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The last time I did photography I was in high school, shooting black and white photos on film with an old, fully manual Nikkormat, and developing and enlarging them by hand.

The world of photography has changed a bit since then (even then, it was pretty retro to have a fully manual camera). I'd like to get back into it, but I'm not sure where to start. Are there any good resources for learning about modern digital photography, helping pick a camera, and learning about the basics of composition, light, color, post-processing, and the like?

Some particular areas I'm interested in are scenic photography, urban and architectural photography, outdoor action photography, and nighttime photography, in case that helps focus the answers (though I realize that is a rather broad set of interests).

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I know that you specifically mention learning digital photography, but I want to make sure you realize you don't have to go digital! I have some friends who shoot only film, and take some wonderful shots. Some use modern technology to post process, and many integrate the features of both to produce wonderful images. One of my favorite analog photographers is Caleb Charland, whose work inspired me to get back into photography, can be seen here: calebcharland.com –  BBischof Oct 16 '10 at 21:14
    
@BBischof Oh, of course you can still do film photography. But I feel that given the sorts of things I want to do, digital will be more convenient. I don't have ready access to a darkroom, film is expensive and increasingly hard to find, and you're a bit more limited in the number of photos you can conveniently take in one go. Thank you for the link, though, those are some wonderful photos. –  Brian Campbell Oct 17 '10 at 14:58

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

First off, throw away all the advice about what make of camera to buy, photography is a creative act, not a tribal loyalty..
The plain and simple truth is that great photographs are made with all major makes of camera. What matters is to find a camera that fits you, ergonomically and emotionally (and financially). You can only do that by trying out a camera in your hand. So go and haunt your local camera dealers.

Then join a camera club. You will find that their competitions, exhibitions and social activities are an enormous source of stimulus and encouragement. There you will learn that photography is a creative act, that the camera club recognises and rewards creativity, not the brand of camera you carry.

Buy some books about creative photography. Here are some ideas:
Photography and the Art of Seeing by Freeman Patterson
The Photograper's Eye, Design and Composition by Michael Freeman
Learning to See Creatively by Bryan Peterson

You will need some software tools to perform three basic tasks
1) Capture/transfer your photos (usually comes with your camera)
2) enhance and manipulate your photos (Photoshop, Gimp etc)
4) organise your photo collection (Picasa is a low cost way of doing this)

Your photo collection will grow quickly and then you will need to think carefully about storage space and backup procedures.

Photographs must of course be seen so it is worth investing in the very best screen that you can afford.

Finally your good photos should be exhibited, at the very least in your home. That means printing. But you can delay the decision about printing equipment since there are so many reasonably priced printing shops.

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The first step is obviously going to be to get a camera, and if you've still got your old lenses, then it may be worth looking at Nikon's entry level DSLRs, although I understand there are some compatibility issues with older lenses.

Rules around composition and lighting have stayed pretty much the same and are always bent for artistic effect. Post processing is the bit that has changed, and this is where websites, such as this one can help out - if there is a particular effect that you'd like to reproduce in a digital workflow, then you can always ask here.

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Lots of good starting points. I'd suggest digital photography school (http://www.digital-photography-school.com/)

There's a good overview of buying your first DLSR here at Discerning Photographer: http://thediscerningphotographer.com/2009/11/26/buying-your-first-digital-slr-camera/

I'd strongly suggest starting out with a good point and shoot. You can but a Canon G11 for $450, or a Canon S95 for about $400. Those are the cameras professional photographers (and their partners) tend to have to carry in their pocket, and you can do a lot with them without having to invest as much money as going right back into the DLSR market. That'll let you get started again without spending a lot, and decide if you want ot get serious, and learn a bit about what kind of photography you really want to do -- and then you can consider upgrading the gear.

To get started, you're going to need:

A camera; You can get some really good ones in the $400 range, like the two above, or the Panasonic Lumix DMC series, which my wife uses for the superzoom.

Memory cards that work with the camera, and enough that you can shoot as much as you want during the day and not run short. (I typically carry about 2,000 images worth of memory at any time these days, but that's just me)

consider a spare battery.

If you're a mac user, iLife is inexpensive and iPhoto is a great way to get started. At some point you'll likely outgrow it, and then you can evaluate Aperture (from Apple) and Lightroom (from Adobe) and decide what you like. I used Aperture, then switched to Lightroom. Either way you'll have a good powerful system for managing your photos.

Scott Kelby is a good place to start for your "how the heck do I do all this post processing stuff?" questions: http://www.scottkelby.com/

You'll hear people telling you you need photoshop. 2-3 years ago, you did. Today, it's realyl expensive, and other things will do the job for you in almost all cases, and Photoshop ELEMENTS is a lot cheaper, and it'll be a long time before you say to yourself "damn. if only I had the full photoshop program, because I can't do .... in this one". Until you hit that point, DO NOT BUY PHOTOSHOP. Buy elements for about 1/6th the price.

A good starter kit for software is iPhoto/Elements (if you're on a PC, I don't have a clue. hopefully someone will chime in on the iPhoto replacement on windows). The next step would be Lightroom/Elements (or Aperture/elements). Before you buy photoshop, see if there's a third party plug-in for lightroom (or aperture) that does what you need instead of shelling out for photoshop.

Don't forget you need to backup your images, because if you have a hard disk crash, they're gone. Budget for a disk to do backups on. Even better, budget for TWO, so there are always multiple copies of your data. Your disk WILL crash some day.

On composition and technique, lots of resources. I wrote about my inspirations and mentors a while back here (http://www.chuqui.com/2010/08/my-photographic-mentors-and-inspirations/) and that will give you a few places to start and ponder, and they all have many links to many other places to explore and ponder. You'll find the voices that speak to you, and that's what matters...

Start cheap, invest as your interest grows, don't buy stuff until you need it, and don't pressure yourself to be better faster than the fun it creates in your life. And see where it takes you.

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I'd strongly suggest not wasting $400 on a point and shoot that is going to be rather unlike a DSLR in terms of shooting. $400 would be better spent on a lens or DSLR body. –  Nick Bedford Oct 18 '10 at 2:41

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