A friend asked me the other day for a few tips on some of the things I've learned about photography. Clearly, I'm not trained in the art of photography, but I feel like I appreciate a well staged shot, or the classic portrait.
I've included a few of my favorite blog posts on the art of photography basics.
This is a nice start. The key thing to understand is that photography (and especially, exposure)is based on a balance of three of aspects: aperture, iso, and shutter speed. The aforementioned tutorial walks you through the basics of understanding your camera and what assumptions it makes for you while you're learning.
There are two main camps in camera: Nikon and Canon. Both companies make fine hardware, but I'd recommend an entry level consumer SLR in either case, just to get your feet wet. Several years ago, when I purchased my camera (the Canon T2i), the price was around $750. You can get the upgraded model, the T5i for similar prices on amazon, and avoid sales tax at the same time. This camera offers an entry level SLR with most of the bells and whistles that you could want. It shoots 1080p video, takes 5 pictures per second, and offers excellent image quality.
When you buy the camera, I'd buy just the body, and not pay extra for any kit lens. The lenses that sell with the camera are pieces of shit. Take my word for it. If you want to feel like you wasted your money, and wonder why your pictures don't look like the ones on the internet, then use the kit lens. However, for the $120 you can get one of the best lenses out there. The Canon EF 50 mm f/1.8 II is a fantastic lens. No, it doesn't zoom; its a fixed focus "prime" lens. This is okay, it will make you a better photographer. It's small, has a wide aperture (aperture = that blurry effect you love in portrait photography), and cheap. After you've fallen in love with it, you can splurge for the Canon EF 50 f/1.4 lens, which is an even better lens. It has more of that blurry background and bokeh that you'll love.
There are two main camps in photography post-editing: Aperture for the Mac and Adobe's Lightroom for Mac and the PC. Personally, I'm an Aperture guy, though the Lightroom lovers of the world are strong. Editing your photographs in post is simple fun, and I find that it's the most rewarding part of taking pictures. Sure, shit in is shit out, but you can really make a picture pop with some post editing. There are tons of youtube videos showing you how to do some basic editing in Lightroom or Aperture, so I won't get into that now. I think that each piece of software is around $80, but it's well worth it. I'll mention it now, that Aperture even has a Auto Enhance button which increases the saturation, edits the exposure, and just make the photo stand out from the basic shots. You can look at pictures on Facebook or the web and notice the ones that were taken with a nice camera, and those that were taken with a nice camera, and edited in post.
Remember, the best camera is the one you have one you. Just take every picture you can. iPhone, SLR, compact camera, its doesn't matter. Just take pictures - it will make you better, and make you see the world in a different light.