Lately, I've gotten a lot of questions about photography. The question I hear most often is:

"What camera should I buy to take better photos?"

Most people ask me about gear. While I do usually recommend a few cameras or lenses,  I end up talking about the other things you can do to take better pictures. I focus on these things for two reasons:

- I just don't believe in advising people to buy equipment before they can afford it
- I really believe you can hone your skills and define your style without fancy gear

I'm certainly not an expert, but I am beginning to understand what helps me continually strive to produce better work. Increasingly, I'm starting to be able to describe what "better" looks like for me, and how I define success.

This post is not about the technical side of photography, mostly because I find technical information about photography very boring to read. Rather, today's post focuses on my top 10 tips for non-technical things you can do to become a better, more passionate photographer.

I hope you find this helpful, and I would love to hear any other suggestions you could offer!

1. Find mentors and inspirations

If you can't find a mentor in real life, find virtual mentors on the internet!

I list this as number one because it is so powerful to see the work of people who pour their hearts, souls and talents into the art and business of photography the way these people do. Discovering the work of each one of these photographers has inspired me more than I can possibly describe. They're fashion, lifestyle, wedding, portrait and fine art photographers, and they are wonderful beyond words.

Even though I've only met two of them in person, I consider them mentors because I learn so much from them. Many of them (particularly Jasmine and Alex) are very generous with the amount of information they share, and their willingness to help others. Their energy, ambition and gorgeous photos have buoyed my spirits at times when I've been down on myself or my work. It's a dream of mine to help other photographers as much as these people (albeit unknowingly) have helped me.

Jasmine StarAlex BeadonDavina + DanielJose VillaMax WangerRosie HardyJames HeaslipThomas WhitesideAutumn de WildeEllen von UnwerthSarah RhoadsW. Scott ChesterIrene SuchockiPeter LindberghLindsay DrennanLara JadeNirrimiStephanie RausserGarance Doré, Elizabeth Messina, Erin Samuell, Gina Kolsrud.

2. Create a community

For a while, I was having a hard time finding other photographers to connect with. There didn't appear to be a vibrant community of photographers in my city. Somewhat frustrated, I set out to create my own. I started connect with some really great people both online and off. I attended more events, bringing my camera and chatted with other photographers there. I joined Flickr and Open Source Photo. I started subscribing to newsletters such as Digital Photography School. I watched the free, live courses and paid to download my favourites on creativeLIVE. I followed more photographers on Twitter and Facebook. All of a sudden, I realized I had a huge circle of peers, and a thriving community of people from whom I learn on a daily basis.

3. Search for beauty everywhere you look

Ideas for pictures can come from anywhere. In addition to looking at photos, try to expand your aesthetic palette. Get yourself interested in new music, architecture, television, films, advertising. Go for long walks with and without your camera and try to shift your perspective and see things differently.

4. Define what inspires you

What are your aesthetic inspirations? Some photographers are inspired by fashion, others by pop culture or fine art. Write down a list of things, styles, people that you're drawn to and that influence your vision.

Here are a few of my inspirations:

- Theatre and movie musicals
- Dramatic, romantic cinema
- Travel and lifestyle magazines
- Painters
- Makeup artists

5. Define and create your signature style

Get a pen and paper and write down three words that describe your style or the style you aspire to have. At her workshop, Jasmine advised us to define our style in three words. Mine are dramatic, stylish, and vibrant. If you don't know what your style is now, what do you what it to be? Choose three words that resonate with you and keep them in your head with every photo you take. This gives your work cohesiveness and starts to create a signature look for you. This really does work!

6. De-construct magic

Find something that seems magical to you, be it a photograph, a movie, a song, or anything really. Why does it seem magical? What feeling does it create for you? Break it down into its parts and define the elements that stand out the most to you. Try to incorporate these into your own work.

7. Know what your dream gear is; start with the best gear for your level

Okay, I will talk a little about gear. Long before I bought my dream camera (Canon 5D Mark II) and my dream lens (Canon 50mm 1.2), I researched the hell out of them to learn what gear would be the best choice for me. I know that my speciality is people, so I wanted to shoot with the best portrait lenses. I also know that my next dream lenses are the Canon 35mm 1.4 and the Canon 70-200mm 2.8L. This equipment is expensive, so definitely do a tonne of research before you make decisions.

Before I made the jump to my current equipment, I shot with a Canon Rebel XTi and my favourite lens was a Canon 50mm 1.8. This is great equipment for learning. I used these until I felt I outgrew my equipment, until I knew my gear could not keep up with what I wanted to execute. Until you reach that moment where you know your own gear well enough to understand its limitations, save your money and just keep practising!

8. Bring a camera with you at all times

You never know when you will come across an amazing moment. Capturing life helps you become a better lifestyle photographer. As Chase Jarvis says, "The best camera is the one that's with you."

9. Do a 365 Project

The idea of a 365 project is to take a photo every day for a year. I started my 365 project on January 1st this year and have taken one (almost) every single day. Some days my photo is from a shoot, other days it is snapped with my Blackberry. The act of forcing yourself to take a photo every day not only forces you to practice and be active as a photographer, but it also creates a daily diary of sorts, which I imagine is really cool by year's end.

10. "Give 'em the same show every night!"

In theatre, actors, singers and dancers have the demanding task of keeping the energy and quality of their performances consistent from night to night. Every audience is full of people who bought tickets and are slipping excitedly into their seats, waiting enthusiastically for the show. Every audience deserves to enjoy the best show the performers can provide.

With photography, it's important to approach every single shoot with your utmost attention and energy. Whether you're taking photos of a client or your cat, try your absolute hardest with each session and you'll develop the habit of giving it your all. Push your creativity to the limit each time and you'll improve with greater speed.

Now get out there and take some pictures!