Every photographer worth their salt has had that moment when they get a message from an excited friend who just bought their first camera. That friend is absolutely thrilled with their purchase and has become starry-eyed with the prospect of all the amazing photos they will soon create. There is only one problem: they know nothing about photography. That is where you come in. You have the opportunity to mentor them and create a shooting buddy for the indefinite future, so get it right!
Take It Slow
You didn't learn to be a proficient photographer in a day, so don't try to dump everything you know onto your friend immediately. To begin, they don't need to know all the techno mumbo-jumbo that is involved in photography. Instead, help them learn the simplest basics so they don't become overwhelmed and discouraged. My advice would be to not even worry about the exposure triangle right away. That is a Day-Two conversation. Instead, help them understand what focal length is and the basic operation of their camera in automatic modes. Let them get a handle for aiming and shooting, then slowly ease into the technical aspects. Yes, I know Auto is for the plebs, but your friend is a pleb, so encourage instead of making a fun discovery into what feels like a college math course.
Encourage your friend shoot things he or she will quickly have success with. A great first step I find is in shooting their beloved pets, if they have one (as with the photo above!). Pets make a great learning opportunity because no matter what, your friend will love the photos because they love their pet. Plus, the fun and goofiness of shooting a fur baby helps keep the photography from becoming too serious.
Check Your Elitism At The Door
Your friend probably didn't buy the best DSLR on the market. They most likely bought an entry level camera with an 18-55mm kit lens. It is most likely a Canon Rebel of some denomination. It doesn't matter if you think Canon is an evil incarnate or if you know that lens is effectively plastic garbage. Don't even bring it up. As far as your friend is concerned, they made a great choice, so let them revel in it and fall in love with photography. Gear lust will find its way to them soon enough – no need to accelerate it, or you may intimidate them and push them away from the enjoyment of photography. The same goes for any other type elitism. Encourage them to shoot whatever they want, however they want, and have fun doing it.
Make Sure They Have Fun
The future of your friend's photography career utterly depends on them having a blast with their first camera, so your job is to make sure that they do. Be excited with them as they discover new things. Encourage constantly and don't worry about "constructive critique" for now. Let them have fun and love the images popping up on the back of their camera, even if those images don't look like much more than snapshots.
Point Them Toward Relevant Education Sources
A new photographer isn't going to see the value in a $300 DVD with dozens of hours of content – even if that content, theoretically, would teach them near-everything they need to know. Instead, find videos or books that are quick to ingest that lower the learning curve. Personally, I usually go with Scott Kelby's Digital Photography series as a wonderful first door to step through.
Ease Them Away From Other Aspects To Start
I've found that the second many new photographers purchase their cameras, they are already browsing for lights or other similar gadgets. Don't directly discourage this interest, but also know that if that friend jumps in too deep, too fast, it will not only be extremely expensive, but it will also be discouraging. Help them learn the photography side first. Then they can worry about all the other jazz such as lighting, filters, post processing, etc. A camera, the kit lens, and maybe a tripod are really all they need to start. Everything else is white noise.
Never forget that when teaching new photographers, it is about them, not about you. Your focus should be on them and only them. Having a friend that is just as enamored with photography as you are can be one of the most rewarding experiences, so don't worry about yourself – it will be worth it in the end. Instead, do everything in your power to help your friend have as much fun and feel like they are having as much success as possible. That success will quickly morph into motivation, which will then ignite their interest in becoming better photographers. And that is when the real fun starts. But never forget, the most important part of the whole process is their motivation to keep shooting. Motivation makes great photographers. Without it, nothing else matters.