So, photography huh?
I would just like to start out this post with a disclaimer. I do not claim to know anything about photography, and am fully aware that I am in no way a professional. I have zero training in photography, not even a high school/college class, so everything I learned is from my manual, my friends (Hi Ashley!) and countless hours of reading photography websites. This isn't meant to be a tutorial, since each topic would be pages long, just some general pointers that have really helped me out and some links to back them up. I hope they help you too! If you have any additional knowledge to add (and I hope you do!!), please feel free to leave it in the comments section. Sound good? Alright, now that we've got that out of the way... lets see if I can help you out.
I shoot with a Nikon D80 and a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 Lens. That's it. I've tried other lenses, and ended up returning them because they just didn't give me the outcome I could get with my 50mm. I'd rather save up for one great f/2.8 zoom lens. (Anybody have any suggestions on that?) The 50mm is called a prime lens, which means it only has one focal length. It can't zoom in and out. But it takes GREAT photos, so it doesn't bother me a bit. Oh, and you can also get the Nikon D80 Kit which would come with a zoom lens, as an option. I had a couple of emails about what kind of bag I used to carry my camera at Disneyland. I have a Crumpler bag and I love it! It definitely passed the Disneyland test.
I chose the d80 after shooting with a Nikon D40 for about 7 months. It was a great camera, the only reason I upgraded was the D40 doesn't have an internal focusing motor in the body, so I had to manually focus all my photos with my 50mm or any other prime lenses. It was doable, but tough with kids who are constantly on the move.
Manual focus and shooting in Manual mode are two different things. Manual focus is where you actually manually focus each shot, where manual mode is a setting on your camera which allows you to control your shutter speed, ISO, and aperture. The three combined make up your exposure. Pretty darn important in getting bright clear shots. The absolute best advice I can give on shooting in manual is this: READ YOUR MANUAL. It will tell you exactly how to shoot in manual mode. So, Manual=Manual. Pretty easy to remember. It will tell you all about aperture too. This is pretty much a fancy way of saying blurry backgrounds. Well, sortof. Here's what you need to remember about Aperture to start. A low f number = a blurry background. The kit lens goes down to 3.5, the 50 mm goes down to 1.8. So, if blurry backgrounds are your thing, find a lens with a low f stop around 1.8-2.8ish. Click here for Pioneer Woman's aperture post. It is really helpful!
This article, 21 Settings, Techniques, and Rules All New Camera Owners Should Know, is a wealth of information, and far more than I could ever provide you with! Read it, click on the links, read more. You won't regret it. Then take a break, get out your camera and read it again.
I almost never use a flash. This isn't necessarily a good thing. If its dark outside, my camera rarely comes out. I just don't care for the look the flash gives. If you are inside, let in as much light as you can, open blinds, curtains, doors, whatever it takes. If it is still too dark, try turning up your ISO, but beware of turning it too high, or you get grainy images. Trust me.
Photoshop. It's a love/hate thing. I love it now, but it wasn't always that way. :-) It takes some time to learn to love it. Something that will save you time and sanity in the long run? Actions. Try these freebies from Pioneer Woman, or these from Totally Rad Actions to start out with. It is important to note, Actions won't work with Photoshop Elements. Just FYI. Editing is really just about finding a favorite action or two, and adjusting a few things like contrast/exposure.
To make my logo, I'm pretty sure I did it the dumb way, but it works! You can create a brush, or do like I did, create a blank document, design your logo with Text. Delete the background behind it, crop and save as a .PNG file. I just drag and drop it on my photos, and adjust the fill. I'm all about quick and easy.