Many people believe that in order to take a professional looking picture, you need a lot of expensive cameras, lenses and studio equipment. However, many retailers offer digital SLR kits that come with all the equipment necessary to take a professional looking photo – you just have to know what to look for.
The first thing you will need is a high-end consumer digital SLR (also known as DSLR). The most prominent manufacturers are Nikon and Canon. The difference between the two is lens and flash capability as well as mounting, but both offer great options at most price points. For those just getting into photography, older models such as the Nikon D80 or Canon Rebel XTi offer a great introduction to professional photography. These camera bodies can be found for under $300 at many retailers and even cheaper when found used on sites such as eBay. Both offer a 10 megapixel count which produces beautiful photos even when printed on large formats.
Lenses are the other half of your photography setup – a good lens can make or break a photo. Generally it is a good idea to go with lenses made by the same manufacturer of your camera as third party lenses can often be of lesser quality. Canon and Nikon both offer beginning “kit” lenses that usually come bundled with their camera bodies if purchased from a retailer. These lenses offer the most flexibility in terms of aperture and focal length. If you are looking for more specialized lenses such as a telephoto lens for long distance photos (such as surfing when shooting from the shore), it would be wise to invest in a lens specific for that purpose. Both Canon and Nikon as well as many third party manufacturers offer lenses for all types of photography from macro (close up) shots to telephoto (far away) shots.
In terms of accessories for your camera set up, you will want to add a flash and possibly even a diffuser. A flash can help add lighting to a situation where there is little light to take advantage of such as at a show or nighttime shot. A diffuser is an accessory for you flash which diffuses the harsh flash lighting and makes it appear more natural and soft, allowing you to photograph your subject and not blow out any lighter colors.
With a beginning camera body, lens and flash accessory, you can find yourself taking professional quality photos for well under $500 if you know where to look.