As a newbie, think about how you want to use the camera. Are you just planning to take pictures of your growing kid, family ? Is it just for capturing some moments while travelling ? or, do you really have interest in learning photography ? What is your motivation? Start with an entry level camera, DSLR or mirror less or point and shoot. It mostly doesn’t matter what you buy first. Think about how much time and effort you will like to invest in the learning process. Ask friends, or there are several resources online like Ron’s blog to do the initial research on cameras. Don’t set a budget to buy your first camera, just buy an entry level camera first. If you decide ‘I want to spend $2000, and what is the best camera I can buy’, then your pictures are not going to be better than your iPhone pictures, if you really do not learn how to use it well.
Once you buy a camera, learn how to use the camera well. Understand different modes in the camera like Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Manual mode. These are the only three modes required in any camera, trust me. Learn focusing modes. Find a book similar to ‘Sony NEX 7 for dummies’, that kind of books are available for most popular cameras. Read your camera’s manual. Many cameras have built in features for panorama, HDR, fast moving objects ( kids ) , night shots etc. Understand the capabilities of your camera well. It may be just a click at the right moment, with the right mode set, that is all required to get an image that captures a moment.
Understand exposure . . . Aperture, Shutter speed and ISO . . understand the relation between these three well, this will teach you the basics of light. Experiment by shooting every day. Don’t let the camera chose more than one of Aperture, Shutter speed and ISO. Go to library and browse Photography books, read a few pages and keep browsing until you find a book that you like. You do not need to read a book just because I like it, find a book that has a presentation that you like to read. I find Bryan Peterson’s ‘Understanding Exposure’ and ‘Understanding Shutter Speed’ great resources to learn the basics of photography. I use them as references. Watch 500px.com and look at interesting images, it is a great free resource. You will also find tutorials explaining how to shoot this kind of pictures’ type of topics.
Understand depth of field . . . Learn how the (1) focal length, (2) aperture or (3) the distance between the subject and lens can affect the depth of field. Learn how to take a picture of your kid with blurred background. I am sure everyone likes such pictures, learn how to do that, you can do it with any camera, including a point and shoot. Understand and analyze what depth of field you need in different kind of situations, do you need sharpness throughout the frame, or do you want to isolate the subject using depth of field ? Remember, you do not need a pro camera to get interesting pictures. KCLS, and Lynda.com have got several resources that teach you basics of photography.
Composition . . . why I did not tell my cousin so far about Composition ? Because you don’t worry about it initially, keep taking pictures and learn what you really like to capture, then find books or courses and learn more about techniques to shoot those kind of pictures. If you have already spend a few months with your first camera and you are becoming more passionate about making good images, then learn more about compositions. If you understand what is composition, if you have come this far, then I see passion and interest in you, so keep leaning. Find out ways to learn compositions, watch pictures on Flickr, 500px or post your pictures there to get feedback. Join your local photo club if there is any, learn from the members, go for photo walks and share experience and learn. There are several photography groups on Facebook, make sure to join some closed groups so you watch only a limited set of images, not thousands in a day.
Don’t upgrade your gear . . . until you know why you want to upgrade. Upgrade your camera or lens after you learn how to exploit the capabilities of them well. Once you understand the limitations of it, and if you are finding it interesting to spend more effort to learn more and do more, then only upgrade. You will find importance of Flash, Tripod, Remote trigger, Editing etc. slowly. Shoot JPG images and keep doing that until you find the limitations of it. Lightroom is probably the best and easy to learn editing tool for a beginner. AdobeTv has plenty of free tutorials to learn Lightroom, and also Photoshop if you end up start using Photoshop.
YouTube is a great resource to find videos . . . also know that it has a lot of junk. There is not much Pro quality stuff out there. There are some nice video tutorials there, make sure to watch them only if you know the author. I have enjoyed watching YouTube videos of Dave Morrow (night photography and post processing), Bryan Peterson ( the perfect picture ), Tony Northup, Antony Morganti (editing in Lightroom ), Nasim Mansurov( photography tips , gear reviews and lot more stuff), Scott Kelby, Justin Reznick (landscape photography, editing), Gary Fong, just some names to quote. There are some tiny books from national geographic like ‘photography tips for travelers’, I find such books at Half price Books and it is cheaper there. Read Lighting 101 - A Beginner's Lighting Kit at strobist.com if you have bought a flash. I find Scott Kelby’s ‘The Digital Photography Book’ Parts 1 – Part 4 interesting to read.
If you still want to continue to learn, join some serious training at PCNW or similar photography schools. Have classroom sessions with a pro photographer, or have a one-on-one with Ron, subscribe to some classes like Kelby training. There are workshops conducted by several pro photographers in specialized areas of photography, find some that suits your interest and attend and keep learning. Subscribe to magazines like ‘popular photography’. Read gear reviews.
You bought a DSLR, you used it for a few months, and you find it too heavy and not interesting to use ? You will be happier if you sell it and buy a mirror less camera instead. I have a cousin who did that, and he is perfectly happy today.