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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Read further for additional area information:
It’s about a 5 hour drive to Edisto Beach State Park from the Raleigh area, camping with hot showers — $24 per night.
Drive exactly 3-miles north from the northern park entrance to Botany Bay Road. It becomes dirt shortly, and at the left turn, it goes through the gate with a kiosk on the right to register for free. Continue on about 2-miles to a T and make a right. Drive a short distance to an information board and parking area. It’s an easy 12-15 minute walk to the beach and boneyard. The “iconic” standing skeletons are a short walk along the beach to the left. Lots of shells, but no collecting is allowed.
Sunsets during the winter months here are over the ocean as well. There are small beach access parking areas at various intervals along the main road (174) through Edisto Beach. I found the areas around Beach Access #32 to be decent, but the first night there the wind was howling with biting, wind-blown sand.
Drayton Hall, the oldest unrestored, preserved plantation house in America is near Charleston as are several other plantations and gardens. Drayton Hall proved architecturally interesting, but their absolute unrelenting policy was no tripods and you could only enter with a tour group led by a guide! Not a conducive way to let the place soak in for a while to really get a sense of how to reveal the true character of the architecture and the light. $24.
At Hunting Island, there are two boneyards: one by the lighthouse at Parking area “C” with a few steps to the beach, and the better one accessed by a 15-minute trail walk from the back of the Nature Center parking area by the information board. Just after crossing the bridge over the sound, you are about 1-2 minutes to the boneyard. The parking area, which has a fishing pier, is on the left just before the bridge to private Fripp Island.
Sheldon Church Ruins (above) are off Route 17, just west of the intersection of Route 21. Heading west on 17, take the first right onto Old Sheldon Church Road 1.6 miles. Parking is on the left and the ruins are on the right. This image was taken at about 1045am so they may be better in the later afternoon (not sunset as the ruins are completely surrounded by trees) when the sun hits the columns in the front of the church. The choice is yours, but either way, it’s an interesting place with only the thick brick walls, columns and some grave stones remaining.