Excerpt: 'The LIFE Guide to Photography'

PHOTO Joe McNallys LIFE Guide to Digital Photography

Joe McNally's LIFE Guide to Digital Photography is full of tips, tricks, how-to, and pictures from the author's photo career, which spans over three decades. He writes about the basics of photography in an entertaining way, with a taste of humor.

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Here are excerpts from the book:

Foreword: The Right Photographer, The Right Guide

Nearly 75 years ago, four photographers were listed on the masthead of the first issue of LIFE magazine. They, and the technical wizards who followed them on the staff, were quite willing to explain how they took their eye-catching pictures. They felt there was little danger of being copied. "A good photograph is one that can't be repeated," says Harry Benson. What mattered was catching the moment, and each LIFE photographer felt he or she knew how to do that better than anyone else. Joe McNally, the 90th (and last) photographer to join LIFE's staff, brings this benign egoism into the digital age.

McNally is a talented photographer with a wise voice. He once draped movie star Michelle Pfeiffer with diamonds and, on a separate occasion, he talked the U.S. Olympic water polo team into posing naked for a LIFE cover. He writes in a friendly, conversational tone that makes him an ideal choice to pen a guide for the beginning photographer. His pictures speak for themselves.

This is a beautiful book, but McNally's advice is not limited to amateurs. He has never been to the moon. If he were to go, he would point out that, on the near side, we see that the light is the same as on the beach at Malibu or in the Hamptons. Working on the moon's far, dark side is a problem. I'd really like to know what advice he'd offer. He knows from experience what is important in photography and what's just distraction.

With today's digital cameras, photography appears to be as complicated as boiling an egg (which is not quite so simple as you might think, of course—a two-minute egg in Denver being quite different from a two-minute egg in New York City). Indeed, as McNally explains, digital cameras can be used to skirt such problems as focus, color balance and exposure that long bedeviled even the greatest photographers of the past. And we do not have to wait for days to see if the picture came out. There are even little gyroscopes built into lenses to counteract the shakiness of our hands. Those of us who worked with film in the 20th century can only smack our foreheads and exclaim how easy things would have been if we'd had digital way back when. We are free today to concentrate on timing and perspective, on quality of light and composition. All of these topics McNally discusses at the proper length.

Still, I should add a note of caution. "You could have the most modern cameras and not see picture possibilities," the wonderful LIFE photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt told me when he was 94 years old. "I see picture possibilities in many things. I could stay for hours and watch a raindrop. I see pictures all the time. I think like this."

So does Joe McNally. And you should, too.

Introduction: The Democracy of Digital

I've been doing this for a long time—I've been living in this world we call photography for a long, long time—and I remember a few things from the old days. The olden days. The days of yore.

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