I love to take photos. I will never say I'm an expert, but I can see the motifs and I think it is important. I take a lot of photos and delete about 50 to 70% of them, because I experiment a lot with manual settings. I have two cameras: a Canon EOS 450D, the one DH gave me for Christmas. I specifically wanted the 450 model since it was the model all the nerds on the internet praised. I have bought a great all-round lense, a Canon 18-200, which can be used for almost everything. I have also bought a big flash and close up lenses, so now I don't need much more. But it is big and heavy and not always practical to carry with me, so I have also invested in a small Canon Ixus 310, and since the photo shop had to order it especially for me I decided on a pink one. :)
It is smart because it can take semi-manual photos. I use AV a lot, which is diaphragm prioritized, which often can make a huge different combined with correct ISO settings, look at this:
Here it is shot with ISO 800 and a little
This is completely different and this is what it looked like in real life. The problem with a little diaphragm and high ISO is that you have to practice holding the camera very still because else the photo will be blurred. Here a tripod is great but how often do you carry such one with you? But if you stand solid on both feet, hold the camera with both hands and your elbows in to your body, take a deep breath (and hold it) and shoot - then it most likely will be a good shot.
I have attended two photo courses, the first one held by a young guy who was really talented, but unfortunately he was not a talented teacher, so I only became more confused. A few years later I went again and then I saw the light - now I photograph manually.
If you want to read about basic photo technics Sophie has written a great text about it. (In Norwegian and English).