A port city that was founded in 1670, Charleston, South Carolina is known for cobblestones, carriages, and the waterfront. The first shots of the Civil War came from here, so it’s filled with a rich history and helps support the foundations of the nation. Aside from the historical significance, Charleston is filled with great photo opportunities.
There are historical landmarks, universities and colleges, exquisite buildings, and so much more. To help you figure out what you want to do, here are some of the top spots that you need to visit when you go through Charleston, South Carolina.
St. Michael’s Church
As the oldest church edifice in the city, St. Michael’s is also one of the few churches in the country to keep its original design. It’s filled with history and has a wonderful presence. George Washington even spent some time here in 1791 while he was touring the South. Originally built in 1761, it’s easy to see why so many people love those particular locations for their photoshoots. It can be found at Broad and Meeting streets and is also a National Historic Landmark. The adjacent churchyard is the resting place of many famous historical people, including two people who signed the Constitution. The bells of the church were cast in 1764 (recast in 1866) and also make for some great photos if you can get the right angle. A good composition for this shot is from the street in the evening. Set your camera on a tripod and capture some light trails from passing vehicles in the foreground.
Cobblestone streets are practically works of art in Charleston, and Chalmers Street is probably one of the most photogenic. The cobblestones were actually carried to the United States as the ballasts that were inside merchant ships in the 18th century. It’s one of only eight cobblestone streets that still remain intact in Charleston. From here you can also visit the Old Slave Mart Museum, which looks at Africans forcibly brought to this country and the trials they had to undertake.
This section of the city is part of what gives it character. The thirteen most photographed homes between 79 and 107 Easy Bay Street in the Historic District of Charleston make up Rainbow Row. Its a colourful and eclectic collection of homes. These Georgian row houses are popular tourist attractions and each home has a rich backstory. Shooting these homes individually or in a series helps build out the culture of the city, the residents, and the surrounding area. Look for people walking in front of the houses for some added interest.
Unitarian Church Graveyard
Part of Charleston’s Gateway Walk, the Unitarian Church Graveyard connects King Street to Archdale Street. It’s not very large, but at dusk, this can be quite an eerie little setting for photography. If you want to learn more why not take the ghost tour, you’ll get a much better sense of the historical significance of the location. As part of the oldest Unitarian church in the South (and the second oldest in Charleston), it is filled with history and has been declared a National Historic Landmark.
A defensive seawall, this location is also a promenade in Charleston. It was named for the coastal defensive artillery battery that used to be at the site, stretching the lower shoreline. Now it’s common to see dolphins swimming nearby, so make sure to bring a tripod and the right lens for getting a few far away shots. The general atmosphere of the battery is also quite relaxing, and perfect for taking portraits of any residents. Additionally, the antebellum homes lining the Battery are fairly grand in scope and are absolutely worth checking out. One of the good things about this location is that the promenade along the river is higher than the street. This allows you to see over the parked cars. This is another location which is ideal for blue hour photography to capture the light trails of passing cars against the grand houses.
The Hayward-Washington House
Located on Church Street, this historic house was built in 1772 and belonged to one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. George Washington was known to have stayed here during his visit to Charleston in 1791. It’s not owned by the Charleston Museum and has been furnished to look like life in the 18th century. In fact, the furniture is made up largely of Charleston-made pieces, which means you can get a great sense of local culture and craftmanship just by stepping inside and looking around. The grounds also have formal gardens that are filled with local fauna that were commonly used in the Lowcountry in the 18th century.
This favourite local spot has become a year-round centre for fun and relaxation for families and tourists. It’s set right on the banks of the Cooper River and is also adjacent to several historical homes that used to house Naval officers stationed at the nearby Charleston Naval Base. The lush oak trees make this a nicely shaded setting in certain spots. It’s a great place to click off a few frames to catch the lifestyles of the local residents. A must-see attraction is the Pineapple Fountain, which opened in 1990. Pineapples represent hospitality, which is one trait that Charleston is known for offering to visitors in spades. If you are lucky enough to have a beautiful sunset the fountain, it’ll make for quite a shot.
Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site
The amazing history behind this location really brings out what the South has to offer. Old trees brimming with character, waterfront spectacles along the Ashley River, and even an oyster-shell wall from the Revolutionary War. This is a favourite spot for photographers thanks to the various textures and backgrounds that are all in one spot. The site was actually donated to the State Park Service in 1969 and has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places. It’s placed where the town Dorchester once sat and you can see the remnants still there today, giving a good photographer a gateway to yesteryear.
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
Iconic bridges, stunning landscapes, luscious flowerbeds, and historic structures. Magnolia has it all and it’s absolutely worth revisiting at different points in the year. Even novice photographers will find that they are taking world-class pictures here. The beauty of the plantation makes it difficult to take a bad picture, with the wild colour springing up all around you and the intricate composite of the various foliage. Located on the Ashley River, it is one o the oldest plantations in the South. It began in 1676 when the owners built a small house and garden on the site. It became a rice plantation, but these days it is known for its horticulture. There’s a maze, a lake, ponds, footbridges, swamp garden, and so much more to explore.
Patriot’s Point Naval & Maritime Museum
This location is actually in Mount Pleasant, just alongside Charleston, but it’s a stone’s throw away and absolutely worth the short drive to the mouth of the Cooper River on the Charleston Harbor. Here you’ll find three gigantic sea vessels: the Yorktown, the Laffey, and the Clamagore (which is a submarine). Most major port cities don’t have this kind of access to decommissioned military vessels, so definitely take advantage of some of the unique shots you can get while on board.
This plantation built during the 18th and 19th century sits across the Ashley River in Dorchester County. The grounds and gardens are a photographer’s dream especially if you are lucky enough to encounter some early morning mist on the lake. The combination of the gardens and the old-style buildings are a wonderful combination. It is a National Historic Landmark and a must on your shot list for Charleston.
Charleston is a beautiful place to explore with your camera. From historic houses to plantations, you’ll be sure to come back with amazing photos. Use this handy guide to make sure that you cover the main spots.
Photo credits: Dreamstime – All rights reserved. No usage without permission.