Posted tagged ‘Charleston’

Love Letter to the Live Oaks

September 6, 2013

The first time I visited Charleston for a photography workshop, in 2009, I didn’t fully appreciate the grandeur of the live oaks (Quercus virginiana) that seemed to be everywhere. Spanish moss dripped from many of their branches, and even wisteria could be seen rambling through them along the roadside. This year, the oaks themselves became actors in the scenes I saw, and I came away quite overwhelmed with their size, appearance, and place in the landscape.

The largest and most stunning specimen we saw was Angel Oak, located on Johns Island near Charleston. The City of Charleston has owned both the park where it is located and the tree  (which is estimated to be between 400 and 500 years old) since 1991.

Angel Oak

Angel Oak (or most of it) on Johns Island.

The day we visited, there were a moderate number of visitors around. You’re asked not to climb on the tree, set up tripods under its canopy, or walk around in  high heels, so the root area is protected (I didn’t see anyone wearing heels!) So we stayed back a respectful distance. Some of our group shot panos, while I stuck with an HDR approach to capture the image above. But I think I like it in black and white (below) almost as much.

Angel Oak

The same image of Angel Oak, rendered in black and white with an infrared treatment in Nik’s Silver Efex Pro.

Another destination of ours, Old Sheldon Church in Beaufort County, is the ruined remains of a stone and brick church surrounded by live oaks. We were there in the late morning, so the light wasn’t the greatest. Since I didn’t have an infrared camera, I made do by shooting and color and converting to black and white to minimize problems with the strong light. Without the surround oaks to add an air of mystery, I think the scene would have been far less interesting.

Live Oaks, Old Sheldon Church, Charleston SC

Live oaks surround the ruins of the Old Sheldon Church.

A short drive away, our leaders took us to photograph the live oaks lining the drive to a private home, Tomotley Plantation. Before we set off, Alan and Colleen stressed that we would be photographing on private property, and that the gates might be closed or we might need to leave if the owners asked us to. Since returning, I’ve done a little on line research and read that the owners are quite gracious about photographers. We didn’t linger too long, but what we saw was beautiful indeed.

Tomotley Plantation, Charleston, live oaks

Tomotley Plantation’s allee of live oaks, viewed from the side.

The line of live oaks was apparently planted in 1820. The original plantation, burned by Sherman’s troops, was rebuilt in the late 1800’s. The view down the driveway from the front gates (kindly left open by the owners), was gorgeous. With no wind to disturb the moss on the oaks, we shot to our hearts’ content.

Tomotley Plantation, Sheldon SC

Looking down the allee of live oaks at Tomotley Plantation

It was at our last stop on the trip, Middleton Place, that I found myself once again appreciating the beauty of these trees in a more “garden-like” setting. Their majestic size and the way their branches bend and arch make them a perfect foil for a waterside setting.

Live oaks leaning over a pond at Middleton Plantation

Live oaks leaning over a pond at Middleton Plantation

And in a more intimate setting, their presence lends just the right air of mystery and enclosure.

live oaks, Middleton Place

Live oaks and Spanish moss sheltering a bench and statue at Middleton Place

For more information about live oaks, including their usefulness in shipbuilding in the past, check out the article in Wikipedia. And if you have an opportunity to visit Charleston or other Southern states, keep an eye out for them in the landscape. They’re quite a sight to behold.

Small Treasures in Charleston

June 1, 2013

Part of the “skyline” of downtown Charleston not far from Battery Park and Rainbow Row.

Time to visit Charleston – at least as I saw it in mid-March this year. This city is truly a photographer’s paradise in terms of the diverse subject matters there are to explore and try to capture with your lens(es).

Although I first visited this area in 2009, this workshop exposed me to so much I had not seen before. And this time I was using a new camera, bought only two weeks beforehand, a Nikon D600. Shooting full-frame at last, and with images captured at 24 MB each, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed – the D600 is a champ! Aside from needing to clean some dust spots off the sensor one night (in my hotel room, under controlled conditions, thankfully), I was really impressed by the detail it captured.

One of the afternoons (and one morning) were spent wandering around downtown Charleston on our own. Most of the houses are townhouse style and sit right on the sidewalk. So the homeowners seem to take pride in dressing up their windows with beautifully-planted containers. Even in relatively chilly conditions, the plants seemed to be doing just fine, and brightened up the scene quite a bit.

Charleston gardens, window boxes

A window box on a townhouse near Rainbow Row

Another window box, immaculately kept.

Another window box, immaculately kept.

Charleston gardens, window boxes

Even businesses “dress up” their window boxes.

This image was one of my favorites, not so much for the flowers as the overall ensemble.


The shutters and door colors match, but the anchor on the wall makes this image. At upper left, a crape myrtle that has yet to leaf out adds an air of mystery.

Charlestonians who live downtown have small gardens that are not unlike those here in Georgetown. They may be postage-stamp-sized but quite glorious. In spring each year, the city holds a “Festival of Houses and Gardens,” which allows entry into some of these wonders. And this year, for the first time, The Garden Conservancy held an Open Days event which included a baker’s dozen of what are surely fabulous gardens, on May 25th.

I had to be content with small glimpses into some courtyard gardens, which were lovely indeed.

Charleston gardens

A carefully and beautifully-designed courtyard garden visible from the street in downtown Charleston. Captured with Camera+ by my iPhone5 and processed in Photoshop.

Part of a small Charleston garden, visible through a gate.

Part of a small Charleston garden, visible through a gate.

Another peek into a courtyard garden.

Another peek into a courtyard garden.

Crabapples in bloom in a side garden.

Crabapples in bloom in a side garden.

That’s it for this post. Next time – a visit to two “Magnolia” locations: Magnolia Plantation and Magnolia Cemetery.

Charleston Redux – Magnolia Plantation

April 3, 2010

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

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