I'm often asked questions from those aspiring to become photographers whether it be hobbyist or pro, where to start, what gear to buy, how to find clients, etc. My advice is always the same, first and foremost, become a good photographer. Having a solid skill set can not be bypassed and overcome with great marketing or having a great network. The bottom line is always going to return to your ability as a photographer to produce quality, impactful, and consistent results in a variety of situations and with a variety of subjects. Now, you may be thinking, what if I don't want to shoot landscapes, I only want to shoot portraits? I think that is great, you've narrowed down your niche and genre that speaks the best to you and your passions. But that should not deter you from learning the basic concepts of proper exposure, composition, lighting, and other factors that go into creating impactful imagery. Master those skills first, then as you shoot and build up your experience, you'll naturally gravitate towards certain genres and develop a personal style. (If you'd like to read about how to develop a personal style, you can read that blog post here.)
The analogy I like to use is similar to the construction of a building. It all starts with a solid foundation. What takes the longest in the construction process to formulate, test and set, is the foundation upon which the whole structure will build upon. If there are cracks in the foundation, walls that are not square, missing bricks, and even poor construction materials, then it affects everything above ground, the structure which everyone sees. A poor foundation in essence will not be able to support the entire structure properly to keep it safe, a workable space, and to carry out what its function was designed to do.
Once the foundation is firmly in place, it seem the rest of the building is erected and constructed in the blink of an eye. This is true for your photography skill set too. Taking the time to build a strong foundation of knowledge, skill set and experience, will be the best option to build upon a successful business. A shaky foundation or cutting corners in building the foundation will only produce shaky and unreliable results and in the business world, that is detrimental to your success.
So where do you start? My first suggestion is to go to your local college or school and take photography classes. Start from the beginning, learn the basics, composition, lighting patterns, exposure, bokeh, and such, as these are what you will use to create unique images. If cost is an issue, inquire about student loans, or auditing the class where you take it for free, however are not give college credit. Each educational facility is different so please inquire at your local institution for options. If taking classes does not fit into your schedule, consider hiring a professor or photography teacher to tutor you on a timeline that fits your schedule.
Another option is the bevy of online classes and tutorials both free and paid. One caveat for online tutorials and classes, is self-navigating all the options. It is easy to get overwhelmed and jump from topic to topic, not realizing which are the important elements imperative to building your foundation. Even if you aren't taking a class at the local college, asking for a copy of the beginner photography class syllabus, will give you an outline of key topics and the order in which they are taught so that you can use that roadmap to find the right information to build from. Rather than floundering around and jumping from topics of composition to marketing to bookkeeping to lighting, make building your foundation the #1 priority to set yourself up with a solid and grounded base.
And now for the gear talk. Start basic. My suggestion is to buy a starter DSLR, I started with the Canon Rebel. I'm not as familiar with Nikon, but they do have starter DSLR's comparative to the Rebel and your local camera store can help make those suggestions for you. There's no need to go crazy with lenses and bodies, you're just learning. One of the best parts of learning photography is experimenting with different lenses and techniques. You can network with other photographers in your area, meet up to shoot together and share lenses. There are other options for renting lenses and cameras too, a suggestion I highly recommend prior to any camera or lens purchase. I've use BorrowLenses several times and have been very happy with my experience with them.
So go out there, take photos, learn, enjoy and share. The field of photography is such that it is rewarding even as a hobby and those who do it full time, they get the added benefit of calling it their job. It's a wonderful field full of helpful and creative individuals, so don't hesitate to reach out, ask questions and explore. Have fun with it!