Here's a quick thought to get the creativity flowing. What separates a technically good image from a great image? Content. This consists of the location, the model, and clothing/make-up. It really doesn't have anything to do with camera settings.
Camera settings do make a difference, but the content of the picture is key. Taking pictures of ordinary things, no matter how great the camera settings and lighting, will still be ordinary pictures. It's important to try and make the content as different as possible. Location plays part of this in a HUGE way.
Shoot a skateboarder on a normal street performing a very simple trick and spend time making sure the angle, color, lighting, and composition are all great. The picture looks technically sound and is a quality image. Now take that same shot in an incredible and stunning location (i.e. mountaintop road, grungy alley, etc.) and you've created an extraordinary image. What changed? Not your camera settings. The content!
I firmly believe that about 98% of the population (not formally trained in photography) will look at a picture based purely on it's content. Of course it's important for the exposure to be right, but the amazing content brings the image to the next level.
Location scouting is key in all types of photography except for studio/backdrop work. Spend some time looking around (we will call this field research...) and find unique and different locations to shoot at. Your portfolio will improve dramatically.
Camera tutorials and books tend to leave this point out. Content is key for great and jaw-dropping images. Look at your favorite photographer's portfolio and you'll almost certainly notice that the locations are extraordinary.
The other factor in this equation (and this applies to studio photographers as well) is the way your model looks and the clothing they are wearing. Ordinary looking models are less exciting. Find models that are truly individuals and have them wear strange or unique outfits.
In photography, great lighting and angles will impress other photographers, but not the general public. Don't waste your talent shooting lackluster subjects in less than impressive locations. Take this advice to heart and boost that portfolio. I'm going location scouting tonight and will bring my camera with me to have reference images for future shoot locales.
If you have some great images that really showcase this point, please post them in the APB Flickr Group.