You go to the camera store, or more likely Amazon, pick out a camera and a lens and start making a living off photographing 10 weddings per season and the occasional trip with National Geographic. No.
Photography is like a sport, especially in the new world of Instagram. Some people do it for fun on the weekends and some are trying to make it to the big leagues. It is extremely competitive and encompasses more skill and creativity than most people would think. Do you shoot film? Digital? Mirrorless or DSLR? Sony or Canon? Portraiture or landscape? Do you edit on Photoshop or Lightroom? All these options aren't meant to scare you away but instead make you aware. So many people, including myself, thought I could just go out and buy a nice camera and start my path towards professional photography. It takes a little, a lot, more than that.
Why do you want to be a photographer
This makes a big difference in how you will begin your light stopping journey. If you are in it to get likes on Instagram, save some money and get as good as you possibly can at using your phone before you drop $5000 on a professional setup. If you are a gear geek and want to shoot the most high-resolution images possible of lions from a kilometer away, you should start saving your nickels and start studying up on all the different options that can get you to that point because unless you have tens of thousands of dollars to drop right now it will be a long process.
One of the most cringe-worthy things in photography is seeing someone go out and drop insane amounts of money on gear when they don't even know what they want to photograph or how to use a camera. I can say that because that's how I started. I got obsessed with the idea of photography as a career and believed that to get anywhere I had to have the most expensive gear I could afford. Before I even knew what I was doing I had the same camera being used by the best professionals around the world. This did end up working to my advantage as I was a lot more committed to the cause since I dropped so much money on it, but looking back, it would have been just fine to get something less serious to learn the ropes on.
Picking a Camera
I personally use Sony. I have had friends ask me to take a photo of them with their camera which was not a Sony and I look at it like I have never seen a camera before. I hope the settings are all set up because all I know how to do on a Canon is press the shutter button. I'm sure some people can pick up a variety of cameras and be able to work them equally well but to me, they are like a different language. This is why there are Sony experts and Canon experts and why when a photographer 'changes teams' it is such a big deal. Changing the brand of camera you use means starting over the learning process of becoming proficient with it. So before you start learning, you should look into which one will fit best for your shooting needs.
Do you want to shoot primarily photo or video with your new camera? Are you taking it up mountains or sitting on the sidelines of a football game? At the beginning of your journey it doesn't matter as much, but if you have a definite interest in a specific type of shooting it is good to do a little research before forking out the cash. Sony somewhat dominates the world of adventure and Nikon is still a go-to for action sports photographers. Focus on learning the basics with any camera you can get your hand on first and specialize over time as you begin to narrow down your passion.
Gear doesn't make you good
Being good makes you good. Practice. Having a good eye. Learning how to edit. Being originally creative. It is an awkward moment when you meet an extremely successful photographer and you have better gear than they do. Instant proof that it is not what makes the difference. You would be surprised by how many magazine covers were shot with point and shoot cameras. Don't get caught up in needing the best to be the best. If you think you can take print-worthy photos with your iPhone, go hard.
Picking a style or niche
Photography is an overarching term for a multitude of options. Portraiture, weddings, events, landscape, adventure, artistic, black and white, colour, the list goes on. It is almost an odd generalization to call someone a photographer without a specific area of photography as well. Obviously many people can shoot many styles extremely well, but often when it comes down to it, each of us has a niche we stick to for at least the time being.
Documentary is all about run-and-gunning it. You often have zero control over what you are photographing and a lot of research is involved. A Nat-geo photographer once said photography in the world of National Geographic is 90% research and %10 taking photos.
Weddings involve a lot of interactions with stressed-out people. If you go into a wedding seeming unsure of what you are doing, you are a target for the over-stressed bride to yell at. Which creates my favorite rule for shooting weddings: Only work with chill couples.
Portraiture is all about trust. It isn't overly hard to hold your camera up, find focus, and click a button. But if the person in front of you isn't comfortable, doesn't trust you, or doesn't expect the photo to be taken, they may make funny faces or even tell you to stop taking the photo. Fun Fact: there are beliefs around the world that being photographed steals your soul and if you attempt to photograph those people they may try to kill you to get their soul back.
Adventure and landscape are all about timing. You can't control the weather, the sun, the stars, the trees, or pretty much anything in front of you. Like Documentary, they both involve a lot of research but more about the conditions you will be facing. Sunrise and Sunset, or 'Golden Hour', is usually the prime time for any location which often means ridiculously early mornings or camping at the location if it is out of the way.
Fashion, boudoir, drones, video, product, there isn't really an end to the options of styles. One of the coolest things about picking a style is that you can make one up. Maybe you will become a professional llama photographer. Whatever you choose to specialize in will take you down a different path.
If you want to shoot exclusively film, you don't need to know what Photoshop or Lightroom is. But if you want to shoot almost any type of professional job you will need to know how to edit your photos. As more and more people enter the field of photography, personal style is evolving from the way you take your photos to the way you edit your photos. This is why preset packs are such a big hit in the Instagram world. Everyone wants their photos to look like the 'photogrammer' with the most followers.
Let the adventure happen
Regardless of what you shoot on, how you shoot, what you shoot, or what you shoot for, let the camera take you places. Many of my most memorable experiences were waking up too early to get the morning light perfect or taking a few steps too close to the edge of the cliff to get the right angle. A camera is responsible for some of my greatest adventures and biggest ideas. Some of my greatest friendships were created through creative projects or meeting up with other photographers. The magic of photography isn't so much in the photo as it is in the real-life experiences that take you to incredible places and introduce you to incredible people.