At one point or another, all beginning photography students (digital or otherwise) have to ask themselves one question. What makes the difference? Why is his work better than mine, or why is mine better than hers? I have been a Photographer for over 30 years. I have had 5 or 6 photography courses in my life (New York Institute of Photography, US Military Photography Training, etc.) and by far the most useful and enlightening training I ever had in photography, was NOT in photography.
Photography as a physical skill is not that hard to learn. Photography as a creative passion on the other hand, takes more than knowing the mechanics. The greatest influence on my photography career did NOT come from photography training, but instead can from ART training. As a graphic art major in college I learned things like: leading lines, composition, balance, repetition, the rule of thirds, etc. As you apply these types of lessons to your photography, you start to pull away from the pack.
Now a days, anybody can pickup a quality camera at a low price at places like Wal-Mart or Best Buy, but that does not make them a photographer. The photography Masters like Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Dorothea Lange, or Imogene Cunningham all had something in common, they knew how to visualize. They could all "See" creatively. I believe that comes from actually understanding "art" concepts and applying them to your photography.
I went to high school in a small town. I loved both photography and writing, but when I looked at the local community college they only offered two photography classes, so I mistakenly blew them off, thinking "what could they possibly teach me?" Boy was I wrong. Fortunately, on career day I met another photographer who was also head of the art department. That's when I started to learn to take things to the next level.
When students ask me now what they can do to increase their photography skills, I say learn more about art. Learn to think about what isn't there as much as what is (negative space). Learn why some pictures just don't feel right (formal and informal balance). Learn why some images just magically hold your attention more than others (leading lines, direction, and repetition). If you have a passion for photography, don't just dismiss other creative endeavors as "not your thing." Learn from the painter, potter, or sculptor how to put even more emotion into your work. As you do this, not only will your work improve, but you as a person are also lifted to new levels.