In my humble opinion, as far as I can tell from the feedback I've gotten on my photography, as well as by observing the reactions of the people viewing my photo work, one major characteristic that separates winning photographs and photographers from the rest of the pack is a deliberate and strategic use of light.
I won't go into any details regarding the actual techniques, since there is an astonishing amount of content on the web on the strategic deployment of light. What I give, instead, is a way to bridge the gap between theory and practice.
There is a level of anxiety and pressure that comes with taking every exposure. Beginners tend to believe that taking more shots is better, because at least a few will turn out good. I advocate the opposite approach. Take your time, get very familiar with what you see through the viewfinder, and then move around. See how the geometry of shadows change. See how in some positions you create lens flare, and how in others you do not. Shoot against the sun. Watch how the position of the light source can cause the light to wrap around certain objects.
That's really the key. Take your time and move around. I'll leave you with this photo as a parting example.