I’ve recently returned from four days in Charleston and at some of the surrounding Lowcountry plantations.


 I spent two days with four other photographers in a field workshop under the direction of Richard Bernabe.  He is a renowned scenic and nature photographer with over 7000 publishing credits.  He is the author of South Carolina Wonder and Light, Editor of Nature Photographers Online Magazine, and a principal of Mountain Trail photo, publishers and workshop operators. 

These workshops expose one to new venues (not much Spanish moss or Camellia in the Pinelands), and compel the practice of disciplined photography scene after scene all day long.  One has to think for each shot about subject matter, composition, lighting, zoom, focus point, aperture and depth of field, and exposure values.  Then (fortunately with digital), one can examine the shot immediately for blown out highlights, lack of shadow detail, exposure brightness, fuzziness…….  and adjust and shoot again if necessary.  Workshops are also an opportunity to discuss hardware and software with fellow gearheads.  It was a good experience; I enjoyed the scenes we saw and my fellow photographers.image-401

 We began a dreary, threatening Saturday morning in the Audubon Swamp Garden, a part of Magnolia Gardens.  Here we captured some Great Egrets doing their mating dances in full feathery plumage, as well as Great Blue Herons, a gator, and Anhingas.


Then, into the adjacent Magnolia Gardens, lush with azaleas, camellias, great Live Oaks and Spanish Moss.  The plantation was created by Thomas Drayton along the Ashley River in 1679.  His son, John, eventually created Drayton Hall (described below).image-09

After lunch we visited the Angel Oak, a Live Oak (Quercus Virginiana) that is a native species found throughout the Lowcountry,  This tree, on land owned by the Angel family at one time, is thought to be some 1500 years old and has branches which extend over 90′ from the trunk.image-14

We closed the day in a hard storm at the Grove Plantation, an 1828 mansion along the Edisto River, that survived the Civil War.  The approach is lined by moss-laden Live Oaks, and one half expects Scarlett and Rhett to appear beyond the next tree.image-15

Sunday morning took us to Cypress Garden, another great setting for cypress swamps, lily pads and azaleas.image-17

We finished the day in sunny, downtown Charleston with its attractive doorways and interesting homes and gardens.image-22


I stayed on for two more days to revisit some favorite places from past visits.  I began, however, by returning early to the Audubon Swamp Garden, now almost deserted compared to Saturday morning.  I encountered only one birder and one other bipedus photographus, and another nice image, a family portrait.image-05

Then off to Middleton Plantation to photograph their azalea hill which I photographed six years ago.  It was worth it.image-30

I finished the day and the trip with my fourth visit to one of my favorite places, the National Trust’s Drayton Hall on the Ashley River.  Begun in 1738 by the 22-year-old John Drayton it is considered one of the few surviving examples of 18th C. Georgian-Palladian architecture in America.  It is a striking building, sitting alone above the river.  image-41

The interior is an architectural museum as it is unfurnished and undecorated.  One sees only the mansion that Drayton created, unobscured by the trappings of any particular period.image-35

This has been a long blog but it was a wonderful trip.  Take another coffee break tomorrow and look at some other selected images.


  1. Louis Dallara Says:

    Ralph, Great work!

  2. denisebushphoto Says:

    FANTASTIC!!! I’m so glad you had a great trip and came away with so many winners. My favorites are 3 in the middle that all have big trees in them; Magnolia Gardens, Angel Oak and Grove Plantation. My favorite is Angel Oak — but I don’t think you should enter that in any SJCC competition! (OK — just kidding!) — D

  3. Mimsie Gaskin Says:

    Loved to see all these photos. It took me back to when Peter and I were stationed there many years ago. The Navy wives did a lot of volunteering in the historic homes during the House Tour seasons. Except for the humidity and the bugs, it was a glorious place to be. Your bird shots are magnificent…. as are the wonderful gardens. Charleston is a fabulous place for photographers and you certainly caught its beauties.

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