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General Thoughts
Fallen Snag at First Light no.2 — Hunting Island State Park, SC © jj raia

Fallen Snag at First Light no.2 — Hunting Island State Park, SC © jj raia

Most times when I plan a photo trip, I research the area for possible locations that may prove interesting, where the sun will rise and set and moon phases for that particular time of year. But no matter how deeply you research an area, I always find that other photographers are more than willing to share information to make your experience that much more successful.

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Fallen and Standing Snags at First Light — Botany Bay, SC © jj raia

And so it was on this latest trip to the South Carolina coast. I had seen photos of skeleton trees standing or laying in the ocean, and I wanted to see them for myself and have the opportunity to photograph them, hopefully in the right light and during the most advantageous ocean tide. I found that Botany Bay near Edisto Beach had what are called “boneyards”  where there once were standing trees and marsh that the ocean has reclaimed and is now an open beach of scattered, fallen trees with entire root systems exposed along with a few stubborn, still standing snags that end up completely engulfed by the ocean during high tide. A photographer friend of mine gave me a lot of information about the location, so I knew a little when I arrived which helped. I was tortured with three straight days of clear blue skies without the hint of a cloud. Then on my last morning there, I spoke to the only other photographer I had seen in two mornings, and we talked a while. I mentioned my next stop was Hunting Island and he told me it was very beautiful and the boneyard there is better than Botany Bay. And I didn’t even know there was a boneyard there!!

Winter Marsh - PAINTING-Edit

Winter Marsh — Hunting Island State Park, SC © jj raia

That afternoon, I scouted the boneyard at Hunting Island for the next morning and then went over to the western side to walk along the boardwalk for a sunset over the vast expanse of marshlands, but again there were absolutely no clouds! I did take one series that I thought may work by combining two images to balance the light values of the sun and marsh. I liked the way a gap in the grasses seemed to mimic the shape of a small hummock of trees, but felt I also wanted to do some post processing to make it more painterly and give it a greater sense of distance by accentuating the differing waves of grass and trying to recreate the glow there that afternoon. While I was there, I met three photographers who told me about another boneyard close by that was better than the one I checked out earlier, and they told me about the old Sheldon church ruins that were right on my way home. So as the sun was setting, I headed back toward Beaufort where I was staying because the campground at the park was full, and I happened past a beautiful spot right by the entrance to the park with an open view of the marshes looking west, some trees in the middle distance and wet reflections in the foreground.

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Marsh Reflections at Sundown — Hunting Island State Park, SC © jj raia

I had to scramble to get the gear out for a few shots in the fading light, but it really made me happy, because I thought without any clouds, any sunset images would not be very dramatic. But this spot, as did the marsh shots previously, proved me wrong again.

The next morning found me hiking in the dark, heading to the boneyard and found it to be much better that the one I saw the previous afternoon. The flat beach was almost free of shells, being much cleaner for more interesting graphics. One of the first images taken just as the horizon began to lighten, was a 25-sec. shot of a kind of waterway on the sand leading into the ocean reflecting the sky, with the sand having an almost striped pattern. I wanted a clean, graphic, almost Daliesque look so I didn’t include any snags in the frame.

Surf Sheen No. 2 - Hunting Island State Park, SC

Waterway at First Light — Hunting Island State Park, SC © jj raia

There were plenty of opportunities for those shots though, and had several from which to choose that were photogenic, and happily, this morning there were even a few wispy  clouds, which was a lot more than I had seen in several days, so they added a bit more interest in the sky (top photo). In addition to several shots with these standing skeletons, I ended up taking a few sand pattern abstracts just as the sun lost it’s orange glow as the light raked across the beach. All in all, a good morning thanks to the information I received the night before, making it the unique solitary experience I’m always after.

Sand Detail - Hunting Island,SC

Sand Detail — Hunting Island State Park, SC © jj raia

One note about both Botany Bay and Hunting Island is that they both seem to be photographically best near or at low tide. At higher tides, since the beaches are so flat, most of the trees will be in deeper water without the wash of waves coming ashore. But I suppose even then, those circumstances may provide other opportunities for unique images. Just as clouds have the ability to enhance a sunrise or sunset, the complete lack of them forces us to create alternatives to those we may have pre-visualized.

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