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Or, to be more specific: digital photography. Though analogue photography undoubtedly has more character, film and developing it (unless you do it yourself) is incredibly expensive and time-consuming. Save that for later – it’s not the best thing when all you’re trying to do is learn.
This might come as a surprise to you, but the type of camera body you get is not important. Not at this stage, anyway. Go online, read some reviews, and buy a decently priced entry level DSLR. I’m a Nikon girl (I started with a D90) but Canon is an equally viable option. Until you know what even half the settings can do on that, it’s not worth upgrading
What is important – and what makes a good photograph – are the lenses. These are also a good investment over time since you can keep them as you upgrade camera bodies. Besides the kit-lens, the first lens I bought was a 50mm f1.5 primer lens (no zoom), which is great for portraits, along with some macro extension rings (the effect of a macro lens for one tenth of the price.) Also, make sure you get a UV protector. When you temporarily misplace your lens cap (and you will) this £2 replaceable bit of plastic is what will prevent irreversible scratches to your £200 lens.
Also important (but optional): a tripod, an external flash and a remote for self-portraits. There are also a lot of great tutorials out there for things like DIY reflectors.
Your DSLR’s automatic settings may be good for quick snapshots, but it’s a waste of your camera’s potential. If that’s all you want, you might as well use your iPhone. I’m a huge advocate of manual since I love the control it gives me. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll never go back. Here are the three main things to remember:
ISO: how light sensitive your camera is. Higher ISO means more light but also more noise (grainier images). In general, in daylight, you should aim to be shooting with the lowest possible ISO in order to minimise noise, since it becomes an absolute pain especially in post-processing.
APERTURE: how wide the lens opens. For lots of light, you want a low aperture (f/1.4) which also means a shallow depth of field (lots of background blurring.) If you want less blurring, increase the aperture (up to f/22) but you will get darker images.
SHUTTER SPEED: the faster the shutter speed (1/1000) the less likely you are to end up with shaky pictures and the darker the image will be. If you’re going for something like those artsy waterfall shots or fireflies in the dark, go all the way down to ‘bulb’ where you can keep the shutter open as long as you need to.
Not just great for correcting small errors: this is what will take your photography to the next level. I shoot RAW and edit in Photoshop, but Lightroom is another viable option. There are many brilliant resources to learn online: Tutsplus is a great place to start.
Sites like Squarespace and Behance make creating professional portfolios ridiculously easy. It’s a great way to showcase your skills, for instance to potential employers. Starting a more informal blog is also an option – when I began I started a blog with a friend that involved weekly photo challenges. It kept me getting my camera out and trying new things.
Stay inspired. Go to exhibits, browse the web. Keep trying new things – light painting, macro water drop shots, motion blurring. Grab someone you know and practice portraits. Take your camera everywhere and shoot as much as you can. Most of all, enjoy it. Good luck!