The desire to dive into photography beyond mobile phones and point & shoots can be exciting yet equally daunting, as you consider what exactly you need to get started in photography.

It’s true that photography is an expensive hobby, so unless you have an unlimited budget (which most of us do not), you’ll have to be strategic about where to invest your money. With some patience and restraint, you can build your gear collection slowly as you also learn the craft and better understand your needs.

Here are some suggestions to get you off to a great start.

1. Camera with manual control

A camera with manual control allows you to select the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, giving you ultimate control over your photographs. You can find technical reviews online, but any entry level dSLR is a good place to start. Nikon and Canon are the two big players, but there are other brands to consider as well. If you have a friend or family member who is a photographer and is willing to let you try out various lenses, that might be a good reason to pick one brand over another. I also suggest investigating mirrorless camera systems, especially if you’re looking for a small, lightweight option.

Canon and sony cameras

2. Memory cards

Memory cards are the equivalent of film and hold each photo that you capture on your digital camera. For digital photography, I prefer to get multiple smaller size cards as opposed to one large capacity one, in case a card goes corrupt.

3. Photography basics books

While you can find a lot of free tutorials on the internet, this method can lead you down various rabbit holes and leave you more confused than when you started. A book that provides some structure and organization to your learning and helps you understand the basics is invaluable. Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson is an excellent one, as is The Visual Toolbox by David duChemin.

Related: 19 Must-Read Books for Photographers

4. Education plan

I love photography because there is always something new to learn. I learned how to use my camera in manual mode by taking a class at my local community college, because I learn best in a hands-on setting. There are also a wide array of wonderful online classes. First steps with a dSLR or Mastering Manual Exposure are great places to begin. Beyond the basics, there’s light, composition, post-processing, creativity, film, and so much more. Get ready to have some fun!

5. Editing software

There are many free photo editing programs, like “Photos” on Macs (formerly iPhoto), but if you want to get serious about editing your photos, you’ll need to invest in editing software. For a beginner, I’d recommend Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop Elements.

6. Camera manual

This is not the most fun item to think about, but thankfully it’s included with your camera! You’ll need to consult your manual when setting up your camera, selecting your settings, and learning the ins and outs of everything your camera is capable of doing. Some educators suggest reading your manual cover to cover, but for most people this is a sure fire way to put you to sleep. I suggest using it to get set up initially, then keeping it handy for when you need to figure something out.

7. Camera bag

You’ll need a bag to store and transport your camera in, and the more you love it, the more motivated you’ll be to take your camera with you out and about. With the array of bag manufacturers out there, you’re sure to find something to suit your style and budget. Think about what style you want (handbag, messenger bag, backpack, tote bag, etc), what material you prefer (leather, faux leather, canvas, etc) and what else you might need to carry in your bag (e.g. diapers and snacks). If you already have a bag you love, look for a removable camera insert that turns any bag into a camera bag.

camera bags

8. Backup plan

When you’re just starting out, saving photos to your computer’s hard drive will work, but it won’t be a viable strategy in the long term. You’ll want to look into external hard drives and cloud storage. But probably the best method of “back up” is real, actual printed photographs! Words can barely express the joy I feel when I flip through a photo book or hold prints in my hands, so plan to print your digital photos regularly.

prints of photos by Carrie Yuan

9. Company for the journey

Photography can sometimes feel like a solitary pursuit, but one of the most rewarding parts of the journey has been the friendships I’ve forged along the way. I found the Clickin Moms forums at the perfect time when I was a beginner and looking to learn all I could and make connections with other photographers who were on a similar path. I joined a blog circle with photographers across the country, where we committed to writing letters to our children accompanied by photographs every month. One of the other women in the blog circle is local to me, and we met in person one cold, blustery morning as we attempted to shoot sunrise photos of the Space Needle a few months into the project. It’s really wonderful to be able to meet up for shooting dates, dinners, and lean on each other for business and artistic critique. We’ve helped review each others portfolio sets prior to applying to Click Pro, and we’ve celebrated each others achievements. What began initially as online connections have turned into beautiful in-real-life friendships with many photographers in Seattle and across the country, and for that I am so grateful.

black and white photo of 5 women laughing by Carrie Yuan