How to start learning photography?
There are a number of options for how to start learning photography. I suppose it depends on where you're coming from -- what you want to learn, where you live, how you learn... these sorts of things.
A few options for a total beginner:
Take a class or a workshop. I took my first photo class when I was in middle school. It was an after-school class, separate from the school proper. During high school and college, there were classes offered by the schools directly. Many junior colleges have photography programs, as well.
Books. There are a multitude of photography books out there. Go visit your local library or bookstore, and browse a few. See which one(s) resonate for you, and take them home and give them a read. Online bookstores are, of course, also an option, and you may find reviews helpful.
Trial and error. Especially if or once you have a few basics under your belt, there's a lot that you can learn just by trying things. Changing settings on your camera, taking pictures, and seeing what happens. And you have the option of going the scientific route: taking copious notes, comparing the notes with your results, coming up with guesses on what things mean, and trying to test your guesses (hypotheses)... or just trying things, and eventually building up a feel for what settings impact what features of your camera and/or the resulting images. I personally have learned a lot of what I know from this route. The classes that I started with, and some books, as well, helped a great deal, though -- they laid a foundation of basic theory upon which for my trial-and-error explorations to build. I was thus able to use trial-and-error for figuring out which techniques worked best in a certain situation, or to get a certain type of result, rather than to figure out the basics of how my camera worked.
The Internet. There are many many many websites that talk about photography at various levels. Some of them are bound to be oriented towards your skill level. There are also sites like flickr.com (and 23hq.com, etc.) which provide an online community (or set of communities, really) around photography. You can upload your images to the site, find a group to join that fits your interests, skill level, and/or geographic location, and submit your images to that group to get feedback on them, or ask questions in the discussion sections of the group. There are also bound to be youtube videos, online courses (a google search for "photography class online" got me some promising-looking results), and any number of other resources.
Camera clubs and other photo groups. In a lot of areas, especially big cities, there are bound to be numerous photography-related groups. For example, in Seattle, among various others, the Seattle Flickr Meetups group (which exists both on meetup.com and on flickr.com) is a mostly-social group of flickr users, ranging from people who take pictures with their camera phone, and just have a vague interest in photography, straight through to some seasoned professionals, with a wide range (and many people) in between. There are also various other groups in the area, with different focuses -- some catering to different skill levels, some catering to different types of meetings (e.g. image critique nights), etc. I imagine that in most big cities, similar groups exist. If you're further afield, they might be harder to find, but check sites like the ones I mention above, and/or just do a web search (e.g. on Google) for photo groups in your area. Some of these groups are bound to have options for people to learn the basics of photography.
So look around -- online, or in your area -- and see what's out there. Then decide what's best for you... or just jump in to whatever's the first or easiest thing you find, and see where it takes you.
P.S. there's a question on this site about which blogs to follow which you may also find (the answers to) useful.
Learning Photography is equal parts theory and practice. The following book helped me in getting started - http://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Exposure-Photographs-Digital-Updated/dp/0817463003. It has lots of excellent photographs to illustrate the finer points. This book should serve as a companion piece - http://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Shutter-Speed-Low-Light-Photography/dp/0817463011/
Other than that you should slowly add individual topics to your knowledge. White Balance for instance. Cambridge in Colour - is a good place for such topics.
Read the detailed review on DPreview to get a better idea of how cameras work.
And be sure to put into practice what you learn!
"The Joy Of Photography" published by Eastman Kodak Co. is a great book for beginners. (I'm not related to the authors)
When I bought my first dSLR two years ago I (1) read the manual, (2) tried to take as many pictures I could, (3) learned from my mistakes, (4) experimented with manual mode, ...
A great resource along the way have been the (almost) weekly episodes of DTown, an online show produced for amateur photographers. They cover everything from techniques to gear. I've really learned a lot from Scott, Matt, Larry, RC and the rest of the guys on Kelby TV.
What worked for me:
- http://www.webphotoschool.com (cheap and really to the point)
- Find a store that rents equipment (rent and play before buy)
- RTFM of your camera... learn each function
- Never ever shoot automatic... go full manual
- Take photo, check it out, and redo
- Read http://www.strobist.blogspot.com
- Read the forum of http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/
- Youtube (has a LOT of good photo tutorials)
AND MY PERSONAL BEST...
- http://www.dpchallenge.com/ ( You can compete with others here) forces you to have ideas, and compare them with others... once I ranked 4th !
It looks like there are already a lot of great answers listed here. I'd like to throw out a couple options that haven't already been mentioned.
- KelbyTraining.com - They are an online tutorial service they have videos covering every thing from photoshop to specific camera gear, lighting, shooting events, seniors, weddings, and just about any other topic or situation you could think of...
- A four part book series by Scott Kelby (the same guy that founded kelbytraining). The books are simply titled "Digital Photography" volumes 1-4. They get you shooting fast without getting too technical. You can preview the books on the "look inside" feature on amazon.com
DPSchool is another great resource.
Whatever the media may be (books, classes, internet) it's important to understand the basics: Composition, Light, Colour.