When starting out with photography, these are the areas you'll want to know about:
These days, cameras are good enough to match up against the analog cameras. In fact, they're surpassing them. Given the usefulness of being able to see what you've just photographed, the ease of postproduction and the prices coming down, the choice is simple... digital it is.
Fixed lens or replaceable? Most people start out with a compact camera, which comes with a fixed lens. When diving deeper, you find that one lens isn't enough to cover all situations, or at least not with the best results. Every lens has its purpose. A camera where you can swap lenses becomes the next choice.
If you're just taking pictures and don't wonder why it doesn't look like what you see in magazines, well, then please stick with your camera. But probably whoever is reading this will be interested to learn more...
Whereas camera brands are concerned, Canon & Nikon are ahead of the game when it comes to affordable DSLR cameras. There are others such as Hasselblad, but those cameras and lenses are far more expensive, and not always fitting the job better.
JPEG or RAW?
Shooting with DSLR's these days can be done in RAW or JPEG. JPEG is a compressed 8-bit format (you lose some information). RAW contains the actual data your sensor has captured (currently around 12-bit, although the latest cameras store their images in 14 bits per pixel). For the best in quality, RAW is the way to go. For pictures where quality isn't so important, JPEG will do just fine.
More information on shooting RAW can be found here.
Which lenses to buy?
This depends on what you want to shoot.
Portraits require light-sensitive (called 'fast') lenses, meaning a small f number. For example a 50mm f/1.4 lens is faster than a 50mm f/1.8 lens, meaning the f/1.4 one can work in darker circumstances. Notice that faster quickly means more expensive.
Landscapes require wider angle lenses to capture all information. You can also use telephoto lenses, but this is used to photograph landscape details; sort of like portraits of things in a landscape environment.
Also, lenses (or camera bodies, such as the Sony Alpha) can incorporate IS or VR; Image Stabilization or Vibration Reduction (the latter term used by Nikon, the first used by Canon). This stabilizes the lens so the image becomes less blurred due to camera shake. Camera bodies doing stabilization still don't work as good as lens-based stabilization. Also, with lens-based IS it is possible to create better versions, without needing to get another body (although at some point lenses become more expensive than the bodies).
You now have the equipment, next comes creativity. When learning about composition, a great bit of knowledge is to know about the Golden Mean, also (though less accurate) used in a simpler way as the Rule of Thirds. More information can be read here.
Importing the images to your computer is easy; the camera can function as a USB stick or disk drive. Or you can take out the card (Compact Flash, SD etc) and use a card reader to get the images. I have found the latter to be much faster on my Canon EOS 350D, although it seems to help very much if your memory card is fast.
Then you need software to post-process your pictures, if only to go from RAW to JPEG preview images for example. More on available software can be found here.
When taking a lot of pictures, at some point you reach the point where it becomes more difficult to trace back images you took. For this, you need some type of library software to manage those hundreds or even thousands of images. Some basic requirements to think about are:
Here are 3 packages and the advantages and disadvantages, in order of my personal preference:
Media Center from J-River is really an excellent piece of software, very customizable so not too many things clutter up your screen. Lightroom really has a different goal from Media Center; the Adobe Lightroom attempts to mimic your workflow, of which the Library is but one part. Since it requires chunks of memory though, I tend to still just use Photoshop and Adobe Bridge to do my selections, using Adobe Camera Raw to play around with settings like Exposure and Shadows.
This is a world of its own. For informative movies I'd recommend Russell Brown's site. Photoshop has a wealth of functionality, and a big number of plug-ins are available for it.
Don't think you can do without some kind of post-processing if you want really great pictures. Digital cameras tend to generate relatively 'soft' images, so sharpening is one thing which really enhances a photograph.
Reading up on lighting, camera techniques, Photoshop. Books are important, and fun to read. A few terrific books are summarized on this page.
(c) 2006-2011 Dolphinity B.V. / Ruud van Gaal