Photography has been the business and the passion of LIFE since the original weekly magazine's inception in 1936, and it continues to be the business and passion of LIFE Books and LIFE.com in the new millennium. But photography has surely changed during these many decades. The rigs and gear of old have given way-first slowly, then all at once-to sleek miracle machines that process pixels and have made the darkroom obsolete. The casual photog puts eye to lens, sets everything on auto and captures a photograph that is . . . perfectly fine.
One of LIFE's master shooters-in fact, the final in the long line of distinguished LIFE staff photographers-was Joe McNally, and he has always believed that with a little preparation and care, with a dash of enthusiasm and daring added to the equation, anyone can make a better photo-anyone can turn a "keeper" into a treasure. This was true in days of yore, and it's true in the digital age. Your marvelous new camera, fresh from its box, can indeed perform splendid feats. Joe explains in this book how to take best advantage of what it was designed to do, and also when it is wise to outthink your camera or push your camera-to go for the gold, to create that indelible family memory that you will have blown up as large as the technology will allow, and that will hang on the wall forevermore.
As the storied LIFE photographer and photo editor John Loengard points out in his eloquent foreword to this volume, there are cameras and there are cameras, and they've always been able to do tricks. And then there is photography. Other guides may give you the one, two, three of producing a reasonably well exposed shot, but Joe McNally and the editors of LIFE can give you that, and then can show you how to make a picture. In a detailed, friendly, conversational, anecdotal, sometimes rollicking way, that's what they do in these pages.