are at the moment! I was surprised too, seeing these in bloom in early April last year – I guess I had forgotten how much earlier spring arrives in the South.

  6. John Says:

    I have to second the enthusiasm for the peacock. Very nicely rendered. It’s a good question about whether impressionism or crisp detail wins out. I think that if you looked at a whole book of the impressions (even from Tony Sweet) it would begin to wear more than the detail of the flowers which is what brings us to gardening anyway. Great series by the way. I don’t know how you retain the detail of what you did on these garden visits…

    • Melissa Says:

      I cheat. No, seriously, since my image files are organized by location within a big “Charleston” folder, looking at them in the order I shot them helps bring some of the details back to life.

      I know what you mean about the “impressionistic” captures. There were a lot of people in the workshop who had traveled with Tony before and were very into the multiple exposures, swirls, etc. I like the iris photo more now that I’ve played with it in PS a little; and I took some photos at sunset on Folly Beach that are slow pans that I also enjoy. But most days, give me my garden photography fix straight!


  7. Melissa, I vote for the swirl. But actually, my favorite picture is the one with the red azaleas in front of the fence.


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