Lighting in the Low Country: Getting Those Great Vacation Shots January 31 2009, 0 Comments

Taking photographs of your vacation for many means grabbing some quick shots while on a tour, or walking down a busy street. Taking great vacation photos of Charleston can be a challenge. Not only are we among the top five tourist destinations in the country, but our three story, 19th century homes and narrow streets present even greater challenges than the flow of visitors.

However, if you are willing, you can go home with some beautiful images, here’s how! Most visitors don’t realize that Charleston does not fully awaken until around 9:00 am. In the late spring and summer months, this is a golden opportunity to photograph downtown, especially on the weekends. The soft light around 7:00 am is perfect for photographing the colors of the homes along South Battery. During the last week of March and the first week of April, the azaleas add an extra splash of color to the homes, contributing beautiful contrast to your photos.

Photographing the quaint narrow streets, lined with vines and decorative iron gates requires a little later hour. The first light of the day does not light the buildings and homes evenly. The sun needs to be higher in order to avoid hard shadows or buildings that are half lit and have in the dark. Generally, in late spring and early summer, 9:00 am is fine for meandering through the inner streets, south of Broad.

Because so many of our buildings are three stories, it is sometimes difficult to capture the whole building without the camera distorting the image. By that I mean, the image looks tilted in your photo because you had to tilt your camera in order to fit the entire building in your view finder. If you are using an SLR you can correct this distortion by simply using a “tilt/shift” lens. This lens tilts up and down, and shifts left to right allowing you to remove the distortion of photographing tall buildings. This will be a wonderful tool when photographing our many church steeples!

If you choose to spend the day at a plantation, plan to arrive as soon as they open. This will allow you to enjoy the plantation, and take some really fine photos without the press of visitors. Magnolia Plantation is just such a place. Known for its romantic gardens and spectacular display of azaleas, Magnolia provides soft light for many hours of the day, even when the sun is almost directly overhead, a time professional photographers rarely shoot, unless it is cloudy. The incredible height of the foliage provides diffusion.

Photographing the beach demands that you get there before the sun is up. The time to take photos at the beach, absent a truly cloudy day, is before the light is over the horizon. There is a small window of time when the light has come but the sun has not risen providing a perfect opportunity to capture the colors of the beach. Once the sun has risen the shadows are hard and the color is diminished. Your other opportunity to photograph the beach would be at sunset, just after the sun has dipped below the horizon.

Finally, partly cloudy days are the preferable days for taking photographs. The clouds diffuse the harsh light allowing the colors of Charleston to come through.