Lesson 1 - gear doesn't really matter. Almost everyone who takes a great photo of friends or family will get the inevitable quote, "what type of camera do you have because it takes great photos". Well yes photography technology has come a long way in the last decade (just check your old file - yikes!), but its still mostly the photographer thinking about light, composition, exposure etc that will determine the end result. Yes I've thought about upgrading to a full frame dslr with the best lenses money can buy, but after a while you realise you can create very good shots capable of reasonable print sizes with some very inexpensive cameras. Like most hobbyists, I make do with what I've got. If I was shooting weddings every weekend and alike I'd invest in gear that made sure I never missed a "paid"shot. But hey, I dont get paid, so for me it doesn't matter. I can get a great shot our of my Canon s95, 60d or Fujifilm x100s - even my iPhone 4!!!! So if you are starting to enjoy photography, think more about investing in your technique rather than a too many cameras. But then again, if you have the budget, and you're really going to enjoy it, that's up to you to decide. Lesson 2 - learn your camera really well If you're using your camera in auto mode all the time, no sweat, maybe that's all you need. But if you're seeking more control, start experimenting with the different modes your camera can provide. The great thing about digital photography is the fact that you can experiment for free. So how did I learn? Thanks to YouTube and Google I just learnt via the internet and the knowledge of experts around the world. If you're willing to put in the time, its really not that hard at all. The rest is practice. Lesson 3 - learn TV & AV mode first Ok, so you've got the bug, read a blog and want to go straight to full manual control. I would always advise that you start by understand TV - shutter priority & AV - aperture priority modes. This will give you a great understanding of the inter-relationship of shutter speed and the amount of light you let your lens digest.
Lesson 4 - learn manual mode and understand metering Now you've played and experimented with the relationship between your shutter speed and aperture settings, go give manual mode a go. Lesson 5 - composition counts So we've now got some fundamentals down on exposure and field of view, but what really counts? To me a picture is a painting. What you choose to shoot, the light, whats in the frame etc is what really counts. really look around the viewfinder when your taking a picture - notice all that's going on around your subject. Are you cutting off someones head, arm etc? There's a ton of information all over the web on great composition in photography, for me you just have to find what works for you - don't over think the rule of 1/3rds.
There's a ton of comparisons online regarding the famous zoom length of 70-200mm lenses. Yes the native versions are great, but I've found my Sigma 70-200mm lens f2.8 OS (optical stabilization) works extremely well in many circumstances, even on my crop sensor Canon 60d. Because its a cropped sensor camera the actual focal length is magnified by 1.6x, so in affect we have a 120-320mm reach. Using the extender tube 1.5x it extends the reach further by 0.5, so in effect I was shooting the picture below at circa 500mm. When you add the extender tube you lose an f stop, so the maximum I could shoot at was f4. The shot below was actually taken at f7.1 at 1/500th shutter speed because the available light was so good. I was at least 150m's away from the action in this shot. I think the clarity and colours are great. My point is that Sigma lenses are a really good step up from the kit lenses most people use. Sure there are more expensive alternatives that have the brand cache, am I'm sure they are excellent too.