The title of this article is actually a bit of a misnomer because there really is no such thing as digital photography. It's a bit like saying there is a major difference between pencil writing and pen writing. Writing is writing and photography is photography. Digital is just the method of recording. So it really gets down to learning photography in a digital world.
If you can drop the term digital and concentrate on photography you are then back at the basics which hasn't changed in 50 years. An slr is an slr whether digital of film. It may be easier to use digital and even easier to learn photography using digital but still it is the same old same old, photography.
Where do you start? You have your camera, instruction manual and a few accessories. What do you do with it?
1. Familiarise yourself with your camera
Key to any learning process is to get to know the tools of your trade. Find out everything you can and how the camera functions, its settings and how to actually take an image with it. This is essential to progressing along your photographic journey. Learning the basics of your camera is like practising your scales on a piano. You need to go over and over the settings and features until you can use them competently. Once you know it you can concentrate on technique without the camera controls interrupting your thought process.
2. Practise, practise, practise
Gary Player, international golfer and winner of every major title over five decades always said that the harder he practises the luckier he gets. Human nature is not predisposed to practise or exercise. Anything that becomes hard work we seem to shy away from. If you want to get good at what you are doing then practise is essential. No one likes stretching or exercising those out of shape muscles. The tedium of exercise is what prevents more healthy and fit people in the same way as practise does with your camera. If you don't bite the bullet and commit to practising you won't amount to much with your photography.
3. Learn the principles
By learning just a selection of the basic principles of photography you will improve your photography a hundredfold. Simple things like the rule of thirds, composition, aperture, shutter speed and ISO will leapfrog you ahead of you peers. You don't need to focus on megapixels and memory cards. They don't help your photography. Get a book, subscribe to a photo newsletter, join a club or enroll in a photography course. Do something constructive about learning photography. You don't need anything too in depth, just something to start you on the path to great images.
4. Learn techniques
There are several basic techniques that are key to great photos, like mastering depth of field, learning to pan moving subjects and how to focus sharply. Nothing too difficult but, if you master these they will add dimensions to your images that will raise them head and shoulders above the competition.
5. Review your work
Firstly, look at the images you have taken over a period of time and reflect on whether they include the principles of photography. Have you mastered the various techniques and have you gained a competency in using the settings and controls of your particular camera? Simple questions but vital if you are to move on to the next level in your photography. Secondly, you need to have your images reviewed by others. If you're part of a photography club then you don't have a problem. Other ways are to join photographic forums and submit your images to galleries for review by other forum members. Key to this point is finding ways to get feedback, positive and negative, on your images so that you can work at improving them. Review starts the cycle again because you will need to go back relearn the things you need to come to grips with.
To learn digital photography may appear to be a simple process, but if you aren't committed to the journey then you won't grow while on your photographic journey. Put these keys into practise and you will become a competent photographer. Happy shooting!