Charleston is the perfect romantic backdrop for your engagement photo session, but choosing the best places out of literally hundreds of options is tough! How do you narrow down your “route” in a city with a stunning backdrop around every corner? (and down every alley, and up every side street…you get the picture).
I’ve lived here and been photographing engagement sessions in the city for years, so I complied a list of some of my favorite go-to spots. You’re welcome. I’ve also narrowed this down a bit into regions, so if you’re trying to hit a few different spots you can make a plan. Let’s start downtown.
Just FYI – this is not an exhaustive list, just some of the “top” requested / photographed spots. I (and I’m sure most local photographers) absolutely love to plan custom routes and visit hidden gems, so if you’d like something a little more unique just reach out before your session!
1. Chalmers Street
If photos on the infamous cobblestone streets are your dream, look no further than Chalmers Street. Starting at the top of the street (where it begins on Meeting St.) you’ll find gorgeous Live Oaks and the intricate gate of Washington Square, plus Hibernian Hall in the background.
If you continue down Chalmers towards where it intersects Church St. you’ll have pretty pastel buildings, blooming Crepe Myrtle trees (in the summer), and St. Phillips Church in the background.
2. Washington Square
If you want most of your session downtown, but also want some of the epic South Carolina Live Oaks in your photos then you need to add Washington Square to your list. The only caveat to photographing here is if it’s not a sunny day it’s pretty dark under the trees, so I’d suggest only using this location if your day isn’t overcast.
3. Broad Street
My favorite thing about Broad St. is that it doesn’t matter if you’re there for a sunrise session, or a sunset session, either way you get gorgeous light. (If I had to choose a favorite I’d say sunrise, just because there’s less traffic and people)
3. Rainbow Row
One of the most iconic spots in Charleston, Rainbow Row is a fun and colorful backdrop to add to your downtown list. If you’re adding Rainbow Row to your route here are a few things to know. First off, since it’s such an iconic spot there are usually lots of people around. This means waiting for your “turn” at each spot, and potentially groups of people in the background of your photos. This is one spot in Charleston that is really only best at sunset, since in the morning the light hits the upper buildings directly and isn’t great for photos. **hint: schedule your session on a weekday evening if you’re planning to stop here for the least potential traffic!
4. Longitude Lane
My favorite spot for some greenery and old cobblestone, Longitude Lane is a quiet alley with tons of little nooks to photograph in. Just like Washington Square, this spot is best on sunny days since gloomy days can be pretty dark. Also, watch your feet! None of the stones are even so there are lost of trip hazards.
5. Tradd Street
The best spot (in my opinion) for pretty window boxes and pastel houses, without all the people! Tradd Street is one of the most well-preserved streets in historic downtown, and runs completely straight for one mile directly across the tip of the peninsula. You can walk around the corner from Rainbow Row, and then head down Tradd Street all the way up to Meeting Street for a nice little loop!
Charleston has three beaches, and tons of parks. Again, this is not an exhaustive list, just some of the top spots. I’ve included drive times in my notes, so (and me, or your photographer) can plan what’s feasible with your timeframe.
1. Hampton Park
Only about ten minutes from Charleston’s Historic Downtown, Hampton Park is a huge oasis of flowers, Live Oaks, and Spanish Moss. This is the best place to go if you want the aesthetic of one of the plantations, but without the entrance and photography fees. I love the park at both sunrise and sunset, just keep in mind that it’s a public park so if the weather is nice there will be lots of people out running and walking their dogs.
2. Isle of Palms
If you’re planning on including the beach AND downtown in your session, this is the beach to go to. Isle of Palms is about 20 minutes from downtown (depending on traffic), and plenty big enough to have some quieter spots. Usually I plan my sessions starting downtown and ending at the beach if it’s an evening session, or the reverse for a sunrise session. Reminder, since we’re on the east coast there is not sunset over the water, but it’s still a pretty time!
3. Folly Beach
Probably the best beach for photos in Charleston, but the furthest away, Folly Beach has so many spots for photos it’s tough to choose an end. FYI I always suggest heading down to the end with the Morris Island Lighthouse.
4. Shem Creek
If you’ve seen the Netflix series Outer Banks you’ve seen Shem Creek (for those of you who don’t know, almost the entire show is filmed right in the Charleston area). It’s a fun area for food, walking the boardwalk, and kayaking or boating. I don’t have a ton of sessions here since it’s a fairly busy spot, but it’s really a great backdrop if you don’t mind working around the rest of the people enjoying the location. The best time is definitely sunrise since it comes up over the water, but sunset is pretty too. **Bonus points for sunrise, far less people around!
Choose your favorite spots and let’s create a route! Don’t forget to ask if you’d like to add some “hidden gems” to your locations. Maybe I’ll even share some of Charleston’s hidden gems in the future. Happy planning!