We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Pretty funny! Just think in terms of putting the camera on auto and framing the shot and for the most part you'll be okay.
Interesting though that the wiki for the Zone System goes straight to HDR in the digital section. The goal again being to maximize the tonal range of the image.
I've converted thousands of color images for two-color print jobs and I fly by the histogram to save money on proof sheets. I do the same with all of my color prints and my success rate is in around 92-95% success rate on the first edit in producing a good quality print requiring little or no tweaking before we go to press. Using a curves adjustment layer and the histogram you can save yourself a lot of ink, paper and aggravation if you're fussy about your prints. You just need to be familiar with the variables of the output process to get a feel for what works, so don't mindlessly switch papers, inks, printer models, or use several different print services. Watch your histogram and open up the image from the deepest blacks to the brightest highlights and add contrast. For speed you can make these changes globally, and make individual adjustments in difficult images.
I completely agree with your desire "not to be an expert in everything." I find that the more you push for perfection in pursuit of anything, the less enjoyable it becomes. In some areas, such as your occupation it is often a necessary evil but when it comes to hobbies forget it. Some of my favorite pursuits are ones where I don't have a high expectation of success. When I do succeed it is a pleasant surprise, if I don't, who cares?
First - forget everything you read about HDR and Zone System if all you want to do it take a decent hand held image of family, friends or nature. HDR is a technique meant to combine different exposures from multiple images to obtain the maximum dynamic range (call it light/color range) of any given scene. It is often over used as a technique to enhance any scene often to unrealistic results. I don't use HDR as designed for example - I use it to create a more artistic effect as I did with the Calvin's Truck image. Or the stock fence image. The Zone System is a process that only Ansel Adams and Fred Archer understood - Archer even admitted once that he didn't understand it completely as it requires a whole host of artistic processes (like visualization, composing and a sense of artistic balance), taking the image using and adjusting for....well, you get the idea - it's not a simple concept and to tell the truth, I know maybe two or three professional photographers who can acutally use it properly as Adams intended it - but don't ask them to explain it.
So now that I've talked you into forgetting everything you've read about those two subjects, how do you capture a good image without resorting to arcane science, obtuse artistic values and have a collection of $3,000 cameras, $10,000 lenses and more image software than a small movie studio.
Assuming an average point and shoot camera, get to know the controls. PnS cameras have multiple settings that are "auto" in that the image sensor and chip processes according to a pre-set group of values. For instance, if you have a cloudy day with diffuse light, use the Cloudy setting and the Brightness control (usually designated as +/-) to adjust the image so that it's not under exposed. Same with bright days - use the Sunny setting and adjust +/- accordingly. As most PnS (and DSLR - Digital Single Lens Reflex) have a image viewer on them, you can pretty much see what the results are before you take the image. Adjust accordingly. As you get used to the camera's controls, it becomes automatic and you can grab the image quickly with good results.
Image taking also requires a simple knowledge of available light. Cloudy days are largely gray with light coming at all angles. Sunny days the light is coming from one direction which you want directly behind you or at an angle from behind you. Water and snow reflect light, but at a slower speed so they will become blue/green - adjust the +/- control to adjust for that - or use the pre-set control. Try not to shoot an image from dark to light areas and vice versa. If you really want to grab a dark/light or light/dark image, use the "fill flash" feature on the camera - it's not a full point spot flash, but an averaged flash which will put diffuse light into the dark area based on a pre-set values.
Last, use a decent image processor. There are some good ones out there that, believe it or not, are free - Infranview which is a very good simple and easy viewer/fixer and GIMP which is a Photoshop clone. I use Photoshop CS4 (I have the CS4 suite - I wouldn't have it if I didn't get it at a reduced price because the Mrs. is a teacher), but there's no reason not to use those. Those two programs give you complete post-processing control of the image and will improve your image captures once you get used to using them. Of the two, Infranview is probably the easiest to use, but if you take a couple of hours to learn GIMP, you've got one powerful image processing tool.
Hope that helped. If you have a DSLR, I would be more than happy to go through those controls and what they do if you wish.