Good photos of Cahaba Lilies require good timing.


Taking good photos of Cahaba lilies is a challenge for any photographer and it starts with being there at optimal times. The best times at the Cahaba River NWR and Hatchet Creek is the second, third and fourth week of May, depending on weather conditions. On May 8 2017 there were an abundance of lilies but on the same date in 2018 there were far fewer, probably because we had a cold spring and a lot of rain.

If you go the second week of May there will be less of them but more pristine.The later in the season you go, the more dead, weathered and ragged flowers you may find. If we don't have periods of heavy rain to beat them down you can still take good photos late in May and even into June.

Unless you come in early morning, weekends at the Cahaba River NWR get crowded with people. At peak times you'll encounter traffic on the one lane road and you'll have a hard time finding a convenient place to park. The third Saturday of May, the day of the Cahaba Lily Festival would not be the best time for photography because people are shuttled in to see the lilies.

The Cahaba lily is a delicate subject and you often find them weathered and ragged. Wind and a full day of sun will make their mark on them. A heavy rain will utterly destroy their delicate beauty. In early morning they are in their most pristine condition because they begin to bloom late in the day and open at night.  Once they die they are left hanging among the fresh, beautiful ones.

dead
            cahaba lilies
Dead lilies late in the season or a couple days after heavy rain.


ugly cahaba lilies
In this photo fresh blooms are ready to open among the ragged ones which will soon die and turn brown. If you take photos of the lilies from a distance then some dead ones are acceptable but if you want closeups you need to be there before they become weathered or dead. If you are working in black & white, a few dead ones in the mix are acceptable because the ugly brown won't show up.

cahaba
            lily on hatchet creek
Clean looking closeups have to be taken before dead lilies start to appear among the fresh ones.

Most lilies are out in the open and on a sunny day that offers challenges for a photographer. Of course early morning or late afternoon offers the best lighting. If it's a cloudless day I would be finished by 10:00 or so and not stick around in the glaring sun. Another consideration is motion. The less wind the better. On most days lilies are in constant motion even from the slightest breeze and working close up means using a fast shutter speed to prevent blur. Since that requires a wide f/stop or a high ISO, it is difficult or impossible to get the ultimate photos. Closeups of Cahaba lilies are a technical as well as an artistic challenge.

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