Photography, like many other things in life, requires practice... and plenty of it!
There's good reasons the world's greatest athletes practice regularly. They never stop practicing, superstar status or not. Excelling at photography is no different regardless of the kind of photography you pursue. It takes practice and, like I already said, plenty of it.
Learning, of course, is also wildly important. And there's so many great ways to learn! There's workshops and seminars you can attend, books to read like those I've written or the many others authored by other photographers, blogs with shooting and processing tips, tutorials, video course-ware like Phil Steele's How to Shoot Professional-Looking Headshots and Portraits on a Budget with Small Flashes and so much more.
Still, learning isn't enough. You need to practice what you've learned. The cool thing about learning and practicing is the more you practice what you've learned, the easier it is to learn even more new things and work them into your workflows. That's how it generally works. But it still takes practice, whether it's practicing something new or practicing what you already know.
Although the more you learn and practice, the easier it becomes to learn even more, practice remains the key to working new knowledge into your photography. Not only is practice important for the new things you might learn, it remains important to continue practicing what you already know how to do. Even if you feel you've practiced those things a lot and know how to do them inside out, practicing them remains incredibly important.
The same learning/practicing cycles hold true for gear. Whenever I've gotten a new light modifier, for instance, I could already call on my existing skills and knowledge working with similar modifiers. But it still took time practicing with the new modifier before I could make it work really well for me. You might think, "Dude! A soft box is a soft box. Learn to use one and you know how to use them all." That's true in some ways and not so true in others. There's a reason I bought the new soft box even though I already had others. Likely, that reason can be found somewhere in the fact that all soft boxes don't behave the same or produce the same results. No matter how well I already knew how to use my existing soft boxes, it took practicing with the new one, whether that new one was different in size, shape, or in some other way from the others I already had, before it became a tool I truly knew how to employ for maximum results.
Learning new skills and ways of doing things, or learning to use new gear when you've added new gear to your shooting arsenal, are very important aspects of growing and maturing as a photographer. But none of what you've newly learned will do you maximum good until you've practiced those new skills, ways of doing things, or the use of a new piece of equipment. I've said it many times before: The biggest part of getting good at photography revolves about practice... and more practice and more practice.
As usual, I can't remember the name of the pretty girl at the top. She's busting a fairly artsy pose and, personally, I like it... a lot!
UPDATE: One of my super terrific readers correctly identified the model in the photo above as Madison Young. I love my readers!