Learning Curves

So I'm trying to learn to take pictures. Good pictures. Honestly what I want to be able to do is take pictures of my knitting designs, my kids, my husband, and my dog. That's about it. I don't want to start a photography business. I just want my pictures of my family to speak to me, and I want my pictures of my knitting designs to sell stuff. That's it.

This, apparently, is a very tall order. There are so many things to learn with the picture-taking. And photography people? They are mean. I joined a few photography forums and apparently the idea of constructive criticism is lost on (most of) these folks. They love nothing better than to rip an amateur photographer to shreds. I don't get it. And then I go and look at the websites or flickr accounts of these so-called experts... and we are not impressed. At all.  I guess I just don't understand the not wanting to help people. I mean I guess technically they are sometimes giving good information, but it's hard to see it when they are blasting you with the hate.

And just for the record, I haven't really experienced the vitriol myself. I've just watched it. It's like they take glee in shooting folks down. I tell you what, if I ever hire a photographer the first thing I'm gonna do is see if I can find them on those forums. Because if they are asshats (like so many of them are) they ain't never getting my business.

But I digress. As usual. My point is, there's tons of information out there, but I'm having trouble putting it into something cohesive that I can study. And Lord knows I can't ask any of these folks. But I've been working through a Ben Long book that is written specifically for the camera I have, which is the Rebel T1i/500D. And I'm actually slowly learning stuff. Like how to use fill flash for something that is back-lit...

And how the different white balance presets work and how to create a custom white balance...

Although I think I might like one of those nifty grey cards. The thing is, for my business, I can't decide if it's better to try to learn these things on my own, or pony up and take a class. It's a very slow time of year for my business, so it's hard to justify the cost of a class. How did you learn to take awesome photographs?