Click here for Part 1.
Hobbyist & Professional
I'm lumping these two categories together because, aside from one thing, they are nearly identical. What applies to one will almost always apply to the other. The one thing that seperates a hobbyist from a professional is that one gets paid for his or her photographs and the other does not. It is assumed that the professional knows more about photography and can produce higher quality images than the hobbyist, but that is not necessarily true. There are some hobbyist who can make amazing photographs, but they do it completely for fun and don't earn a dime. And there are some professionals out there who have subpar pictures, and it's pretty amazing there is someone willing to buy their work. Generally speaking, the professional will have more photography knowledge and the ability to take better pictures than the hobbyist, just not always.
If your desire is to be a hobbyist or professional photographer (or perhaps a hobbyist first with the idea of being a professional at some later date), how should you get started?
If you don't know what aperture, shutter speed and ISO are (and how they relate), the first place to start is with a photography book designed for beginners. This is not something you want to spend a lot of money or time on, but you do need to know and understand the basic camera functions and basic photography principals before you can move forward. The library is a good place to look. Used book stores are another. Langford's Basic Photography is a good option, although certainly not the only good option.
Once you think you are beginning to "get" what the book is saying, you then need to test what the book is saying. Actually taking photographs is the best learning tool out there, period. There is nothing like real-world experience to validate or challenge what you think you might know. This is a time of discovery! Don't forget to pay close attention to the camera settings and lighting conditions--or, even better, take notes.
Once you have completed that step, or if you already know basic camera functions and basic photography principals, the next step is another book: The Art of Photography by Bruce Barnbaum. This is a must read! This is not a step you should skip. If learning-by-doing is the best tool out there, then Bruce Barnbaum's book is the second best. I highly suggest carefully and thoroughly immersing yourself into The Art of Photography.
I can't emphasize this enough. The suggested retail of the book is $44.95, but if you shop around (try here, here, and here) you may be able to find it for much less. It's the best money you will spend on photography. So go get The Art of Photography by Bruce Barnbaum today!
Next is choosing which camera to buy, and that will be the topic of How To Get Started In Photography, Part 3.