J.R. Eyerman with his camera. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

J.R. Eyerman with his camera. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

As a boy, J.R. Eyerman (1906-1985) had already shot thousands of pictures with his father in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Then, at age 15, he entered the University of Washington, where he studied engineering. He eventually returned to photography and joined LIFE in 1942, where he photographed combat from the Mediterranean to the Pacific. At one point, Eyerman accidentally discovered the code name for the invasion of Japan (“Olympic”), but he kept his mouth shut and his lens open. He was one of the first to reach Hiroshima after the A-bomb hit. With the war over, Eyerman drew on his technical background to develop several impressive innovations in photography, including an electric-eye mechanism that tripped the shutters of nine cameras to take pictures of an atomic blast; a camera that could function 3,600 feet below the ocean’s surface; robot cameras that took pictures 107 miles up in an early U.S. research rocket; and color film that was speeded up to make possible detailed photos of the aurora borealis.

J.R. Eyerman with an underwater camera setup. (Photo by J.R. Eyerman/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

J.R. Eyerman with an underwater camera setup. (Photo by J.R. Eyerman/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

For some LIFE photographers, the camera was merely a way to get a picture; for others, it was an aspect of the medium that could be altered, expanded, improved. Eyerman was certainly one of the latter. For a photo essay on the Navy’s undersea operations, he designed his own camera and equipment. For the nuclear-bomb test, he rigged nine cameras to shoot simultaneously.

Adapted from The Great LIFE Photographers

3-D movie viewers. (Photo by J.R. Eyerman/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

3-D movie viewers. (Photo by J.R. Eyerman/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

LIFE magazine cover published May 8, 1950 featuring baseball great Jackie Robinson. (Photo by J.R. Eyerman/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

LIFE magazine cover published May 8, 1950 featuring baseball great Jackie Robinson. (Photo by J.R. Eyerman/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

More Like This

Leopard about to kill a terrified baboon. (Photo by John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

John Dominis

Owner of the foam rubber store, Forcite, Inc., Victor Sabatino questioning a Chicago administrative manager Herman Horowitz. (Photo by Grey Villet/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Grey Villet

Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi reading next to a spinning wheel at home. (Photo by Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Margaret Bourke-White

Painter Henri Matisse using a bamboo pole tipped with charcoal to draw a half-scale figure of St. Dominic. (Photo by Robert Capa/The LIFE Images Collection) Photographer

Robert Capa

Imperial Dam in California. (Photo by Horace Bristol/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Horace Bristol

Deer antlers hanging in domed ceiling of Gordon Castle. (Photo by William J. Sumits/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

William J. Sumits