When I wrote this article back in 2009, Digital Photography was still a "new" thing. Since then, it has become the industry standard. I have updated a few links, and placed footnotes where information is updated. Hope it helps.
So you want to be a photographer. You have seen countless books, LIFE magazine, copies of VOGUE, and you have every season of America's Next Top Model. The challenge is, you don't know where to start. What kind of camera should you buy? Canon, or Nikon? What's the difference between diffusion and bounce, and what is this DOF that hear people talk about? All of these are common questions routinely asked.You are not alone!
First thing is to understand, What IS photography, and I'm not talking about the art of putting light on paper. I often use the analogy that "football is life, and life is football." Many things in life translate. Well if that is true, then Photography is GOLF! It goes beyond mere physical talent, but expounds on the mental, and the financial as well.
Just like golf, the best way to learn is to have someone teach you and then practice constantly. Also like golf, photography is not the cheapest hobby to take up. You can easily find yourself carrying around a backpack with over $10K worth of equipment. There are always new technologies and new goods coming out that you GOT to have. So where do you go?
Go to another photographer. Find someone who has nothing to gain from you taking up photography, buying a certain camera, or better yet someone that will take you under their wing. They will show you the ins and outs, and various techniques.
My recommendations. Find a good point and shoot...why? because many point and shoots like a cybershot or a power shot, are psuedo SLRs (Single Lens Reflex) and can give you great shots. Enough to the point where if you decide you dont want to be a photographer, and you just want to take pictures, you haven't put out too much.
But for those whose intent is to take this seriously, YOU MUST GET A SLR! These days its more practical to get a DSLR (D/Digital) due to overall functionality and price concerns in the long run. You can find many good entry level SLRs on sites like Craig's List or Ebay for a few hundred dollars. Many Photographers will tell you to spend your money on lenses over bodies. That whole topic is another discussion.
Lastly, you are going to want to shoot subjects. This is a touchy subject. Trade shoots (TFP/TFCD, time for prints or time for CD) are a great way to get subjects to shoot for your portfolio. Just remember to always put value on your work. If you are known as the "free" photographer, it will be hard for you to rid that reputation. Conversely, if you price yourself out of your market, it would be hard to get a subject to shoot.
And remember, just like Golf, you have to constantly be working. Coming up with new ideas, and then find something that you enjoy doing. Whether it be weddings, portraits, events, or even models. Touch on others, but focus on what you're good at and you will make this hobby into a career! Good luck and happy shooting.