Sumter, SC Photography Spotlight with K. Z. Wentzel Photography

Location Guides

Hey friend! If you’re a milspouse photographer heading to Shaw AFB, this post is for you! Kim Wentzel of K. Z. Wentzel Photography is sharing her experience running her business while stationed there in this Sumter, SC Photography Spotlight. I hope you find her incredibly detailed responses super helpful!

What are your top three favorite locations for sessions? Briefly share about each.

Swan Lake Iris Gardens

Swan Lake Iris Gardens is an expansive green space near downtown Sumter. It has a great variety of beautiful areas which make it the ideal year-round portrait location. W Liberty Street divides the gardens into two distinct sides, connected by a covered wooden pedestrian bridge.

On the south side, where the larger parking lot and visitor center is, you’ll find more manicured landscapes and a walking trail which wraps all the way around the pond. However, I prefer to shoot on the north side of the park (what I call the “swampy side”). It’s a lot less crowded and has much more interesting backdrops. These include a pretty white gazebo, wooden boardwalks winding through cypress trees draped in Spanish moss, old barns, and dirt paths cutting through groves of large trees.

You don’t need to apply for a permit or make a timed reservation unless you are holding an event there. Just be aware that pets are not allowed, and that the gates lock at sunset.

Bride and groom at Swan Lake Iris Gardens in K. Z. Wentzel's Sumter, SC photography spotlight
Swan Lake Iris Gardens, K. Z. Wentzel Photography

Downtown Sumter

Downtown Sumter has been revitalized in recent years and I highly recommend taking clients for a walk along Main Street. You’ll find several charming portrait settings including gorgeous old-fashioned buildings and shops, pockets of pretty greenery flanked with black iron benches, cool brick alleyways, and multiple fountains.

My favorite place to take portraits is on Law Range between N Main and N Harvin Street. The block of law offices facing the county courthouse are beautifully maintained and make you feel like you’re in Charleston, with the multi-colored storefronts, ornate molding around the huge windows, and gas lamps by the doors. This part of downtown is busy in the evening but is nearly deserted on a Saturday or Sunday morning!

Family walking through Downtown Sumter in K. Z. Wentzel's Sumter, SC photography spotlight
Downtown Sumter, K. Z. Wentzel Photography

Memorial Park

Memorial Park is a small but pretty green space, nestled in the heart of the historic district. There is a small white gazebo, plus several paved walkways winding between giant trees. Many of these trees turn bright yellow and orange in November! True fall color is hard to find, so Memorial Park would be an ideal spot for fall mini-sessions. Also, unlike Swan Lake, this is a pet-friendly place for those who want to include their pups in their family photos.

Little boy sitting in a rocking chair at Memorial Park in K. Z. Wentzel's Sumter, SC photography spotlight
Memorial Park, K. Z. Wentzel Photography

Are there any particularly busy seasons for photographers in this area? Any events an incoming photographer should know about?

The beauty of living in the South is that you can shoot year-round! However, it can be very hot and humid in the summer, and the landscape is not as pretty in the winter. So, just like most places, the busy seasons for photographers tend to be in the fall and in the spring.

In the fall, there is a high demand for portraits to put on holiday cards and in the spring there are many students needing senior portraits and prom portraits. (Yes, this is a big thing in the local area!) Plus, there are many military events and ceremonies that take place in the fall and spring including jet photos, deployment returns, fini flights, and change of command ceremonies. So if you have base access and enjoy these types of sessions, you can easily drum up a lot of business within this specialized niche as there are three active fighter squadrons stationed at Shaw!

What should an incoming photographer know about permits in this area?

Aside from needing to go through the appropriate channels to get permission to shoot on the flight line on base, or on private property, I never once had to apply or pay for photography permits while living and working in Sumter!

What is the biggest piece of advice you’d give to an incoming photographer?

There are a handful of very talented local photographers who have well-established businesses and are the recognized go-to’s for higher-investment portrait sessions like senior pictures, engagements, and weddings. It’s not impossible to break into that market as there is always a demand for talented photographers! But building up a client base among the civilian population there may take time and a lot of networking. So, I recommend you look to your new squadron community and the base population as your most likely places to make contacts and start booking sessions soon after you arrive. There are multiple Facebook pages and other forums where you can promote your business and respond to people asking for photographer recommendations.

Any other local expertise you’d like to share?


Make sure you do your research on what other comparable photographers in the area are charging before advertising in the Sumter area. It’s a small city in the south and the cost of living there is significantly lower than some places, so you may need to adjust your pricing, depending on where you are moving from.

Location Scouting

While there are a handful of beautiful parks and public spaces in town, it will be worth your while to drive around and do some exploring to find any unique or more secluded locations to give repeat clients a little variety in their backdrops.

Make friends with your neighbors who have big backyards! Talk to the staff at your new local church, school, etc. and see if they’d be open to you working on their property in off-hours. Partner with a local coffee shop, museum, or art gallery to offer some romantic indoor mini-sessions during the off-season. Reach out to local farmers about using their lands for seasonal mini-sessions! There are some Christmas tree farms between Sumter and Columbia, a number of large private farms with huge fields of sunflowers, corn and cotton nearby, and some family-friendly horse stables. Creativity can definitely give you an edge in a small town!

Surrounding Areas

One of the best things about Sumter is that it is centrally located and there are a number of really fun, GORGEOUS destination cities within a 1-3 hour drive. It may be worth your while to do a model call or find clients interested in taking a day trip and taking pictures on the beach, in the historic streets of Charleston, among the trees dripping with Spanish moss in the coastal regions or near Savannah, capturing a more modern, urban vibe in downtown Columbia and Charlotte, or finding gorgeous vistas and waterfalls in Blue Ridge Mountains near Greenville or near Asheville, NC.

Where can other milspouse photographers connect with you?


Are you a milspouse photographer interested in contributing? I’d love to have your insight! Please send me an email at and I’ll be in touch with the details!

If you enjoyed this Sumter, SC photography spotlight, be sure to check out other featured location guides and tips for moving your business!


Getting ready for your next PCS? This resource is for you! Download the guide for five actionable ways to set yourself up for success at your next assignment.

5 Ways to PCS-Prep your photography business

Getting ready for a PCS?

Getting ready for a PCS?

free download!


more about me

I've been navigating military life with my family since 2008. In that time, I went from a full-time classroom teacher to an online course designer to a photographer. Actually, I still teach a little math on the side because I just love it too much!

Through it all, I've discovered how passionate I am about connecting with military families. Whether it's taking photos at a retirement ceremony, coaching a fellow milspouse photographer, or just grabbing coffee with a new squadron friend, I love this community. And as a teacher at heart, I'm excited to use this space to share what I've learned about business and life with you.


Hey there!

    Want to be the first to know about new blogs, freebies, and other educational offerings? Sign up here for early access to all the resources I create!