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

President Harry S. Truman waving his hat as he holds up a king salmon while fishing with others on Puget Sound. (Photo by George Skadding/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

George Skadding

Balinese farmer herding his flock of ducks through a field. (Photo by Co Rentmeester/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Co Rentmeester

MIT student using a MAC computer for project study of artificial intelligence. (Photo by Leonard Mccombe/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Leonard McCombe

Tarsiers,an animal native to Indonesia and Philippines, eating a lizard alive. (Photo by Sam Shere/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Sam Shere

American destroyer USS Vesole escorting the Russian freighter Polzunov into international waters. The freighter is loaded with nuclear missiles and related equipment bound for the Soviet Union after being removed from Cuban soil, bringing an end to the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Photo by Carl Mydans/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Carl Mydans

Light pattern produced by a time exposure of the light tipped rotor blades of a grounded helicopter. (Photo by Andreas Feininger/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Andreas Feininger