Melissa blogged some time ago about stopping to take the shot when you see it. Well, I'm here to re-emphasize that advice!
My husband, Roger, and I were driving back from our place near Holden Beach a couple of weeks ago. We were pulling his son's trailer and the wheels were getting hot, so we needed to take a detour to get a grease gun to keep them cool and not risk a break-down on the way home. We had to take a "detour" to Whiteville to get this grease gun, and while we were driving, Roger saw a Swallow-Tailed Kite. Now, these don't normally hang out too commonly in North Carolina. We were both excited, as we've been wanting to shoot them but haven't really had the chance. Already, we had to make a detour, and we were late in starting our journey home. This would get us home rather late, and considering I have to get up really early to go to work on Monday, we were kind of pushing it. Excitement ruled, so we stopped on the side of the road (with the trailer, which was a bit of a challenge), got out the Canon 5DS and started shooting. Now, some of you know how it is when you are really excited - your camera skills sometimes go by the wayside - you just want to get shooting. That happens to me, too, though I am an experienced photographer. Plus, I just haven't shot many birds-in-flight shots, so I wasn't really prepared. I shot anyway! I like to shoot low ISO. Low ISO didn't give me the shutter speed I wanted, but I didn't really see the ramifications until I got home and looked at my photographs on the computer. I was too excited to really check the back of my camera. And, as I have to take my glasses off to shoot, and put them back on to look at the back of the camera, I just couldn't "afford" the time to do that over and over. So, I wasn't happy with the pictures I took. These birds are rather large, and very agile. They switch directions very quickly. There were two of them, but one of them took off in a different direction. One Swallowtail stayed, hanging out with the vultures. He'd fly far, he'd fly directly towards you, he'd fly up, he'd fly down, he'd twist around. I was lucky to keep him in my viewfinder! I was so excited I could hardly concentrate enough to look at all my settings and make sure I would get a successful picture.
Well, Mr. or Mrs. Swallowtail finally flew off and didn't come back again. We decided we needed to head on, get the grease gun and take care of our trailer, and head on back home. Now, we could have gone to Whiteville, gotten what we needed, and accessed the highway from Whiteville. But no! We went back the way we came and had one last search for the Swallowtails, to no avail. We tried, though.
Home again, home again. Roger unloads the car, and Kyle goes up to the computer and downloads the pictures. Even using the 500 with a 2x converter, the bird is small in the frame. I wasn't too particular about how big he was when I was shooting - I was just trying to capture him in the photograph. I did that. I only had about 2 that you couldn't see a bird in the frame. However, the pictures I got weren't exposed properly, they were a bit out of focus or a lot out of focus, due to the fact that I just couldn't capture him with the shutter speeds and ISO I used. Well, I was disappointed in my pictures, but could think of TWO things I was pleased with. ONE, that we saw the bird in the first place (well, Roger did), and TWO, that I had PROOF we had seen him. That night, I was late to bed (paid for it the next morning at 4:00), reading up on how to shoot birds in flight - camera settings, suggested ISO's, shutter speeds, techniques. Now, I have some ammo. I can go and give it another try IF we find those beautiful birds again! You don't achieve perfection the first time you shoot something. If you think you have, you are totally overestimating your abilities. Even the most seasoned pros don't always get it right. If you find your technique for a certain subject is below par, read up on it. There are so many resources online - both to read and watch. However, don't spend all your time studying the subject. While that's important, getting out there and shooting will teach you the most! So, if you see something (and you aren't late for work), STOP! Get your camera out and shoot! Practice is the only thing that leads to anything resembling perfection!