What kind of camera do you use?
I own a Nikon D3000. It's a DSLR, not a point and shoot (we'll get to those in a minute). The standard lens that comes with it is good... not my favorite, but definitely good for beginners (Nikon 18-55). It doesn't zoom much, but it is great for group shots or photographing a large space.
The zoom lens that I own is the Nikon 55-200. It gives a good crisp picture, but because it is only a zoom lens, you really have to back off to get a good shot. It's not great for birthday parties etc, where you are trying to get a lot of people in the shot. However, I love it for face shots like these.
If I did it over again, I would forgo both of those lenses and get this one:
It is basically my two lenses wrapped up into one (18-200), so that would mean less baggage and lens trade-out in the middle of a photo opportunity.
*If you own this lens, please leave me a comment about how much you love/hate it. I've been admiring it from afar, but I want to know your thoughts.
When you purchase a camera, you have the option to get just the base and build the camera (lenses) to your liking. Or, you may find a great package deal like I did. If you are looking for a package deal, I recommend purchasing it through Wolf/Ritz camera... it's really going to be pretty much the same price anywhere, but they have lots of free extras (processing, camera bag, classes).
BH Photo is an AWESOME online shopping resource. I would definitely order from them again for extra lenses/accessories. Or maybe Santa could order that lens for me... Just sayin.
I have had my D3000 for 3 years and have often said it was one of the best investments we've ever made (and I HATE making big purchases). At the time the D3000 was the most basic/cheapest Nikon DSLR. I have not been disappointed. Some of the more expensive versions are much heavier, so while you will look cooler, your hand might get a wee bit tired. :)
As far as brand goes, I owned a Nikon (film) camera previously, so I was used to their mechanics. Some people love Cannon. I think it's kind of like Coke and Pepsi. Pretty much the same thing even though some people swear they can tell a difference.
If you are looking for a point and shoot camera here's my 2 cents:
1. Don't think you can't take great shots with a point and shoot. Sometimes people say, "I only have a point and shoot." The most important thing is to get a camera that you will use and be comfortable with.
The first two pictures were taken on my trip to Germany. I didn't want to haul a big camera around, so they were taken with a Sony CyberShot point and shoot. The last two were also taken with a Sony CyberShot before I purchased my DSL.
2. I don't know a lot about point and shoot cameras, simply because I rarely use one. However, there are some REALLY great (and inexpensive) ones on the market. Do your homework and find one that fits your needs: weight, zoom, durability
If I've totally confused you, or if you just have a question, let me know. I'll be glad to help (as much as my limited knowledge allows!) I asked a TON of questions (sometimes the same question, several times) when I was getting started. Heck, I still ask a lot of questions.
I will be doing one more post on some fun things/tricks to try. I'll also give you a great link to the best camera tutorial I've ever read.
Until then... snap those shots!