Excerpt: 'The LIFE Guide to Photography'


In our blog-mad, tweeting, Facebooking, Citizen Journalist world, where everybody out there is screaming in one way or another NOTICE ME!, this digital camera is not just required of the ardent hobbyist, it is needed by just about everyone. You record, therefore you are. In one way or another—be it in a blog or on Flickr or in an electronic album that you put together for the family and then print—you -publish. You share your news with the world. The airwaves no longer belong to networks. The news is no longer gathered and disseminated by the select few. You are the news. You are the editor and publisher of your own life and times. And just like any cranky, old-time newspaper editor with a hole to fill in the Metro section, you need pictures to go with the story.

So, let's make them good pictures, shall we?

Getting Started

As I said at the top, I've been doing this a long time, but I haven't yet lost so many memory cells that I don't remember way back when. I can still recall those first, awkward, fumbling attempts with a camera that was, in its basic way, far simpler to operate than today's digital marvels—if you choose to employ all the latest bells and whistles. Back then, I would shoot, then curse, knowing I had just missed a moment. Then I would curse some more back in the darkroom when what drifted up to me through the liquid in the tray looked nothing like what my overreaching mind and imagination had hoped for when I'd clicked.

You know something? I still get frustrated. I still shout at the rain and the sun and the wind when they conspire against my aspirations. When I'm frustrated, I entirely forget the time just last week when the sun and wind and a light rain all worked in concert for me, as if I were a conductor with a baton standing before the natural elements, not a plain ol' photog with a camera.

The simple truth of it is that even the most experienced shooters still miss the moment, still make mistakes—sometimes mistakes so basic that they wonder if there's ever any way to really and reliably learn this art and craft.

In this way, digital photography is no different from old-time photography. Good pictures are good pictures; you make some, you miss some. Not all of the photographs on the following pages were shot digitally, but those that weren't were selected because they could have been. Digital has changed the game, to be sure, but as in sports, the same rule applies eternally: The one who performs best—the one with the most points—wins. Whether we're talking football or tennis or photography, you play the game the right way, you win. I hope some of the info and tips that follow allow you to win more than you lose.

It's an unfortunate truth that the magic box you just feverishly unpacked is a machine designed to do two things—make pictures and drive you mad. But here's the thing: If you didn't care, you wouldn't get upset, right? If you weren't passionate and determined about all of this, you would just put your camera down like yesterday's newspaper. But you can't, just like I can't, all these years downstream.

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