Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Nature's splendor can be found
at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

Fort Sumter is near the top of tourist attractions at Charleston, S.C., but not far behind are the many plantations and mansions open to the public (with admission fees, of course). Among those are Boone Hill, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, Middleton Place and Drayton Hall.

Last year, Lee Ann and I visited the fort and one of the plantations -- Boone Hill, which is near Mount Pleasant on the other side (east) of the Cooper River from Charleston. This year's visit was shorter, and we had time to stop at only one, and we choose Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, which is on the Ashley River side (west) of the city.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (MPG) is an expansive property rich in history (which you can catch up by visiting the above link) and the only gardens in South Carolina to make the list of America's Most Beautiful Gardens. Indeed, the property is so carefully landscaped that it promises to have flowers in bloom year-round. When we were there in early March, azaleas were in full bloom, and the color was spectacular everywhere you turned. And the gardens have at least four modest pedestrian bridges over narrow spans of water. With the talk oak trees nearby, they reminded me of Claude Monet's paintings of the Japanese bridge over his lily pond.  An example is illustrated in the photo I chose to lead off the post.

But MPG is more than just flower gardens. There is a manor (which requires a separate fee to visit), a zoo and nature center and, last but certainly not least, something the operators refer to as "the swamp garden," an amazing area of wilderness for birds and alligators. I would call it a minimally controlled nature preserve.

Access to the swamp preserve (sorry, I can't bring myself to calling it a garden) also requires an extra fee, but Lee Ann decided we should check it out, and am glad we did. (I will devote a separate post to the swamp portion of my photos at MPG.) I spent the final portion of my visit at the swamp, and I came across several people with cameras and tripods who obviously came for the opportunity to photograph wildlife. In fact, one of the photographer had a baby stroller nearby, and I was intrigued that he felt brave enough to bring a child that young along while he indulged his photographer. But when I walked by him and could see in the stroller, he had no baby along for the ride. He was using the stroller to wheel around his camera bag and other gear, which I'd never seen before. I was impressed, and I told the guy so. The wildlife I was able to identify while there included alligators, egrets, ducks and anhingas; the latter is something I mentioned in my previous post about Tybee Island.

Fortunately for us, we arrived at MPG early enough (around 10:30) a.m. to take in most of what we hoped to see. By the time we got through the swamp area, we were pretty tired ... and the sun was beginning to set.

As always, click on any picture to pull up a larger, sharper version, which is particularly important if you access the blog from a mobile device. To view a full gallery of my shots at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, click on the link in this sentence.

Photo geek stuff: I shot everything you see here with a Canon 6D equipped with a Tamron 28-300 f/3.5-6.3 Di VZD VC lens using a polarizing filter when outdoors (I did without the filter near sunset, while sunlight became sparse). I bracketed all shots for three exposures, melding a good number of all three for each composition in post-processing using Photomatix high-dynamic range (HDR) software. In some situations where using HDR software was impractical, I processed shots using single frames.

Another of the pedestrian bridges (above) found on the grounds, and with luck (i.e., no pebble throwing), you can compose neat reflections in your images. The shot below was taken from the red bridge.

Above and below are vertical and horizontal compositions taken from roughly the same point on the grounds. The photo below lets you see the manor in the background. Someone in a photo club I used to visit regularly once told me that he felt that the best reflections shots should never show the full source of a reflection. I didn't agree with him then, and I don't agree with him now. That's not to say a photo showing just a reflection is not stunning; quite the contrary. They most certainly can be stunning, and I've composed some such shots in my days. But I feel that the two shots above are of equal value because you can see the reflection source. 

Above: A tip of the hat to Lee Ann, who first spotted this reflection composition and captured it with her iPhone. I liked it so much, I grabbed it with my Canon 6D, too. 

Above: An example of "the pretty," which Lee Ann often uses to describes things strikingly beautiful.

Above is one of my several attempts at MPG to look at things differently. I was directly below an expansive oak tree branch adorned with Spanish moss, and I got the idea to lie on my back and look up directly into the sky. When I did, this is what I saw. The original color shot is on the right; in post-processing, I went to see what a monochrome version would look like, I liked it, and I present it on the left.

Above: The entrance to MPG was lined on both sides with oaks, quite reminiscent of the entry to Boone Hall Plantation that we enjoyed last year. 

Above: A gratuitous "cute puppy" shot that I got just inside the gate where admission tickets are purchased. These two were in a modest garden just behind the ticket-takers' station.

The photo above was my first introduction to the anhinga, a large waterfowl that must air out its wings (as this anhinga is doing) after every water submersion because unlike most fowl, the anhinga does not possess oil glands to protect its feathers. This bird was in an area I would describe as a transition point between the manor and main gardens and the swamp preserve. The "transition area" is where you can also find (among other things) the large observation tower shown in the photo below. 

Above: From atop the observation tower, I spotted this gator resting near the shore of a modest creek near an open field not far from the tower. I was on the top floor of the tower, so I'm sure I had my 28-300mm lens set at maximum focal range.  

Above: A close shot of a flower that caught my eye along one of the many trails in the gardens and transition area.

Above: Examples of another opportunity I decided to explore different perspectives of a shot. The one on the left showing these very tall reeds is how people see these as they walk the trail. A few of the reeds bowed significantly, so I got on my back again and grabbed the shot on the right. 

Above: Most shots of the manor I've seen are direct frontal shots. Here's a view of the manor from the side. 

If you step far enough away from the manor and stroll along one of the paved accesses to the side of it, you can better appreciate the arching-branch oaks such as the one above (not to mention another of the blooming azalea bushes). 

Above: Behind the manor, from the stops leading to the back door, you see this magnificent oak and Spanish moss dwarf (not to mention frame) visitors on the trail.

Above: Like most zoo shots, the subject animals are generally confined to a small area, so getting good photographs is simply a matter of whether the animal is up and about or willing to get animated to make your time shooting or waiting worthwhile. Many of the creatures in the MPG zoo were likewise confined (it's kind of sad, in a way). The only photo of those I took that I'll present in this post is this one. The peacock was free to roam, so the challenge became whether one could see/photograph it showing its colorful plume. I got mine.

Next up: The swamp preserve at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

Previous posts in this series:

Part I: Savannah's Forsyth Square

Part II: Savannah's old-city neighborhoods 

Part III: Savannah's Riverwalk

Part IV: Savannah's Bonaventure Cemetery

Part V: Tybee Island, Ga.

Part VI: Revisiting Charleston, SC, and its charms

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