Hey y’all! I’m Allison! I’m a professional wedding photographer located in Wilmington, NC. I get this question on the daily: do you have any recommendations for locations for our photo session? OF COURSE I DO! I’ve been photographing in Wilmington since 2016 and I’ve been to my fair share of photo locations throughout the years. Of course every location has perks and downfalls, but it’s really all about how much you love the backgrounds! Are you more of a beach person or a downtown person? Is there anywhere special in town that means a lot to you guys? On this post I will lay out all the details about my favorite photo locations in town, and I’ll fill you in on all the little secrets about each one!

AIRLIE GARDENS
300 Airlie Rd, Wilmington, NC

Pros: Every square inch of this place is covered in stunning greenery. This is your ideal location if you want to be surrounded in big lush trees, tropical plants, and plenty of Spanish moss. Parking is free on site. Once you reserve your session, they don’t allow two photographers on site at one time, so you will be the only people in the gardens taking photos, which is very nice. You still may have garden visitors walking by during photos but I’ve never had it be an issue. There is ample shade provided from all the trees so you aren’t stuck in the direct sun.

Cons: There is a $100 fee (paid for by the client) for a 1 hour portrait session. You must make a reservation and you can only book during their open hours of 9:00-5:00 which isn’t always ideal for that harsh summer sunshine – it can be brutal there in July and August.

THE CARGO DISTRICT
1605 Queen St, Wilmington, NC

Pros: Modern and industrial sets of local businesses and open outdoor spaces to provide plenty of natural light with refurbished shipping containers as backdrops. Heavily decorated with greenery from the local shops. I love the Cargo District for headshots, smaller groups, branding photos, or engagement photos. Grab a beer or a coffee for some of the photos! Parking is free along Queen Street, or in the gravel lots for Cheesesmith or Alcove Beer Garden.

Cons: Not super open spaces for larger families or groups, and they are all public businesses so you will have other people around, but if you plan accordingly (say, daytime on a weekday) you’ll have lots of space to yourself! I’ve never had it be TOO crowded on a photo session there!

CAROLINA BEACH & BOARDWALK
Carolina Beach Ave S, Carolina Beach, NC

Pros: Not only is there beach access right here, but the boardwalk out to the beach is very pretty and recently redone. It’s lined with palm trees and there are some cute brightly colored walls to stop in front of for photos on the way out to the beach. You can always stop for ice cream or the infamous Brit’s donuts during photos! If you’re planning photos during the summer, you can always plan to stop by the fair, as well. I’ve always thought that would make the cutest night time backdrop all lit up with fair rides!

Cons: Parking is charged hourly, and there are only a couple public lots nearby but as long as you go on a weeknight or a non-holiday weekend then you should be able to find a spot nearby. It can get very crowded over the summers, but weeknights are always best. Carolina Beach can have some strange characters walking around, but it’s all part of the *charm* right!? LOL

DOWNTOWN WILMINGTON
Front St, Wilmington, NC

Pros: There is so much southern charm and history in these old buildings downtown. Plenty of ivy covered walls and brightly colored doors, white picket fences, brick roads, and pretty southern alley ways. The Riverwalk is also beautiful, especially at sunset as the sun sets over the Cape Fear River. Picking a location like this allows you to walk around downtown and get many different background opportunities and enjoying what downtown has to offer.

Cons: Parking is limited to street parking (but it’s only like $1.50/hour or something like that) which is free after 6:30 pm, or one of the three parking decks that give the first 90 minutes free. It’s usually not a challenge to find a spot on a weekday or weeknight unless there’s an event going on. Weekends are much more difficult and full of people to dodge in your backgrounds!

FIGURE 8 ISLAND, NC
15 Bridge Rd, Wilmington, NC

Pros: It’s a completely private island that can only be accessed by anyone who owns a home out there or is currently renting. The beach is always completely open and not surrounded in tourists, even during peak seasons, even when the beach is at it’s most full (4th of July weekend), it’s still ten times less crowded than Wrightsville Beach. Even just the streets are gorgeous and lined with greenery and the very North end has the best sunset views!

Cons: You can only get on the island if you know someone who lives there – that’s it. That’s the only negative.

FORT FISHER STATE HISTORIC SITE
1610 Fort Fisher Blvd S, Kure Beach, NC

Pros: The best of both worlds at this beautiful historic site, it’s got the beach on one side and it’s full of absolutely stunning greenery and trees on the other side. You’ve got nature at it’s finest out here, along with a whole row of windswept trees that I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world. Parking is free and on weeknights there’s always plenty of room to find a spot, and not too crowded.

Cons: It is a very popular photo location, so I don’t suggest planning for a weekend or you’ll be dodging other photographers and people taking photos, and having to almost take turns in certain spots so you aren’t in each others photos. The bugs can be WILD. Especially at sunset, which is the best time for photos. Bring bug spray if you’re sensitive to it. There’s TONS of sand spurs and things like that can get tricky if you’re wearing sandals or heels or bringing your pups.

GREENFIELD LAKE
1739 Burnett Blvd, Wilmington, NC

Pros: Never crowded, so you have plenty of space to yourself. There will always be free parking, and half the time I just park along the street in a residential area. Lots of Spanish moss and tall trees and a lake and cute bridges to walk across. This is definitely the most woodsy location. Lots of tree coverage so even mid afternoon you’d get plenty of shade from the sun.

Cons: Can run into gators and homeless people. LOL. But really. Other than that there’s nothing really negative about this place.

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH – CRYSTAL PIER
703 S Lumina Ave, Wrightsville Beach, NC

Pros: Great classic beach spot and easily accessible right behind the restaurant, The Oceanic. Has a pier (this specific pier is free to access), a cute tall grassy area with lots of cacti, and has more parking areas than some other spots at the beach. Pro-tip, if you come early and go to the restaurant for food or drinks, you can park in their parking lot for free!

Cons: The beach can be WINDY! Like, majorly. It’s also a pretty popular spot (especially in the summers) so it’s not always easy to find parking during busy season, but I usually have more luck over here than other areas. Parking is $5.50/hour.