Been thinking about a question I see frequently on Usenet in several of the rec groups on photography (35 mm, Medium Format, Large Format are the three I usually peruse). It is paraphrased as, "What's the best camera..." Link that to a frequently asked question in binary groups, "What exposure did you use?"
Well, the best camera is the one in your hand. Oh, I don't say there aren't technical issues as well, regarding which company you might want to purchase from. But this primary point is the foundation of it all: the best/most expensive/fanciest tool you own is useless if you don't have it with you when you need it.
This because I needed to trot back to the house to pick up a camera this past Thursday evening when we took the Border Collie Brothers out for night posting with the goats. We weren't quite into twilight, but the sun was low enough that no direct illumination hit the trees on the far side of our pastures. The tree line provided a nice complimentary curve to the clouds overhead, classic summertime Florida cumulo-nimbus. And as an inverse counterpoint to the clouds (also out of direct solar illumination) a single huge cumulo-nimbus formation in the Grand Spotlight floated in the earth-ward curve of the shadowed clouds that mimiced the tree line.
The good news is, I made it in time to shoot a half-dozen plus frames. The very good news is several of them should work. The student news is, I grabbed the digital and started exploring the Manual mode for about half of these shots.
Which brings me to the geeky question, about exposures. Now, I've gone through phases of recording exposure data, particularly with my medium format work. I generally work slower using the Mamiya C330 than I do using the Nikon FE2; in fact, that's another one of my lessons to the few students I've had over the years. 35 mm revolutionized sports photography because it is possible to shoot very quickly. That same speed of shooting usually results in my recording some very simple info for 35mm shoots: film type, lens. With the Mamiya, I'm somewhat more likely to record f-stops and shutter speeds as well... or at least, I used to be. I'm also getting to a point that I can identify relative shutter speed looking at the photograph afterwards.
The Nikon Coolpix records the exposure data automatically. So if I use the software that came with it, I can access the exposure data. Since I'm still learning what this camera is capable of recording, I do this periodically.
However, partially because I've been re-reading interviews of and commentary by Cartier-Bresson, and partially in response to things another friend/teach of mine says, I'm not paying quite as much attention to all the exposure data anymore. Date, yes. Roll number, yes. Frame number, yes. Those are the data I use to catalog so I can get back to the image as needed. Film type, yes; the choice of film type affects the visualization of the final image. Not the f-stop, nor the shutter speed.
I'm regarding photographs as haiku.
Short poems (17 sylables if one stays with the strict Japanese definition, and Japanese being a language made up of sylables rather than letters as a 'base' unit), which became a significant practice for various Zen masters, haiku are also known for capturing a moment in time which revolves around the experience of enlightenment, or perhaps an 'Aha' experience.
Cartier-Bresson regarded photographs as a frozen moment in time, a point recorded which could never be approached again, or in any other means.
Richard Meade (www.visualdata.net) makes a point that regardless of the exposure data (f-stop, shutter speed, film type, camera lens & body), one could go to the precise location where Ansel Adams made "Moon Over Half Dome" with the same camera, same lense, same film, using the same f-stop and shutter speed... and not be able to make the same photograph. Because it was a moment that Adams experienced, that he saw, and that moment will never exist again.
Like those clouds on Thursday past.