The first camera ever, was the camera obscura. It was the size of a room, and worked like a pin hole camera. Light sensitive paint was put on the opposite wall of the hole, and light would travel through the hole, and expose the paint. The first camera used a far sighted man's glasses lens in the hole.
All cameras have the following things:
Light tight box
Step 1: Picking a Camera
Point and Shoot (P&S) - This is the type of camera that is often very thin. P&S cameras generally don't have options on them for controlling shutter speed, aperture, ISO, etc. They are fully automatic, and usually have a large LCD screen on the back (digital) for taking a picture.
Advanced P&S - This is the kind of camera you will want to start with. They are small, but resemble DSLRs, they may have a flip up flash, handle, etc. But the main reason we want them, is they they take better quality pictures, and you can control the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO (among other things). The reason they are good to start with, is that they can be fully automatic, but you have room to grow as you get better,
SLRs - SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex, if there is a "D" in front of it, than it means a Digital Single Lens Reflex. SLRs are the cameras that professionals use, they are the ones that have interchangeable lenses. There is no LCD screen for viewing the picture before you take it, rather, you use the view finder. The way it works, is that light goes in through the lens, reflects against a few mirrors, and through a prism, so you can see it through the view finder. When you click the shutter button, the first mirror lifts up, and the CCD image sensor, or frame of film is exposed to the light.
Picking the one for you
*Note* Megapixels are not the way to chose a camera. More megapixels does NOT mean a better picture. A larger image sensor does, but while you are at P&S cameras, they are all generally the same. This is more important when you choose a DSLR.
This is based on you getting a Digital Advanced P&S:
Until you get to SLRs, there isn't a lot you need to worry about when purchasing a camera. First, look at the features. The wider the range of shutter speeds available, the better, along with the range of apertures. Look at how much zoom your camera has as well, if you tend to zoom in a lot, go for one with more zoom. Check out what kind of memory card the camera takes, and how much the cards cost. Ideally, you will get a 1gb card. If the camera takes SD cards, you may want more, in case you ever upgrade to a DSLR that uses SD. Lastly, look at aesthetics, and how comfortable you are holding it.
If you are getting a DSLR, I will mention something about the brands to get. I only recommend Nikon and Canon, and to explain this bias to people, I've invented The iPod Analogy. If you look at mp3 players, you'll notice that the iPod is not the most economic player. Other brands provide cameras that may have more features for your money. The catch is that the iPod is compatible everywhere, any feature associated with music is built to work with an iPod, and not as much other brands. Cameras are the same way, you're much more likely to find the lenses and accessories you want if you have a Nikon or a Canon.
Where to buy
Two very common places to buy cameras are:
BH Photo Video
BH often carries their equipment for much lower prices. Make sure to get a warranty for your camera.
Step 2: Photography Terms
Aperture: How wide the opening in a lens is. The larger the opening, the more light gets in. The common. Aperture is measured as a fraction, so the lower the number, the wider the hole. Example: f/16 means 1/16...that is a small opening. f/1.8 is 1/1.8...that is a large opening. The way the fractions work, is that the diameter of a f/16 aperture, is 1/16 the measure of the lens's focal length. The basic apertures are:
Bulb: This is a shutter speed on some cameras. What it means, is that if you press and hold the shutter button, it will stay open until you let go. This is useful for night shots.
Cityscape: A photograph of man made things
Depth of field: This is how much can be in focus. With a large depth of field, things that are far away can be in focus, as well as things that are close. With a small depth of field, things have to be relatively close to each other (distance from camera wise) to all be in focus. A larger aperture (smaller number) will give you a smaller depth of field, while a small aperture (large number) will give you a large depth of field. Small depth of fields are good for portraits, while large depth of fields are better for landscapes.
Focal length: Measured in mm, focal lengths are basically how wide angle, or telephoto a lens.
ISO: It stands for International Standards Organization. If you have a high ISO (like 1600), you camera will be more light sensitive, allowing for faster shutter speeds, but you will have more noise in your image. A low ISO (like 200) will force you to use slower shutter speeds, but you will get less noise.
Landscape: A photograph of nature
Noise: It's created by amplifying the signal that your image sensor detects. It's hard to describe what noise looks like, so i'll show you. If you have a lot of noise in an image, a blue surface will look like this:
noise is the digital equivalent to grain on film. Pictures can sometimes benefit from noise.
Portrait: A Photograph of a person
Reciprocation: This is how shutter speed and aperture relate to each other. My photography teacher put it like this: If you open up, you speed up. If you close down, you have to slow down. Opening and closing relate to aperture, speed up and slow down refer to shutter speed. So, if you want to open your aperture up one stop, you need to speed up one stop, in order to have the same exposure. Why would you want to change the settings, if you'll get the same exposure? Well, you may want to slow down, in order to have a blurrier picture. Or, you may want to open up/close down to affect your depth of field. (See "stop" for more examples on reciprocating)
Shutter Speed: This is how long the image sensor is being exposed to light. The larger/longer the shutter speed, the more light gets in. If you have a long shutter speed, you need to use a tripod, in order to prevent blurs (unless you are trying to get blurs in your shot). Shutter speeds are measured in fractions as well. 2000, or 1/2000 of a second is a fast shutter speed, and requires a larger aperture. 2, or 1/2 a second is a slow shutter speed, and would require a tripod. In order to know how fast a shutter speed you need to hold the camera by hand (and not get a blurry picture) you generally can take your focal length (in mm) and use that as the shutter speed. For example, if you have an 85mm lens, use a shutter speed of at least 85 for a sharp picture. Because 85 isn't a shutter speed, we would go up to 125. The basic shutter speeds are:
Stop: Stops are a way to compare shutter speed to aperture. Each shutter speed is a stop, and each aperture is a stop. This way, when you are reciprocating, if you have a shutter speed of 30, and f/16, you know that you will get the same exposure with a shutter speed of 60 and f/11
Telephoto: Basically...zoomed in. It has a smaller angle of view, but you can view things that are farther away.
Wide angle: A focal length that lets light in from a large angle (degrees) so you can see more things (left to right) but you can only view subjects that are closer to you.
Zoom: A lot of people confuse zoom, and telephoto. Zoom lenses are able to go from a wider angle, to telephoto...it has a variable focal length.
Step 3: Lighting
There are three types of lighting:
Direct: This is achieved when there is only one light source, and it casts sharp, deep shadows in which there are very little/no visible details in the shadows. Direct lighting can be used in portraits when you want someone to look tough.
Direct diffused: This is achieved when the one light source is allowed to bounce against walls, or is diffused through something like silk, or the leaves of a tree. Shadows have some detail in this type of picture.
Fully diffused: This is achieved when light is coming equally from many directions, and there is little shadow in the pictures. Use this kind of lighting when you want a female model to look angelic.
Sometimes people take available light pictures, This is when you just use what light already exists, versus using a flash, or other light source. This often includes sliding glass doors, and windows.
Certain times of the day provide lighting that people go after as well. For example, there are two hours during the day called the "Golden Hour" these are:
1. The hour before sunrise
2. The hour after sunset
It's when the sun isn't directly shining, but there is a golden glow...
You can also utilize the sun's position to create whatever shadows you want.
Using a flash can help when the available light is insufficient, or you want certain parts of your picture to have more light. You can point your flash at a wall or ceiling, so the light light will bounce and diffuse into the direction you want. On camera flashes are often frowned upon, as they will create harsh lighting, and red eye. For an on camera flash, consider getting a diffuser. The Fong Lightsphere is a favorite of many photographers. You can also fashion one for built in cameras, out of whatever you've got laying around...silk can work nicely.
Consider a reflector, to eliminate shadows that a person's face can make. Look at the picture of a baby below, It would be ten times better, If I had had a reflector when I was taking the picture. A reflective sun blocker from a car works well, and is cheap.
Use your lighting to accentuate parts of the pictures that are important to you. Movies are good places to observe lighting, as they control light expertly. Also, just browse through other pictures, and see how they do it,
Step 4: Composition
A good article on angles
It's very hard to get a good portrait if your subject is centered, so try and offset people when you are taking pictures of them, it hows where your subject is, and more importantly, who it is.
Step 5: Taking Better Pictures
A friend and I run this website together. It's small, but we have a few very good eyes there, who will help critique your images, and help you with whatever you need. Be careful what forums you get suggestions from. For example, Nikon Cafe is a good website, but I don't like it for sharing pictures. I find that everyone there is too nice, and praises everything you put up. A site like Phodeo will tell you what is wrong with pictures (nicely) and help you to improve them. As a beginner, stay away from sites that praise everything, or it will reinforce habits that aren't so good.
I'm also available to help you with anything you need.
Most importantly...have fun with photography. Take pictures of what you enjoy, and have patience.