The Upstate Minis have been organizing some fantastic trips, lately, and I’ve been trying to take part in more of these. A few weeks ago Laura and I joined them for their X-Files Mystery Tour to PARI. This time, Jeff Goodman planned a trip down to the “Boneyard” on Bull Island to do some dawn photography. Sadly, Laura wasn’t able to go with us because of work. So, on Friday I swapped the Subaru for her Mini and joined the rest of the group for the drive down.
Since folks had different work schedules we would be heading down in waves. This first wave would have six of us. We met at the appointed spot Friday morning and headed down together. The funny thing about this group was that there were five convertibles and only one hardtop.
One of the things I love about driving with this group are the smiles and reactions we get when traveling en mass. These are happy little cars, made happier by driving in a flock. However, all was not happy with this particular drive.
Traffic was pretty heavy as we drove down, so it was hard to stay together. At one point there was a slow truck in the right lane and another truck behind it that wanted to pass. Two of our group were passing both trucks, and I hung back so that the truck that wanted to pass could pull into the left lane. It didn’t wait for both Minis to clear, but pulled right into the lane on top of one of our group. She was able to swerve onto the median and maintain control of the car, but the truck kept going. We all pulled over to make sure Karen was OK. No damage to the car or driver, but there was some grass stuck in the door and a few shattered nerves. That was one time I regret not having the GoPro going.
After that incident we tried to relax a bit. We made it to Columbia and had BBQ, while joining up with another couple from Charlotte. From there were headed pretty much straight on down to Charleston.
I checked into my motel and headed to our next rendezvous point, Pearlz Oyster Bar on Bay Street. I was there at the appointed time, but didn’t see any from our group that I recognized. Since it was kind of awkward sitting in a crowded bar without anything, I went ahead and ordered a drink and a light meal. I watched one guy prepared hundreds of oysters for consumption.
Soon the rest of our group arrived. Scott and Cindy Collins had actually gotten there shortly after me, but I didn’t recognize them as part of the group. I had already eaten, but I stuck around to keep them company.
When we left Pearlz it was raining a bit. We decided to wander around the streets anyway. We made it over to Market Street, hoping to catch a piano bar. Sadly, it wasn’t quite open. We opted for ice cream, instead. The setting sun through the clouds cast an unusual light over everything.
Our group walked back over to the waterfront to the Pineapple Fountain. We took/posed for several photos.
After a bit of relaxation in my room, I joined the others for a workshop on sunrise photography. Jeff Goodman gave us pointers on how to set up shots and get the most from our images.
I went back to my motel and settled in for what would be a very short rest.
3:00 am came far too early, and I was NOT awake. I had my cameras, lenses, tripods, beach chair, jacket, and a Hydro Flask with coffee all packed into my backpack. It was heavy and unwieldy, but it worked. I loaded up and drove over to the other motel to meet with the group. We gathered and headed over to the Bull Island Ferry location off of Highway 17 near Awendaw.
Laura and I had been to this location many times before. We liked driving down here to see birds along the dock. We had also taken a ferry out to Bull Island to collect shells back in 2006. Bull Island is part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. Coastal Expeditions operates the ferry, and this morning they would also be providing transportation on the other end to our final stop at The Boneyard.
When we arrived it was still very dark, but a half moon provided enough light to see. We boarded the boat, a large pontoon, and headed out.
The ride out along the salt marshes is about seven miles, and takes about thirty minutes. It was a nice ride, but we really couldn’t see anything this early. Photography was definitely out of the question. On the other end two vehicles pulling trailers met us. The trailers were lined with benches. From there it was another long, confusing ride through the interior of the island. We later learned that it was about a four mile ride, too far to walk. Given the number of mosquitoes that were already eating us alive, that would have been miserable.
Eventually we heard surf, and new we were close. We disembarked and gathered for some final instructions regarding when and where to meet so we wouldn’t get left behind. Then we set off to find the sunrise.
I found a tree that I decided would make a nice subject, and decided that I would just set up camp here, rather than wandering all over the beach. I set up my chair and used it as a platform to keep my gear off of the sand. Then I started shoot. I had my big Nikon on a tripod, but used my Panasonic hand-held. The GoPro was set up to take a time-lapse at a 10 second interval.
I tried doing some long-exposure shots to create that silky effect with the water, but for some reason most of those were washed out. I exposed them too long. I got a few good shots, though.
I was using my iPhone to control the Nikon through the Trigger Trap app. I set it up to do long exposure HDR. Sadly, I don’t think I was using the app correctly, as it gave me three images of exactly the same exposure. I wasn’t able to generate any true HDR images.
I still snapped away, using both the big camera and my hand-held. A couple of other photographers also like this particular tree. Scott Collins had a Nikon with which he was unfamiliar, so I tried to help him understand the control set on the DSLR.
The sun rose, and it was perfectly framed by a fork in the tree. I had to take LOTS of shots.
Jeff had suggested taking a step just to one side or the other to completely change your perspective. This actually worked well, as the rising sun rippled on the waves.
I did snap a few more shots of other subject matter.
All the while the mosquitoes and other biting things were terrible. I kept swatting when I wasn’t taking photos.
Here is the time-lapse video of the morning session:
Our time to gather for the ride back came quicker than I expected, and I was left scrambling to gather and pack my gear. Headed back to the rendezvous point with the rest of my fellow Mini photographers.
We had to check back in with our boat captain, then we boarded the trailers for the ride back. This time it was light enough to snap a few photos along the way with the small camera, although it was also very bumpy. There were lots more bugs on the way back. I was pretty miserable.
On the boat ride back we saw lots of shore birds, and even a few dolphins.
The dock was crazy busy, as boats were launching. Parking was also a premium. One boat trailer even tried to back into Jeff’s Mini. We managed to get back to the cars unscathed, though.
Here we parted ways. Some were staying one more night in Charleston, and some were heading back today. I was in that latter group. I was dead tired, but I had one more stop I wanted to make before heading to Greenville. I wanted to visit Magnolia Cemetery.
I found coffee and breakfast at a drive-through, then crossed the Cooper River Bridge and headed north on Meeting Street. Just off of meeting is the complex of cemeteries that make up the Magnolia Cemtery area. There are actually four cemeteries adjacent to each other. I pulled into Magnolia first. It reminded me of Bonaventure in Savannah, with the imposing monuments and Spanish moss everywhere.
I had the top back on the convertible and took a few shots as I rode around. I only stopped and got out once to take a photo of an unusual child’s grave.
I knew that headstone carver W. T. White was buried here and I was curious to see what kind of headstone he would have. I had map nor inkling of where to find him, though. I did find some examples of his work, but I never found his grave.
The mosquitoes were horrendous. If I thought they were bad at Bull Island, they were even worse here. I glanced up to see dozens of them buzzing in the windshield. There was no way I was getting out to explore under these conditions. I rode around and took a few more shots from the car.
I would have loved to have explored more, but was just exhausted and tired from being eaten alive. I took one turn through Bethany Cemetery, with its interesting chapel, before heading out. I had to get on the road and drive at speed to get rid of the bugs in the car.
I will have to make another trip down here on a cooler, less buggy day. As it was, I had to stop at a drug store on the way back for Benedryl cream just so I could continue driving.
I was worn out, drowsy, and miserable from itching, but it had been a great tip. I’d love to come back to Bull Island and try some other photo techniques. It looks like Coastal Expeditions offers some other great trips, including kayaking trips. My thanks to Jeff and Sherri Goodman for hosting, and to Scott and Cindy Collins for organizing the Charleston portion of the trip.