My way to achieve photorealism in lights and materials is always having good references and working strictly based on them.
ABOUT LEARNING 3D
The main reason was personal interest, dating back to my university days, I started 7 years ago, I learned it with self study, using internet tutorials as my main course, specially Lynda, Gnomon, etc.
ABOUT PROJECT WORKFLOW
I first get the references that I need for the project, subsequently I sketch a scheme, then I start modeling in 3dsmax or z-brush, then light and materialize it with v-ray, then render the project, and finally post production is done using Photoshop.
My personal projects are all done by myself, but client projects may be shared.
ABOUT REALISTIC VEGETATION
My main personal technique is good modeling plants in 3dsmax, polygon by polygon, and using Speedtree, which is a very powerful and yet comfortable software for creating plants and vegetation.
ABOUT FUTURE PLANS
I would like to work in a big company and to have time for the personal projects I have in mind.
Clearly because of the improvements in the softwares the quality of works will be significantly increased, and with more advanced technology modeling would become easier and more realistic.