We've all heard it: "Practice makes perfect." But it's easier to quote this than to actually do it.
Some aspiring photographers complain because all they have is a "cat or dog" as their subject. Whether you have subjects ready at hand or stationary objects, you can still practice and accomplish much.
1) Know your camera
I'll confess: it still shocks me how many people buy a DSLR, brag about a fancy camera, but have no clue how to use it. Read your camera's manual (sorry Nikons, I've heard that their manual is hard to understand). Play with your settings (you can always revert back to factory settings, so you're not going to mess something up). Take it out and use it.
What you practice will help you. I'm not a nature photographer, but I learned a lot about my camera by shooting nature when people weren't available. The first time I really understood about aperture was when I randomized my f-stop. I noticed that the smaller the number (f-2.8), the blurrier the background. The larger the number (f-14), the clearer the background. Later, I read about this in a book...but I first learned it by playing with my camera settings.
Some pictures from when I really learned the value of the f-stop (these are completely unedited):
2) Be a "Nobody" Photographer
By this, I mean to be willing to use your camera at small events, when you're not paid, when you don't necessarily have to. This will help you in two areas: you will gain confidence, and you will learn the beauty of "capturing the moment."
I took hundreds of portraits of my sisters "just for fun." Not only did this actually provide me business ("I saw that picture you took...would you do our family's pictures?"), it gave me great practice. Another example, I side-shot at least five weddings "just for fun." For most of these I was in the audience; for one of them, I was the big "third photographer." But tell you what, I was super glad I did that when I was asked to be solo photographerat a wedding!
What days will you be working on photography this week?
What tips would you add to this?