Let's face it, we photographers like shiny objects. Especially when first starting out, it’s always tempting to find some new camera, lens, or other tool we can put in our tool belt that is going to help us be a better photographer. Sadly, that cool new piece of gear is not really going to make you a better photographer, but here are a few things that might.
Learn the Fundamentals
Learn the fundamentals of photography: exposure, depth of field, lens choices, etc. Start with the gear you have and learn about the things that stay the same no matter what camera you are using. Along with this, learn what makes a good composition. Effective composition is really about taking the three-dimensional world and crafting an effective two-dimensional image. If you are new to photography, getting a solid handle on the fundamentals will make the most difference in your photographs.
Learn About Light
If you are a landscape photographer, being able to see and use the best light of the day is critical. Study how different types of light can affect the scene. Observe and photograph in the early mornings and the late evenings. Try backlighting subjects. Try photographing side-lit objects. In essence, learn to observe light. The more sense you have of what makes good light, along with the more command you have of your camera to capture it, the better your work will be.
Get Comfortable With Your Gear
You know, that gear you already have. Learn how you can make the most of it. You may be surprised what you can produce with the camera that you already own. In the end, you may not need that cool new gadget or camera. Or if you do get it, you will be able to do more with it.
Find people who can critique your work honestly and give you pointers. These might be instructors in photography workshops and classes or other photographers in photography groups. It might even be fans, but make sure they are willing to be honest and even blunt if necessary (hint, probably not your mom).
Learn How to Be a Good Editor
Sift through your images to find your best work, and don't be afraid to delete things. It's all part of the process of learning. Try to select a group of your best dozen or so shots. This can help you see what your strengths are and what are some things that you can still work on. It can also help you see what you like to shoot beyond the obvious subject matter.
Try New Things
If you have been at it longer, be willing to experiment. Shoot something that you haven't shot before or experiment with a new location, a different filter, a different time of day, or a new subject matter entirely. Try your hand at night photography. Try a neutral density filter. Just doing something new can often spur new ideas and help us get out of a creative rut. And ultimately, it can help us be better photographers, learning what we like most and what our strengths are.
Look at photography that you like. And look beyond just photography and at art in general. Find artists who have developed a style and have something interesting to say with their art. Getting inspiration and insight from other artists' work can help you become a better one yourself.
So, while new gear can be great, it's not really the key to being a better photographer. Fortunately, what can make the most difference is something that you have with you all the time regardless of the camera or software that you now own.