South Carolina Landscape Photography – Greenville County Waterfalls

I’ve written before about that nagging sense that most landscape photographers have that tells them that the best photographic locations are somewhere out “there”. Anywhere but “here.” Far from home. And as much as I love my home state, the phrase “South Carolina Landscape Photography” is hardly ever uttered.

Maybe it’s time we do something about that. The Palmetto State has some beautiful scenery. And, as I found out a few days ago, some of it isn’t that far off the beaten path!

For those of you who find this blog post in the future, I will remind you that the spring of 2020 has been completely consumed by the Coronavirus pandemic. We are all safely locked down in our homes, practicing social distancing and washing our hands. Every photographic event that was on my calendar from March until (at this writing) July has been either cancelled or postponed. State parks are closed. Congaree National Park – our only national park – has also been shut down.

Even if these places were not closed, I’ve been trying to follow good sense, and the counsel of the medical community by staying at home, and practicing “social distancing” when I have had to stray outside. But eventually I had to get some fresh air, and wanted to bring my camera along.

Given the amount of rain we have had lately, I figured that the waterfalls in the state were probably looking pretty good right now, lightly edged with a burst of spring green foliage. So I did some research and found a couple of locations that met my criteria:

  1. Within the state of South Carolina
  2. Open
  3. Reasonably close to home
  4. Not likely to be crowded

(If you are interested in landscape photography in South Carolina, or waterfalls, I would recommend finding a copy of Waterfall Hikes of Upstate South Carolina by Thomas E. King.)

My research led me to the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area of the state, in northern Greenville County. I knew about the trails and waterfalls in the State Parks in that area, but was unaware of that there were some easily accessible falls that are relatively unknown, and unvisited. So early on a cloudy morning (the best weather for photographing waterfalls), I set out to find them.

Everything that I had read said that my destination was just a few hundred yards away from the Wildcat Wayside. That was easy enough to find. Right there, on the side of Hwy. 11, I not only found the parking area, but my first waterfall of the day. I knew that the lower section of Wildcat Falls (or Wildcat Branch Falls) was close to the road, but I didn’t realize it was THAT close. I grabbed a quick shot from the roadside, making a note to come back some day to explore the upper sections of the falls – and to explore more photographic possibilities here, at the lower falls – before moving on to my intended destination.

South Carolina Landscape Photography - Wildcat Branch Falls
Wildcat Branch Falls
Click to Enlarge

South Carolina Landscape Photography – Last Falls on Slickum Creek

I was headed for Slickum Creek. According to what I had read in a couple of places, I was looking for a culvert, a stream and a fairly hidden trail to the left of the stream. One website even mentioned blue blazes on a tree that marked the trail. I found all of that within a matter of minutes.

Except that it was the wrong culvert, the wrong stream, the wrong trail and the wrong blue blazes! For those of you who want to skip the adventure that I had, trying to follow that creek, I recommend that you head a bit further up the road. Here’s a quick hint: if the trail you have found is near a utility shed, you are at the wrong place.

Here’s another hint: When you get to the right trail, you will immediately see a waterfall. This is – literally – the Last Falls on Slickum Creek. The water runs through that culvert (the right one) and drains into the Saluda River. But before it does, it falls over a series of rocks, creating a gorgeous cascade. This is a beautiful waterfall, a hundred feet off the highway, invisible to the traffic passing by.

South Carolina Landscape Photography - Last Falls on Slickum Creek
Last Falls on Slickum Creek
Click to enlarge

Those of you who are reading my settings carefully may notice that I didn’t mention shutter speed. The final image is actually a composite of three photographs, since I wanted that smoother finish in stream in front of the falls. That meant a longer shutter speed (6 seconds) for that section, while keeping the structure of the cascading water intact at 1/6. The composite also allowed for cleaner focus from the front to the back of the image.

The bright green moss along the fallen tree added some visual interest, I thought, as well as a nice frame for the falls. Since the water was too cold for wading, this was the best composition I could come up with. And I am pretty happy with it. So within a few minutes I was climbing my way up the trail, following the creek for another hundred and fifty yards or so to my next stop.

South Carolina Landscape Photography – Sweet Thing Falls

Sweet Thing Falls feels like it is in another world. It’s only an 18 foot drop into a grotto with a small wading pool, but it feels completely isolated. After working my way to the top of the falls, I did a little bushwacking to work myself back downstream to find a possible composition.

South Carolina Landscape Photography - Sweet Thing Falls
Sweet Thing Falls
Click to enlarge

As you can see, there is another cascade beyond the wading pool, and then another. I had positioned myself there, allowing those rocks and that fallen tree to form the bottom of the frame created by the foliage around the falls.

As a hike, this trail isn’t much. No longer than a tenth of a mile. But as a location for waterfall photography, it is ideal! By the way, I didn’t see another person here for the entire time I was shooting. In fact, the only other car that I saw was back at the Wildcat Wayside, pulling in as I was pulling out.

With a few shots in my camera, I headed back to the house. Work was waiting so I couldn’t stay out all day! I did take one final detour, however. When I saw the sign for the Poinsett Bridge, I couldn’t resist! It was my first visit to the bridge.

Built in 1820, this is the oldest bridge in the state, if not in the southeastern US. It may have been designed by Robert Mill, the architect of the Washington Monument.

South Carolina Landscape Photography - Poinsett Bridge
Poinsett Bridge

There was good flow through the arch and beautiful spring green foliage to wrap the cool tones of the bridge. This is a place that I will definitely come back to explore when I have more time to give to it.

So, we may not have Mesa Arch or stunning falls of the Columbia River Gorge, but there is plenty to keep a landscape photographer in South Carolina busy. So tell me, where is your favorite place to shoot in SC? Or do you have a suggestion for a location that I should look into as places begin to open up this year? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

All images are available for print or licensing. Contact me for details.

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