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How I did it: The best way to improve my photography skills was / is to practice, practice, PRACTICE. I read a lot too, and it helps. But every time I want to try a new technique, I go on a photo shoot. I "play" with my camera all the time. Trying out new settings, seeing how things work or changing things slightly. Understanding my cameras features is very important to maximizing the control I have over the fine details of an image.
For me, lighting is the single most important attribute of a scene. Understanding lighting and when and how I can utilize my equipment to take advantage of the lighting is very important.
Reading the camera manual is priceless. I also have read several other books about photography. I always like to have my camera with me so I can get an unexpected shot, or try something new.
I am also planning on investing on a smaller point and shoot camera so I will never have to leave home without a camera again.
Recently, I also have begun to try my hand at HDR photography and I love it.
Lessons & tips: There are plenty of free resources / photography tutorials available on the web.
I also keep an Amazon wishlist specifically for camera equipment. This way I can easily check the list to see any price drops or sales. Can't beat amazon's prices: free shipping AND no tax. They often have sales on equipment. Amazon reviews will also be useful if you are looking for a new camera body or lens.
Resources: Flickr Pro (This is where I share my photos, keep a backup, You can never have enough backups so you don't loose your digital images)
Canon 7D for Dummies (I love the for Dummies Series!)
Canon 7D manual
Google (looking for photography tutorials, try google)