Over the past 30 years of working behind a camera I have had a few opportunities that offered up the possibility for some incredible if not one in a life time photo opportunities. In reviewing each instance I have concluded that a common denominator in each case was the element of surprise. I never planned the shot so I had to be flexible by evaluating the situation instantly and reacting accordingly. Secondly, having the correct equipment at hand and being fluent in its use to achieve the desired image on an instants notice was essential.
I recall an incident a few years ago that brings to mind how important it is for the serious photographer to always be vigilant in case the one of a kind photo op occurs. I was driving in the Davis mountains on my way up to the McDonald Observatory area when I noticed an unusual form some eleven feet up in a flowering Agave plant. Upon looking more carefully I was amazed to see a beautiful grey fox perched in the flowering head while seeming to be eating flying insects which were swarming about the flowers. From my past experience as a professional predator hunter I knew that an abrupt slowing of the engine RPM would alert the fox and result in a lost opportunity.
Thus I continued driving up the mountain until I was out of sight of the creature before pulling over to a safe spot off of the highway. Grabbing my Canon 500mm F4.5L lens with a Canon F1N I quickly climbed up the slope and into the brush where I could evaluate the situation. I could see that the fox was still busy devouring flying insects and looking in the opposite direction so I made a quick decision to dash across an exposed area and thereby cut the distance between the subject and my camera by half. In this case a tripod was useless due to a need for mobility and flexibility.
As the fox looked away I leaped forward and covered the exposed ground in short order, dropping to my knee at the predetermined point and quickly focused on the foxes head. Just as I affixed my focus on the critters eye, it pinpointed my position and I knew only a second or two remained before he escaped. After firing two frames the animal leaped from the agave and scurried into the scrub brush. I had been so intent on getting the photo that I did not have to think about the unusual incident I had just seen. In walking back to the pickup I gradually began to realize just what a treasured moment I had witnessed.
On another trip I was traveling through the Texas Panhandle one cold, blustery winter day when I stopped along the highway to shoot an image of some snow cover beneath a line of old trees. As I pulled the Pelican case filled with Hasselblad equipment to the back of the pickup I looked to the northeast and was startled at what I saw. Running directly toward me was a female antelope that was being chased by a coyote. It was a run to the death and I wanted that photo badly so I shoved the Hasselblad back in place and pulled out a Lietz Telyt 400mm lens with a Nikon camera body attached.
Exactly like the fox encounter, this was an incident that required flexibility with no time for setting up a tripod. Turning quickly toward the incoming action I set my exposure and then concentrated on effectively panning the action as the two passed by me less than a hundred yards distance. I exposed perhaps five images before the two creatures passed out of sight over the hill. Once again it was a case of being ready with the right equipment when the unexpected happened.
Preparation and fluency in the use of needed equipment is essential for those shooters bent on catching that ephemeral moment that may never pass our way again.