1. Shoot with the best quality natural light
Hands down this is the most important thing for making your pictures pop! Learning to shoot with the best quality natural light makes a huge difference in your photography. It's more important than the kind of camera you use or the lenses you have. You can have the most expensive gear and still not get great photos if you don't know how to find the best light. Amazing natural light makes complexions glow, colors pop and details look fantastic.
2. Shoot in manual
You might get lucky and take plenty of pictures with great light but at some point you'll fight with your camera to get what you want. For that reason learning to shoot in manual and properly control your camera is a major thing for making your pictures pop. You won't get great pictures if your camera makes the shutter speed super slow (aka blurry photos) or it keeps wanting to turn on the flash (on camera flash = yuck.) Life is just easier and you can be so much more creative with your photography if you can show your camera who's boss.
3. Add a reflector
Give eyes a little more sparkle and help boost that great quality natural light by using a reflector. You can purchase collapsable reflectors (in silver and gold) to carry with you. I'm not a big fan of carrying a bunch of crap, so I love to look for natural reflectors like the concrete in the photo above. It's naturally reflecting lots of great light back.
Another easy tip is to wear a white shirt. Yes, when you're shooting pretty close to your subject that white will reflect light back into their eyes and give them a great sparkle. Of course I rarely wear white but it does work. Using a reflector isn't 100% necessary for getting your photos to pop but in certain situations they really help. Can't afford a reflector? Just purchase some inexpensive white foam board.
4. Use actions
Shooting with the best natural light makes your photos amazing and using editing will help really make them shine. My favorite is using actions in Photoshop - specifically Totally Rad Actions. You can even make your own "recipes" of actions put together and do a batch edit on your photos. Totally Rad also offers RadLab for Photoshop, Photoshop Elements and Lightroom. I haven't tried it myself but I hear it rocks. However be sure to check that you have the right program version before getting RadLab.
5. Bump that saturation
Don't want to invest in actions at this time? Make simple adjustments by bumping the saturation level. It's best to use a layer mask so you can highlight only the areas you want to be more colorful. That way you can bump the saturation of the purple wall a bit but not make the people look crazy weird.
6. Adjust curves
Another great way to make photos pop instead of using actions is adjusting the curves level in editing. A few tweaks here and there and you've got just the right amount of oomph to make those photos shine.
7. Invest in quality lenses
Remember, the most important thing to making your photos pop is great quality natural light. That being said if you have the funds and can invest in quality lenses that is just another great thing to make your photography even better. Granted your fantastic new uber expensive lenses won't do a thing for you if you don't know how to shoot in manual, find that light, and master focus. But if you do then they really make a big difference. Colors will be more bold and true to life, images more crisp. The best sharpness is achieved through the best glass. Once you shoot with expensive glass the other lenses pale in comparison. BUT remember, master your beginner photography skills first. You can still take amazing photos without the most expensive lenses. Work your way up to them.
8. Shoot full frame
Just like quality lenses, a full frame camera won't do you any good if you don't know how to use it. All beginner cameras including the "kits" that you buy come with a crop body camera, meaning it has a smaller sensor. This = less expensive gear which for obvious reasons is why they are for beginners. Eventually you may want to work your way up to purchasing a full frame camera. Full frame means the sensor is like a 35mm sensor, it's the whole enchilada. Basically no information is lost. Colors are even more vivid, images are awesome and lenses are used to their full capability.
Even so, quality lenses are hands down more important than the camera body. But once you get to that point and you're ready to jump to full frame, do it! After shooting full frame, crop body cameras just won't be the same. When we upgraded from our Canon 40Ds to our 5D Mark IIs we never touched the 40Ds again.
Remember the most important thing for making your pictures pop is shooting with great light + shooting in manual. After that it's all rainbows and unicorns!