Best Charleston Places to Visit for Photographers

The Best Charleston Places to Visit for Photographers

Are you looking for the best Charleston places to visit for photographers? Could you be in search of that ‘perfect’ spot? Don’t spend the day wandering. This list is sure to help you find what you’re looking for.

1.  Rainbow Row, 79-107 E. Bay Street

The largest cluster of Georgian row houses in the US.  They were  painted in colorful Caribbean colors as the area was being rehabbed in the 1930’s and 40’s.

Due to trees lining the sidewalk and cars parked along Bay St this area can be a challenge to photograph. For full sunlight between 10-11:00AM is suggested, or try in the afternoon when the houses are in even shade. Typical shots are vertical along the sidewalk looking north or south using various focal lengths.

At #99 the opening in the trees & driveway is large enough to allow taking pictures from the edge of the street at a shallower angle instead of the sidewalk seeing more of the front of the houses including a lamp post.  For a panoramic view cross Bay St down at Tradd St and stand on the opposite corner.  You can compose the scene horizontally and place the bottom of the picture just above the parked cars to cut them out of the scene.

2. The Battery

Down past Rainbow Row Bay Street turns into the East Battery where huge, beautiful mansions line the waterfront down to White Point Gardens at the end of the street. You can take photographs anywhere along the high seawall along Bay St next to the harbor for panoramic views or get closer on the other side of the street for close ups of a couple of iron gates.  Mornings are the best time for photos when the sun is shining on the front of the east-facing houses.

3. Magnolia Plantation & Drayton Hall

 These next two places to visit in Charleston are along Ashley River Road about 30 minutes from downtown.

Drayton Hall is the only original 18th century plantation house to survive both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.  Built in 1742, the un-restored house is considered one of the oldest and finest examples of Georgian-Palladian architecture in the country. Interior tours are offered every half hour.  As you stand on the front porch note a small pond down to your left at the edge of the ‘front yard.’  Excellent compositions can be made with the house reflected on the pond.

Only a mile further down the road Magnolia Plantation offers vast informal ‘romantic’ gardens with walking trails, bridges & statuary, a small hedge maze and a cypress swamp area.  In March-April when the gardens are in full bloom, expect large crowds and lines and try to arrive as early as possible, and try to avoid visiting Sat-Sun at this time.

Photo compositions will be found anywhere along the walking paths and bridges. If you follow the entrance road from the parking lots past the house you will find an avenue of oak trees that are especially lovely in the spring when they have blooming azaleas underneath. Best time to photograph the oaks is mid to late morning.

4. St Michaels Church, Broad & Meeting Streets

To photograph the famous white steeple and colorful storefronts along Broad St. you should be at the NE corner of Broad & Church Streets in the morning and at SE King St & Broad Streets in the afternoon. For photos without parked cars and people in the composition be in position about 30-45 minutes after sunrise to have empty streets.

If you have a tripod you can also try both locations about 45-60 minutes before sunrise and use a graduated neutral density filter for the bright steeple to even out the light.

If you want to photograph the famous church gates along Meeting Street you must arrive around 8:15-8:30 before they open the gates at 9:00AM.

5. Dock St Theatre & French Huguenot Church

These two places to visit in Charleston are located at the corner of Queen & Church Streets in the French Quarter.

Brownstone columns, wrought iron doorways and balcony make this old theatre an interesting place to compose photographs.  It  is best photographed in the morning when the light illuminates the wrought iron balcony, stucco walls and wrought ironwork over the doors.  This is also one of the best night-time photos in Charleston with a  tripod set at the edge of Church Street and a composition with the front of the theatre on the left side and the steeple of St Phillips on the right side of the image.

Directly across the street the front of the pink Gothic Revival style French Huguenot Church is best photographed in the afternoon as it faces southwest. The gothic style iron fence posts also make some interesting photo subjects. Stand facing either front corner of the church for a clean, pink background to your fence post photos.

6. Chalmers Street

The longest remaining original cobblestone street in Charleston is a place to visit that retains the feeling of old Charleston.   Walking down the street between Meeting and State Streets you will find many houses and doorways on both side of the street for your compositions.  Be sure to get low and include the cobblestones in images of the houses and use a larger f-stop  {f20,22,26] for more depth of field. The noted ‘pink house’ at #12 faces NE and is always in the shade; so be careful with your composition if it includes some brightly lit cobblestones in the foreground that will be over-exposed. 

7.  Unitarian and St. John’s Lutheran Churches
6 & 10  Archdale St

The delightfully lush & overgrown Unitarian graveyard is a very lovely place to visit and photograph.  Vegetation is left  to grow wild as a symbol of the reunion with nature after death. So it has a unique mixture of headstones and plants gone wild.

The graveyard is open 9:00 – 2:00 daily. Volunteers are available to show the beautiful & unique sanctuary & stained glass windows September thru mid-June on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-1:00 p.m. and Sundays from 12:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. and photos are allowed inside. The church is also open daily during the spring Historic Charleston Foundation tour of homes & gardens and during the Spoleto festival.

The next place to visit is right next door. At St John’s Lutheran Church we find some of the finest iron gates in Charleston.  There are three large gates with massive overthrows set between tall, white columns dating back to 1822.  They can be photographed anytime, but in mid-afternoon [3:00-3:45] long shadows play across the checkerboard floor of the portico allowing for some very interesting compositions.

8. Pineapple fountain

Located in the waterfront park on the edge of the harbor at the end of Cumberland St.  Early morning is the best time to photograph this unique fountain as it is filled with children splashing in it the rest of the day. This is a favorite place to visit for photographers with a tripod for pre-sunrise pictures and also right at sunrise with the golden sun rising through or near the fountain.

Our last two places to visit are just a short drive from downtown Charleston and should be combined  into one trip as the McLeod Plantation house is right on the way to Angel Oak.

9. McLeod Plantation

Off Folly Road about 10 minutes from downtown on James Island. 

This antebellum plantation house is only one of two left in the local area, the other 45 or so were destroyed by the Union Army during the Civil War.

Now a county park, the house and grounds are open Tuesday-Sunday for viewing and tours and includes a row of six original clapboard slave cabins.  The house was remodeled by a former owner in the early 1900’s to resemble what most people think a southern plantation house should look like, and it does.  With the house located at the of an oak allee’ it allows some classic photo compositions.

10.  Angel Oak

Located about 20 minutes from downtown off Maybank Highway on Johns Island, this huge tree is estimated to be between 900- 1400 years old and is considered to be one of the oldest living things in the US.  Pictures do not do justice to how enormous and impressive this tree is. It is 65 feet tall and covers 17,200 square feet of ground.  The longest branch is 187 feet long.

Best time for photos is shortly after the park opens in the morning to get the sunlight coming from the left side and has the fewest number of people walking around.  Hours are Mon-Sat 9-5.  Sun 1-5, free admission.


If you have questions about places to visit in Charleston for photographers, or about our historic Charleston photo tours, you can email us at or call (843) 991-6128

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Richard Spencer

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