I understand completely what you mean, since I was you about a week ago. Never owned a cell phone, and rather enjoyed the fact that I'm not at the beck and call of others all the time. Figured it was finally time to break down and get one since I was taking a trip to San Francisco.
Since I was also more interested in a phone and not some iPod wannabe, I did quite a bit of looking into things. So, looking over the phones offered by US Cellular, I can say that I would advise against the Razr V3m and the Krzr K1m. Both of those, from everything I've seen, are pretty cheap phones with high failure rates.
I don't know exactly what your price range is on a phone, but the LG UX380 looks decent, assuming your research turns up that it's a decently constructed phone. Only a 1.3MP camera, but it says it has a MicroSD slot, which will be invaluable if you want to take a lot of pictures with it. Everything else I see listed gets into the $100 plus range, so I'll just assume that's probably out. No point spending a lot of money on a nice cell phone until after you've had one awhile and have a better idea what kind of features you really use.
I will also say that if you want to be taking pictures, don't use your cell phone. The camera lens on pretty much every cell phone is pretty pathetic even by the standards of cheap digital cameras. They're good for those times when you don't have an actual camera, and quality isn't a real issue. Every camera on a cell phone I've seen only has digital zoom, which basically means it just distorts the image rather than actually zooming in like with an optical focus/zoom. Virtually all of them lack a flash as well, limiting their use to well lit areas. So I would strongly advise not worrying too much about the camera function of a phone, and just getting yourself a nice digital camera if you're going to be taking a lot of pictures. Even some cheap 4.1MP camera is going to blow pretty much any camera phone out of the water.
Also, while they are the king of the nickel and dime approach, have you checked to see what kind of coverage Verizon has for your area? They have a pretty expansive nationwide network, with really only a very few spots without any coverage. Then I could probably recommend pretty easily the LG VX8700 phone. A little expensive, but it's a nice phone with a fair degree of style while still feeling like it's put together pretty well. I've only had mine for about a week, but I'm fairly happy with it thus far. Biggest issues have been that the battery charge port cover has to be handled with care or it will snap off easily, the buttons on the phone are completely flat, so touch dialing is kind of out, and it can be a little difficult to fish the phone out of my pocket or something without pressing one of the side buttons. All in all, nothing too earth shattering. Some people have real problems with bluetooth devices, but I find those rather pretentious myself, so...
Anyway... Whatever carrier you go with, I'd do a lot of research into the various phones they offer. I've found www.howardforums.com to be a great place for info on just about any cell phone out there regardless of carrier. Then if taking pictures is important to you, just get some cheap basic phone, and invest the rest of your budget into a nice digital camera.
I'm looking into getting a cell phone and am all by tech. impaired! Due to where I live (the middle of Antartica - joking but close)I'm limited to using U.S. Cellular for my coverage. From what they offer, what is the best choice of cell phone for me? I will not need to text or surf the web using my phone. I need a phone with a long battery life, is durable and reliable, and a good camera phone. Now, don't get me wrong...I love a little style so please don't recommend something completely practical! I mean since this is my first phone, I want it to be special!