Monday, November 25, 2019

10 Best Photographs: Magnolia Cemetery Early Bird Outing

With my trusty Canon SX 50 mounted on a monopod
Up before the crack of dawn on a Saturday? There had better be a good reason!

And indeed there was when Beverly Donald, longtime Magnolia Cemetery superintendent, opened the gate super early so she and fellow members of our Carolinas' Nature Photography Association (CNPA) club could come in to take sunrise pictures.

I rolled in around 6:20 a.m. and had time to grab a selfie in front of a favorite Magnolia Cemetery sculpture- the girl with no hands. She, of course, used to have hands. In fact, she was holding a Bible, but some years ago vandals amputated her arms and the Good Book. There's a special place in you know where for such people!

Here are 10 favorite photos from this daybreak adventure on Nov. 23. The order is chronological, then categorical.

This is what the sky looked like in the pre-dawn darkness. Sunrise was at 6:56 so I had some time to get set up, drink coffee and wonder why the rest of the club set up in another section of the cemetery.

I like this area in the back because of its view of the Ravenel Bridge, the cemetery's back pond and the interesting grave markers nearby such as handless woman (a Civil War-era plantation owner named Thomas Coffin is buried below her- yes, Coffin was his name!).


Wow, now this is why I got up so early! Seeing this sky made the cool morning even cooler!

That's the Ravenel Bridge in the bottom right corner. And that is a spectacular ravishing red, black and yellow sky that welcomed us to November, 23, 2019.  

I took this image with my iPhone 7. I did also take numerous pictures of this sky with my Canon DSLR, but just liked the (very) smart phone photo as much as the Canon shots so went with it. 

This was the scene at approximately 7:20 a.m. The red sky gave way to the dawn's early light, to borrow a phrase from our national anthem.

It was a curiously long wait, I kept thinking, for the sun to start to reveal itself and break through the clouds. But what a glorious sight it was!

I also took this image with my iPhone and am using it here for the same reasons given with the above.

The rest of the photos ahead were taken with my DSLR, a Canon SX 50, which I like very much. DSLR, by the way, stands for digital single-lens reflex.

I played around with different compositions to try to show the daybreak effect on the Magnolia Cemetery gravesites. I like this one that was taken through a large, ornate Lowndes family monument.

Here we again see the Coffin gravesite girl, this time from behind. Facing east, she has welcomed the new day every day since 1863 when Thomas Aston Coffin died and was buried here during the height of the Civil War. I write about him and many other Magnolia Cemetery residents in my 2014 book, "In the Arms of Angels: Magnolia Cemetery- Charleston's Treasure of History, Mystery and Artistry." For more information, see my Amazon page or email me at

The Smith Pyramid, a massive mausoleum, is Magnolia Cemetery's most iconic monument. It reflects wealth and power, and is reflected nicely in the lagoon or pond at the back of the property.

This photograph shows the elegance and rich variety of grave markers that make up this Victorian necropolis. We see examples of flat, low to the ground ledger marker, a lovely sarcophagus (left lower corner) and a tall obelisk. The obelisk marks the grave of Langdon Cheves, who during his day was a prominent attorney, U.S. Congressman, banker, and plantation owner. 
"Indulgent Master" 
 I always point out to people the inscription on his obelisk that states he was "an indulgent master." It's rare to see a direct reference and acknowledgment of someone owning slaves. In 1850 Cheves owned some 150 slaves at a Jasper County, S.C. plantation, which was one of several he owned. He died in 1857. His namesake son, a Confederate officer, was killed defending Fort Wagner in 1863. This study about Jasper County plantations prominently mentions Langdon Cheves (see the section that starts on page 48). 

Magnolia Cemetery, with its ponds, Cooper River salt marsh border, and relatively remote and quiet location, attracts a wide variety of birds. Many types can be seen year-round in its waters and trees and others come seasonally. The latter fills the bill of the colorful Hooded Mergansers. Here you see the males with their puffy white-spotted heads and a couple females with their more subdued colors. 

The regal Great Blue Heron can be found all year at the cemetery. This wading bird has a commanding size and presence and is often willing to pose for pictures!  I published a book about the birds here in 2011. It is titled "The Birds of Magnolia Cemetery: Charleston's Secret Bird Sanctuary." It features close to 50 different types of birds I photographed at the cemetery. For more on this book, please see this site or contact me at

Finally, last but not least, was the "daggle" or "doppling" of Mallards seen on the back pond. Collective names for groups of birds can be a bit strange, right? I like this photo because the male is giving me the eye. And I like the palette of reflected tree and marsh plants reflected in the water around it. 

I hope you like my "Top Ten" list from this memorable morning at Magnolia Cemetery!  

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