The Morris Island Lighthouse in Folly Beach, South Carolina

Written by
Jason Barnette
Posted on
September 10, 2016

The Morris Island Lighthouse stands tall above the ocean waters completely surrounding the base just off the north shore in Folly Beach, South Carolina. This now-defunct lighthouse used to stand on Morris Island, but after decades of erosion (especially from the nearby mouth of the Cooper River) the island is all but gone, leaving the lighthouse precariously surrounded by at least a few feet of water at all times. Visitors are not allowed to visit or climb the lighthouse, but you can still enjoy the view from the nearby beach.

The sun rises above the horizon near the Morris Island Lighthouse in Folly Beach, SC on Tuesday, June 14, 2016. Copyright 2016 Jason Barnette

The rising sun during low tide reveals a sandbar surrounding the lighthouse, the only remains of the beach at Morris Island.

Folly Beach is one of the popular island beach towns surrounding Charleston. With a long fishing pier, plenty of restaurants and bars, and easy access to the ocean, Folly Beach is one of the more popular places to visit during the summer. But if you want to view the lighthouse, you’ll have to fight through the sometimes slow-moving traffic through the middle of the town before turning left onto E. Ashley Avenue. This two-lane road will whisk you away from the hustle and bustle at the center of town, passing by one of the more secluded public beach accesses, to the northern end of the island. A cul-de-sac offers simple parking, but sometimes this can be difficult with the increasing popularity of this part of the beach.

If you manage to snag a parking space, take a 20-minute walk along the abandoned road. This section of road has been off limits for years, featuring a few concrete slabs that once provided foundations for homes. The last few minutes of the walk you’ll reach the beach. Just as you begin to climb up a slight, sandy hill you catch the first glimpse of the towering lighthouse.

PHOTO TIP: The zoom on your camera is more than just being able to capture subjects in the distance; it also affects compression. It makes subjects that are far apart appear closer together. If you want to capture a photo of someone with the Morris Island Lighthouse in the distance, using the maximum focal length (zoom all the way out) that your camera or cellphone can do. This will make the lighthouse appear much closer behind the people you want to photograph.

A beach groin, or an artificial formation of giant rocks, protects the beach from erosion (too bad they never did that for the lighthouse). There is another abandoned foundation of an old house to the left, marking the way for a nice, long walk on the beach. Or you can enjoy this section of the wide beach with calm waves and a great view.

If you’re up for a walk, try heading along the beach past the foundation. You’ll have to be mindful of the tides; during high tide the water will splash against the foliage on the beach, making passage very difficult (and kinda wet). But if you arrive at low tide I suggest you enjoy at least a part of this walk. About 10-15 minutes along the beach you’ll come across dozens of deadwood trees fallen by nature over the years. These make beautiful photographic subjects.

The brilliant morning sun shines through the top of the nonfunctinal Morirs Island Lighthouse in Folly Beach, SC on Tuesday, June 14, 2016. Copyright 2016 Jason Barnette

I had wanted to capture this photo for years, but with a narrow 3-month window for the right conditions made it difficult to plan.

There are two special times I always enjoy returning to this beach for views of the lighthouse. Sunrises are especially amazing here, but it’s quite a hefty walk to get the best spot. For me the best spot is lining up the rising sun behind the lighthouse, like in the photo above. But there is only a narrow window during the year when you can actually get in the correct position for this composition: mid-June thru mid-September. During that three-month window you will need to walk anywhere from 30-60 minutes along the beach to get into the correct position for the photo above. I was especially happy the morning I captured this.

The second special time to visit this area is at night. The lack of large businesses or hotels at the north end of Folly Beach leaves it especially dark, a welcome break from the bright lights in Charleston. The light pollution from nearby Charleston hangs in the sky like a canopy, but if you walk up the beach (similar to seeing the sunrise) you will put Charleston at your back and leave you looking out across the dark skies over the ocean.

Star trails over a deadwood tree on the beach, with the silhouette of the Morris Island Lighthouse in the distance, on the northeast end of Folly Beach, SC on Friday, November 29, 2013. Copyright 2013 Jason Barnette This is a one-hour star trail composed of 124 individual 30-second exposures. The heavy light pollution in the distance comes from Charleston (far left) and Sullivan's Island (right of lighthouse). The bright light and reflection in the water just to the left of the Morris Island Lighthouse is the still-functional Sullivan's Island Lighthouse.

A deadwood tree on the beach made the perfect foreground subject for this light trails photo of the Morris Island Lighthouse (silhouette).

It almost doesn’t matter when you pay a visit to the northern end of Folly Beach, you are certain to enjoy the view of the Morris Island Lighthouse, completely surrounded by the ocean, standing tall against the horizon. Save the Light is an effort by a local group to protect the lighthouse, and they even have plans to repaint the structure back to it’s original scheme. How cool would that be?

If you would like to see more photos of Folly Beach, South Carolina, please visit my website here at http://photography.southeasterntraveler.com/South-Carolina/Folly-Beach/

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