It's always instructive to look at the best images in a competition for both inspiration and to understand what the current judging fashions are.
The results of the 2018 Focus awards have been published and in looking at the Photographer of the Year section (see link below) it seems to me that many of the images have subtle manipulation which moves them into the fine art genre, something that I enjoy. The photographic basics of great light and colour and a clearly articulated subject presented with simplicity, still apply, but there are two more factors; technical excellence and creative interpretation.
Perhaps the latter is controversial for those who have a traditional approach to photography. It harks back to Pictorialism which was the dominant photographic style in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in which images were often softened and manipulated to make them appear more painterly. Around 1930 the f/64 Group put an end to that with their Modernist approach that is characterised by sharp, clean un-manipulated images. I think that most of the images we see today are still in that mould.
Perhaps with the help of powerful software today's photographers are turning back to explore the possibilities offered by the Pictorialist approach to "making" an image.