Most digital SLRs nowadays are purchased as part of a “kit.” With Nikon, you’ll most often see the entry-level SLRs (D90 and below) sold with an 18-50mm “kit lens.” That’s where I started, anyway. But in my opinion, using a zoom lens gets you accustomed to zooming in and out, and not with your feet. It doesn’t force you to frame your world in a particular way, nor does it force you to see your world in terms of a frame. With a zoom lens, there are too many options.
This is the one of two or three images in my “50 most popular” on Flickr taken with my 18-55:
It was serendipitous that my boss happened to have a spare 35mm lens lying around and liked me enough to pass it along. This lens, a little over a 50mm on my cropped sensor camera (don’t worry if that doesn’t make sense) quickly became my go-to lens. To this day, it is on my camera at least 75% of the time. I carry my camera with me everywhere I go, and this is almost always the lens on board. Weddings and portrait sessions require a different approach and therefore different lenses, but that’s a whole ‘nother (and more complex) story.
The remaining 47 or so are almost all taken with my 35mm:
For now, my advice to anyone getting into photography or looking to dramatically improve, is to put one fixed-length lens on your camera and keep it on. Go somewhere to shoot and don’t bring any other lenses. Yes, you’ll miss some stuff that you’d need to have a wide-angle for, and other stuff that’s too far away to be captured well with a 50mm. Repeat this ad nauseum. When you know exactly what the frame is going to look like before you lift the camera to your face, you’re on the right track. And if you don’t have a fixed-length lens? Switch that sucker all the way to 18 and keep it there. Bam.