'First Thought Best Thought,' or If At First You Don’t Succeed…
Over the years I’ve done a lot of photography using small cameras with black and white film that was inexpensive to buy and could be processed in quantity. This led to a free-flowing stream of Tri-X running through the cameras. I’ve also done a lot of work with very large cameras and sheets of film that are expensive to begin with and take a great deal of time to process. This leads to stingy use of film. In a day working with 8x10 and larger cameras I might stop and investigate dozens or scores of potential subjects but go back to my truck for the tripod only six or eight times. In a day spent walking around with a couple of Leicas production is more likely to be six or eight rolls of 36 exposures.
In large format, figuring out what not to shoot is essential. In small format, you can pretty much shoot everything and edit later. Digital capture takes this a step further since, once you’ve bought the memory cards, you are literally working with “free film.” Plus, the equivalent of developing and proofing takes essentially no time at all. Before setting up a view camera I’ve decided exactly what view I’m going to take, and I almost never shoot any sort of variations. With a digital camera I find myself shooting all the potential variations. Why not?
Recently I’ve been watching a familiar pattern emerge while editing takes on the computer screen. Just as it used to happen on proof sheets, I find myself flagging the first or the last shot of a subject. Most of the time, first thought is best thought. Less often, but frequently, the final frame is where the picture comes together. Rarely is a shot in the middle of the string the best. Evidently if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again is the operational fallback position to first thought best thought. There is a parallel pattern with the view camera. More often than not I end up shooting the first framing I see. It’s usually the strongest view of the subject. The camera position where I first thought “hey, there’s a picture here” is usually the best camera position. At one point this led me to realize you can work very fast with a big camera if conditions demand it. Since the first view is probably the best, if the light or weather is changing and the picture may disappear, set up as fast as possible, slam in a film holder and make the shot. Don’t waste time thinking about whether there’s a better angle. There probably isn’t.
Posted by CARL WEESE