The vast majority of photographers often flounder in a state of perpetual mediocrity wondering why their photos aren't getting better. They invest thousands of dollars in gear along with hundreds of hours of practice only to see what amounts to the most minimal of improvements. One of the most often overlooked characteristics of great shooters is that they never complacently accept that "good enough" is an acceptable metric in relation to their photography. Being picky enables great photography.
Be Picky About Subject
Years ago, I had my first portfolio review with a high-end commercial editor. It was a rough experience, as it should be. They tore apart my work and broke down exactly where it was failing. While the review provided ample feedback on aspects of my photography, the reviewer made a specific point of telling me that I needed to find better people to work with. While I thought the models and creative teams I worked with were awesome the reviewer told me very harshly that it wasn't the case. Even without making any of the other changes suggested the reviewer said that just by working with better models and makeup teams I could put my work up to another level. My initial internal response to this was to be somewhat offended on behalf of the people I worked with in the past. I had great respect for the models I worked with and how dare this reviewer to suggest they weren't real models? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it isn't about choosing the models that I like and the models who I get along with, rather, it's about choosing the models that look like they belong in the commercial space from the point of view of a commercial editor.
This advice is true of every aspect of photography. No matter how good of a photographer you are, your photography is always limited by the subject. Sure, a great photographer can make any situation interesting, but would they not create an even more spectacular image when aiming at a spectacular subject? There is a reason the greatest landscape photographers travel to the far corners of the world or that the best car photographers aim to be shooting the most exotic of supercars. Great photographers are picky about what they point their cameras at and it shows in the quality of their work.
Be Picky About Style
Another powerful piece of feedback that came from the above review was that my work needed to be more consistent. Not necessarily in quality, but in style. I have a love of exploration and a drive to constantly be trying new things. Doing the same thing over and over again bores me to tears. Unfortunately, photographers who have become utter masters of doing the same thing over and over is what draws commercial clients. Clients don't want to risk their budget on whatever your muse might be on a given day. They want a predictable outcome. This is something I will, personally, always struggle with as I will never want a career of doing the same. It doesn't have to be your road, however, become so picky about the style of your images that a client knows exactly what to expect before you even deliver the first proof.
Be Picky About Genre
How many world renowned, genralist photographers are in the world? Can you name one? I'm guessing probably not. There is a reason for this, true experts develop a laser-like focus on very specific subject matter and become utter masters of that subject. If your goal is to become known for being a great photographer then you need to learn that being willing to point your camera at virtually anything is working against you. Be the best at something specific rather than being OK at everything.
Be Picky About What You Show the World
You will always be judged by the weakest work in your portfolio. Make sure that there is no weak work in your portfolio. A great portfolio isn't determined by its size, but by a consistent quality throughout. Keep your portfolio small. Always be removing the worst work. Furthermore, consider the same for spaces such as social media that require greater volume. Each time you are about to post any work to any social feed as yourself if that work truly projects you in the best light. If the answer is no, then don't post it. You want people to be amazed when they scroll through your feed. Don't show mediocrity.
Be Picky About Advice
The world is filled with armchair photographers, it is even more filled with non-photographers who are always quick to comment on your work. The vast majority of advice lacks credibility and should be ignored. Before accepting any advice, from anyone, put that advice through the gauntlet by questioning its credibility. Does the advice come from someone who has the motivation to help? Does the advice come from someone with the experience to speak on the subject? Does the advice come from someone who you respect? Be picky about the advice you accept as it will be a driving force in the trajectory of your career as a photographer.
Be Picky About Education
Without repeating all of the above paragraph again, it is important to be equally picky about education as you are about advice. Learning from a source who lacks the credibility to teach only will lead you down the wrong road. There is an old saying: "Those who can't do, teach." That saying has some truth to it. There are some teachers who teach because they love to teach. There are other photographers who teach because it is more lucrative than doing what they teach. Be very careful of the latter, they are often bitter while lacking the credibility to really be teaching at all.
By becoming a pickier photographer you are able to elevate your work to higher levels. Being picky doesn't raise your skill but it does reveal the best work that a given skill level is capable of creating. Don't be the photographer who is always accepting "good enough" as their mantra as it will always reflect poorly upon you. Accept nothing but the best that you can possibly create, for it is in that space where truly magical work is created.