Well, simply put, it helps to leave your living room.
As a camera salesman I sold a lot of gear to a lot of people, but rarely saw many photos they had produced. I found that many can talk a great photo, but not as many can take one. A lot of expensive gear never leaves the camera bag.
I own more gear than the average person, but to me they are just tools, not prestige items. I actually feel self- conscious if I'm in a public setting and I'm carrying a lot of gear.
I actually had a guy say to me in one of these settings, "I suppose you think you're a pro carrying all that equipment". I responded " It's not the equipment that makes me a professional" and left him wondering what I had meant.
I have also been to seminars where the speaker boasts that he only ever uses a 50mm lens, nothing else!
Hey, what ever you buy, it helps if you actually use it.
The long and the short of it is, you have to put in the time. Of course, it helps if you love what you are doing.
I would hate (or is that love) to add up all the hours I have spent alone in the bush waiting and looking for subjects. There have been many days where I wouldn't even see anything, let alone get a chance to photograph it. I'll tell you though, the chance encounter with a moose or an owl, or even a session with a spider's web in the perfect light, can make all those hours worth it.
The few photos you may see on my web page would be the equivalent of hundreds of hours alone in the bush.
I often joke to Angela as I'm walking out the door for another trip up to Riding Mountain or the Rocky Mountains, "Well, I'm off to work". I guess if I didn't live and breathe nature photography it might be thought of as work, but I consider it a calling.
Another benefit of spending more and more time dedicated to your photography is your eye gets better and you start seeing things differently. I find that I start to do more and more experimentation.
One of first outings together with Angela, she discovered early on I was pretty serious about my photography. We were up at Riding Mountain early one morning we happened upon a Great Gray Owl.
It wasn't too concerned with our approach, so we were able to get within maybe twenty feet. After getting a few nice shots from below with the 300mm, I wanted something a little different than the usual low-angle shot with the owl looking down on me. I decided to try an experiment.
I mounted a wide angle lens onto the camera and preset the focus. Since I was going to need as much depth of field as possible, I mounted the flash onto the camera. I then preset the aperature to about f11 (to give myself a working distance of about 6 feet).
Next, with the camera already on the monopod, I set the self-timer, and triggered the shutter. During the countdown, approx. 10 seconds, I grabbed the monopod at it's base and lifted it up to my full extension, guesstimated the distance, and aimed it at the owl.
The resulting photos were quite amazing since they were shot at almost eye level to the bird. They didn't all work of course, but the ones that did, were a nice change to the low-angle shots taken at the same time.
I head out on every trip, even the short weekend outing, with only an idea of what I may encounter. I have found that it doesn't really work if you head out with a rigid pre-conceived idea of what you are going to shoot on any given day. I soon realized that I could easily miss perfectly wonderful images if I was only looking for one specific subject.
This is not to say that I don't go to specific locations looking for specific species, but I definitely keep my eyes open for the unexpected.