When it comes to beautiful imagery, there’s not many places that can compete with the sheer diversity of stunning subject matters like North Carolina and South Carolina. Carolina photography has been the setting and backdrop for many movies, television shows, and editorial/fictional books and publications. One of the most popular and famous romance authors, Nicholas Sparks whose work includes: The Notebook, A Walk To Remember, and Dear John (amongst many other popular hits), sets all of his book’s settings to various areas amongst the Carolinas )whether beachside, lakeside or something in between.
Popular television show One Tree Hill was also shot in the Carolinas. Just proving that the Carolinas have it all when it comes to perfect locations to shoot. Aside from romantic and serene settings, some exciting Carolina photography spots also contain extravagant architecture, whimsical roller coasters, as well as industrial hot spots featuring machinery and sea vessels – so the range in opportunities to capture on camera is indeed a wide net.
Nestled in Asheville, an up and coming trendy and relatively hipster area in the Carolinas, is an iconic and grandiose mansion built in 1895 to George Vanderbilt. The estate was also the house featured in the 90’s film Richie Rich starring Macaulay Culkin – to give you relative size to how expansive the property is. Located in the house are 16th-century tapestries, seventy-foot ceilings, sixty-five fireplaces, a banquet hall, library with over 10,000 books, bowling alley, and an indoor pool. On site, there’s also a winery, garden, and stables – perfect for those looking to capture various forms of Carolina photography including: architectural, still life, landscape, and flora. An important note: larger DSLR cameras may not be allowed on inside the Biltmore residence so check before entering if taking a tour.
Located along the Blue Ridge Parkway on milepost 364.4, are the Craggy Gardens which are named so because of the jagged, rocky, and somewhat twisted ‘crags’ located throughout the gardens. For those who are interested in shooting flowers, still life, and nature photography, Craggy Gardens is home to some of the most beautiful flora such as violets, blackberries, May-apple, and Turk Cap lilies all year long (due to the height and altitude of the gardens). For those looking for the most beautiful time of year to visit the gardens, try during the summer months (in particular June). During this time Catawba Rhododendrons flowers bloom in pink and purple and are layered over the entirety of the garden’s grounds.
In the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Kitty Hawk is a small town most notably known as the location where the Wright brothers controlled their first powered airplane. Aside from bringing in the credibility as the location the modern day airplane started, photographers will love the coastal lines and the incredible sunrise landscapes as the sun comes over the rocky shore. To have beautiful Carolina photography coastal shots, head out onto the pier and boardwalk at Sandy Run Park and catch the waves coming in. Another great spot to check out in Kitty Hawk is the Woods Coastal Reserve where you can spot otters and turtles.
USS North Carolina:
Named for the state, this battleship just reopened to visitors after cleanup from Hurricane Florence. The ship is docked in the city of Wilmington and allows guest to walk throughout the deck. Captivating historical photographer buffs, the USS North Carolina faced fierce battles throughout the Pacific Ocean during the Second World War. Side note for all visitors, make sure you wear closed toe and protective footwear while onboard. Additionally, the ship does not restrict from bringing DSLR cameras on board, so you’ll be able to capture fantastic content.
Located in a village also known as Chimney Rock in Rutherford County, this rock formation gave the area its name as the projecting rock formation is the staple and important icon in town. The rock itself is located in Chimney Rock State Park and is a favorite amongst hikers and nature photographers. Twenty-five miles southeast of Asheville, the best place to capture iconic Carolina photography shots would be on: Devil’s Head Balancing Rock, the Hickory Nut Waterfall also located on the property. While beautiful sites are located all around the state park, there’s nothing that can compare to the sheer impressiveness of Chimney Rock itself. Standing at 315 feet, this rock formation is made purely from granite monolith and is a must see for all those who like to capture landscape imagery.
Goose Creek State Park:
Covering over 1,500 acres of the state park near Washington, North Carolina, Goose Creek State Park is a site not to be missed. Eight miles full of elevated trails over marshland give view and insight into many to varying ecosystems and wildlife – making it a diverse area to shoot and capture content. Viewers will experience oaks covered in flowing Spanish moss, wetlands along the Pamlico Sound, and even coastal land as you’re lead into Sandy Swamp Beach. While seeming overwhelming, there’s not much to fear. Although the stretch of trail is eight miles long, the pathway is suitable for beginners and isn’t too strenuous regarding altitude and climbs.
Cape Fear Riverfront:
This blackwater river in east-central stretched 202 miles long and gave itself out to the Atlantic Ocean where the coast meets the water at Cape Fear (hence the name). Another beautiful spot in Wilmington, North Carolina, many photographers like to capture the riverfront as is merging to the ocean amongst tall grass, marsh, and Carolina blue skies. Amazing aerial shots can also be captured of the long river from elevated heights (like Cape Fear Memorial Bridge) or even drone footage outside of the city of Wilmington.
What better way to take fantastic landscape Carolina photography all while giving back to the community? As Grandfather Mountain is a non-profit organization, donations from visitors go towards both conservation and social/topical issues. Just recently Grandfather Mountain gave proceeds to Hurricane Florence Relief. Besides the incredible charity work, Grandfather Mountain also offers a myriad of both entertaining activities and beautiful views. Guest can capture the scenes from the Mile High Swinging Bridge, many of the park’s nature trails, or venture into some of the areas wildlife habitats that include: black bears, bald eagles, and otters.
Looking for some great Carolina blue to add to your Carolina photography portfolio? Look no further than Franklin Street located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, home of UNC. Notably known for its incredible academics and legendary basketball program, UNC amps up its southern charm when it comes to the many shops, restaurants, and business’ on Franklin Street which is known as downtown to the University students. Ideal for photographers looking to capture lifestyle photography, the contrast of quaint small town feel, Carolina blue accents, and modern fashion and stylings from millennials creates the ultimate image. Plus! Every Halloween Franklin Street becomes one of the massive hotspots and is recognized as such by all the students and locals.
Cape Lookout National Seashore:
As the name alludes to, you’re going to want to look out over (and capture on camera) this beautiful coastal view. Sporting a mesmerizing lighthouse accented with geometric design and shapes, Cape Lookout expands over a fifty-six mile stretch down the Southern Outer Banks, otherwise known as Crystal Coast. If you are looking to shoot a variety of subjects to encapsulate Carolina photography, once your down shooting landscapes including the lighthouse. Head on up, because the lighthouse is open to visitors, and shoot onto the coast from an aerial view getting in the entire coastline.
Mount Mitchell State Park:
Notably known as the OG ideal photography destination spot amongst the Carolinas, Mount Mitchell State Park was the first recognized and protected state park in North Carolina. Taking up almost 2,000 acres of land, there’s bound to be iconic locations to capture every avenue of Carolina photography classics. One of the most important being Mount Mitchell’s dramatic summit, considered as the highest point east of the Mississippi River (6,684 feet). While hiking, enjoying, or shooting the sites inside the state park, visitors can participate in accessible observation decks, spruce-fir forest, and an onsite museum.
One of the charms to the city of Winston-Salem, this part of town is a node and recognition to the past as it captures its beauty in a classic and preserved way. The buildings stand with exposed brick and wood shuttered walls, the people are dress to theme and character, and the activities reflect those of the time their freezing in place. An excellent spot for those wanting to shoot lifestyle imagery or a spot for engagement/announcement photos as the town is so interactive and calls for so many different elements of style and types of poses. The best time to visit Old Salem is in the fall and early winter (as many activities for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas happen).
NASCAR Hall of Fame:
In the city of Charlotte, NASCAR has its headquarters and iconic Hall of Fame, but what makes this node to the great racers of our past an ideal shot for capturing Carolina photography? The completely awesome interactive space and architecture. The building itself is comprised of a metal dome/rotunda mimicking that of a race track. From a distance, the windowed walls give the appearance as if the track is floating. Once inside, visitors can marvel at Nascar’s history and see cars, props, and accessories built from over time – making for great still-life content, plus those windows that gave the floating outer appearance also make for incredible lighting inside the building.
Carowinds Theme Park:
Staying in the city of Charlotte, head on over to Carowinds. For those photographers who are interested in capturing machinery and manufacturing, these park’s roller coasters are the ideal location for you. Theme parks are the ideal location to truly test out all the settings and manipulations of your camera (in particular DSLR). While not permitted on the rides, cameras are allowed inside the park and can be brought up to the Carolina Skytower. Some fun aspects of playing around with on your camera when shooting coasters include: shutter speed, elongated lenses, and aperture.
Pisgah National Forest:
Situated in the Appalachian Mountains, in western North Carolina close to the city Asheville (formerly the land where the Biltmore Estate, number one on our list, was developed). Locals know the forest as the land of mile-high peaks, cascading waterfalls, and luscious forest mountainsides. Photographers can capture Carolina photography in many of the nature outlets featured throughout the 50,000-acre park, including: whitewater rivers, waterfalls, and trails totaling hundred of miles of various scenic pathways, lush landscape, and beautiful rock formations.
The focal point of the hundred and seventy acres Cypress Gardens is the expansive blackwater lake otherwise known as the Tupelo swamp, that allows for both visitors on boats and on foot. Those who enjoy shooting wildlife on camera will not be disappointed as the gardens are filled with many different species of animals including the campus’ very own butterfly garden, many kinds of birds, and all kinds of fish, amphibians, and reptiles living in the swampland.
Death Valley Football Stadium:
Known as the most exciting twenty-five seconds in college football, Death Valley football stadium in Clemson, South Carolina is home to where the University’s Tigers play. While DSLR cameras are not permitted during game-days inside the stadium, a fantastic way to capture the stadium (that can fit 83,000) in its full glory is not in the stadium at all. Outside in front of the entrance, you get a full glance onto the field and Howard’s Rock from the fence gate along with the Blue Ridge Mountains draping the background, creating the most amazing landscape photograph.
Imagine an uninhabited island off the coast of South Carolina that’s only accessible by boat. Venture off the coast of Charleston to an 840-acre peninsula filled with lighthouses, sea-shells, and Civil War history. Historians and photographers alike will be in awe at the incredible sight of Fort Sumter. It was after all, where the first shots of the Civil War occurred – so not only are you getting exceptional (and the best of Carolina photography) imagery but captivating pieces of history. The best shots can be captured on board a boat heading towards the island as you get both the island and the fort engulfed by Carolina blue water.
Located almost three miles out in Oconee State Park, Lee Falls has a stunning seventy-five-foot waterfall followed by many trickling and stunning (as well as cascading) mini-falls surrounding the main fall. Accessible by trail, many have sought and out made the presumably moderate trek through trails which climb 314 feet in elevation. To capture excellent Carolina photography, try heading to Lee Falls between March and October to witness the best foliage and comfortable weather.
Swan Lake Iris Gardens:
A real-life Noah and Allie moment from Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook, Swan Lake Iris Gardens in Sumter, North Carolina is the only public park in the entire United States to feature all eight species of swans in one area. Along with the gorgeous swans grazing the property, the Gardens are home to Japanese iris flowers (actually the nations most intensive planting of Iris flowers). In true Carolina photography fashion, you want to check out the scenery during the best times of the year. For Swan Lake Iris Gardens, the best time to visit is mid-May to the beginning of June when all the iris’ bloom.
There are many different sights to see and activities to do on John’s Island, especially for those with a camera in hand. The main attraction on John’s Island is the iconic Angel Oak tree, which is estimated to be anywhere from 400 to 1,500 years old. What makes the Angel Oak so iconic and a must-see when visiting the city of Charleston is the sheer massive size, the height measures sixty-five feet tall and twenty-five feet wide (that’s a huge tree). Additional sites and attractions on the island to capture behind your lens include: Mullet Hall Equestrian Center, Battle of Charleston reenactment, and the John’s Island Brand Library.
Voted as our must-see-spot on our state’s list for South Carolina, Rainbow Row is one of the highlights and standout locations in the city of Charleston. In city’s downtown district, known as the Battery, lives a row of pastel homes coming in colors like: pink, purple, blue, yellow, and green. Photographers love this location because of the contrast between the lifestyle streetwear and the plantation row home-style architecture
Old Sheldon Church Ruins:
In Beaufort County, there’s a historic site known as the Old Sheldon Church Ruins. The church was originally named as the Prince William Parish Church, and with the name came a long list of historical events and tremendous history. Many believe that this was the first church in the country built in temple form. Couples travel from around the south shoot their engagement photos on the church ruins’ grounds or even plan their weddings.
Charleston’s Historic District:
Whether down by Kings’ street or at the trade market, there are many spots in Charleston’s historic district that are perfect locations to take beautiful Carolina photography. For those interested in architecture, try roaming through the streets as you wander upon old historic churches and pre-war row homes. For those looking to capture lifestyle imagery, try bringing your talent to College of Charleston, where there’s beautiful scenery throughout the entire campus.
Rainbow Falls Trail:
Unlike the magical place from Up, these rainbow falls don’t need a house full of balloons to get to, all you need is a pair of feet (with comfy shoes) and energy to get you through a four and a half mile walk. The trail leading to the falls covers a wide variety of scenery along the way, so there’s much nature photography to capture around every corner. The hike is rated as moderate, as you’ll be gaining over a thousand feet in elevation. To capture the best images head to the falls between the months of September through May.
Congaree National Park:
The park received it’s national park status in 2003 after many advocators wanted to preserve the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. One of the most photographic and scenic parts of the Congaree National Park is the River Blue Trail. Visitors can explore the Native American sites as well as the many of the river’s tributaries. Then after you’re done shooting for your Carolina photography portfolio, put away your camera and enjoy kayaking or paddle boarding down the river.
Caesar’s Head State Park:
Outside of Greenville, Caesar’s Head State Park is home to some of the most beautiful views in the Carolinas. During the fall months, the beautiful foliage of red, orange, and yellow create stunning sunsets and views that reach out past South Carolina and onto Georgia. The park has an easily accessible overlook on top of the Blue Ridge Escarpment peak; this is the ideal spot for photographers to get amazing landscape views.
Botany Bay Plantation Wildlife Management Area:
Formed in the 1930’s from the merger of two prominent plantations, the Sea Cloud Plantation and the Bleak Hall Plantation. The park is adjacent to the Atlantic ocean and with that comes the ecosystem of a wetland. Many visitors to the area can witness the endangered loggerhead sea turtles amongst other incredible animals. The marshes of the area serve as the habitat for many animals, making it an ideal location to shoot wonderful content and showcases true Carolina photography.
A beautiful sculpture garden in the heart of South Carolina, Brookgreen Gardens is a favorite amongst both the locals and tourist. The campus is filled with not only mesmerizing sculptures, but a botanical garden, low country marshland, and an on-site zoo. A favorite amongst photographers in the area is the garden’s events that showcase seasonal flowers and plants or rotating exhibits and activities (some meant for the whole family).
Located forty minutes outside the city of Greenville, Pendleton is a small city that is home to many local shops and business that have kept their old southern charm about them. Whether passing by the Smoking Pig barn for some authentic cuisine and a unique spot to capture on camera, or venturing into the old downtown that looks like it comes straight from the 1960’s with it’s dated (but up kept) storefronts – there’s beautiful opportunity to shoot a wide variety of Carolina photography from lifestyle to architectural.
What are some of your scenic locations in Carolina? Share with us in the comments below.