Here's where to take the best Charlotte skyline photos
Editor's note: A version of this story was originally published Dec. 2, 2020.
A couple of years ago, Myles Gelbach stood on a rocky outcropping above Linville Gorge in the Pisgah National Forest, gazing at a beautiful, sweeping view of the mountains. He took out his phone to take a picture but, no matter how many times he pressed the shutter button, the photos didn’t capture the scenery the way he wanted.
“I think I took like a hundred pictures trying to get everything worked out—couldn’t do it,” Gelbach said. “The next day, I went to Best Buy and bought my first camera.”
Gelbach figured he’d use the camera, a Sony A6000, on his upcoming trips to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Arches National Park. But then winter came and, shortly after, the coronavirus pandemic.
“I was cooped up in Charlotte — couldn’t travel too much. So I figured I’d go out and start taking pictures of the skyline,” he said.
A rain jacket and a weatherproof camera cover
To date, Gelbach has posted about 350 shots to his Instagram page, @mylesperhour_photography, mostly of the Charlotte skyline. He has roughly 12,000 followers. In one picture, the full moon hovers directly above the Bank of America building, which is lit up blue. In another, a streak of car headlights and taillights rushes across the foreground with the skyline buildings glowing behind. Photography is a hobby for Gelbach — he has a day job building sets for TV news.
Gelbach does a lot of organizing to capture the perfect picture. He uses apps to research the weather and the path of the moon, among other things, well ahead of time.
“Generally, I have the full moon (shot) planned out two months in advance,” he said.
Gelbach also loves taking pictures of the skyline during thunderstorms. He has an app that notifies him of lightning within 50 miles. He checks how long the storm is predicted to last and its projected path before beginning a stakeout.
“I’ve got a rain jacket on. I’ve got a weatherproof camera cover. Just waiting on the rain to stop and either the sun to poke through or some lightning to start,” Gelbach said.
He usually sets up his camera to take a picture every six seconds and waits anywhere between 30 minutes and four hours to get the best shot. He worries about getting struck by lightning mainly when he’s shooting from the roof of his condo.
“There’s a big radio tower to the right of where I live so in theory, the lightning will strike that before it strikes me,” he said.
Gelbach is one of many photographers inspired by the Charlotte skyline. The Instagram hashtag #cltskyline has around 12,000 posts.
“I love looking at it and feeling small,” said Laura Wolff, the photographer for the Charlotte Knights and a live content correspondent for the NFL. Her account @laurawolffphoto has more than 7,800 Instagram followers.
Wolff said she hadn’t lived in a big city until moving to Charlotte about six years ago.
“To me, it’s like a really cool feeling knowing that you’re photographing this thing that is just so much bigger than you are.”
A listener named Thomas wrote to FAQ City. He asked: “Where are the best places to take pictures of the skyline, especially when lit up at night?”
Where are the best spots for skyline photos?
Central Ave. Overpass
Wolff called the Central Avenue Interstate 277 overpass her “absolute favorite place to take a picture of the skyline,” especially for long exposures of the highway in the foreground. Plus, she said, it often lines up nicely with the path of the sunset.
Hawthorne Lane Bridge
The bridge, which is now open to pedestrian and bicycle traffic, offers a good view, according to photographer Matt Henesy.
Myles Gelbach recommended Matheson Bridge which overlooks the railyard.
Gelbach loves this Villa Heights neighborhood park.
“It’s on top of a hill. You’ve got this beautiful, sweeping view of Charlotte. There’s a little tree you can include if you just want to mix it up some,” he said.
Marshall Park and Romare Bearden Park also offer unique perspectives on uptown buildings.
Uptown Parking Decks (Like At Seventh Street Market)
Joshua Galloway, who’s been taking skyline photos for about a decade and is on Instagram as @thecreativegent_, suggested uptown parking decks like the Seventh Street Public Market. He said in his early photography days, he’d try to go late at night and sometimes would even sneak in.
“My key thing was doing it while everybody was at the club. So while everyone was out partying, I’m up in these different decks,” Galloway said.
Galloway also recommended trying businesses, like bars or restaurants, that have rooftops. He likes the view from the top of Le Meridien hotel.
If you want to go really high up, buy a drone, said photographer Kevin Young of @the5and2project.
“You actually have access to places in the city that only the birds can see from,” he said.
Before flying a drone in uptown, be sure to check the Federal Aviation Administration’s rules and regulations.