How to Define Yourself

I am often asked by those seeking to start their own business or starting out in the art work “What can I do to stand out?”. It’s a question that at first I really didn’t know how to answer. If I told them this they’d think I’d misunderstood. In an attempt to clarify they’d point out that I am usually known for my borderline absurd angles.

But to be honest I didn’t know that when I first started. All I knew what that I didn’t want my shots to be boring. People were often paying me hard earned money to show off something they are putting their heart and soul into. Whether that be their cosplay they’d slaved over for weeks to years at a time or their once in a lifetime event where every moment counts. Most of my clients are not in the upper tax brackets either. I designed my pay system to reflect that. Granted as of late my pay has had to go up to reflect rising convention and hotel costs but in the grand scheme of things I try to keep my pricing affordable. But I digress.

Regardless my point is that when I set out to be a photography I didn’t intend to be someone with absurd angles or even someone who specializes in cosplay photography. I was bored at my local convention and armed with my husband’s (fiance at the time) camera. I found that I liked taking photos. The thought of turning it into a business didn’t even occur to me until about 5 years later when I needed extra income to get by and to help pay of the student loans I had. I created a facebook page and advertised what I had stocked up in my computer files and suddenly I was getting requests from the cosplay community. Soon enough I was getting regular clients. Then I was getting other aspiring artists from the community who asked me ‘how did you do this?’ and my first instinct was ‘I have no idea.’

If I’m being honest it was basically stumbling in the dark in my local library, the wilds of the internet, the mysterious black holes known as lightroom and photoshop and a entire garbage dump of self doubt with some blanketing of depression and anxiety. Not to mention daily life to contend with.

Really there is no simple answer on how to stand out in a market that is over saturated. If I were to give any advise (the first of which I’m going to mention isn’t too popular when I give it) it would be the following:

To find yourself you need to simply “do”. Many photographers, artists, streamers, small business owners as a whole (especially in a community like that cosplay where most of us has sought refuge against the winds of the general society telling us to stand out less) have a hard time allowing ourselves to stand out. It has gotten to the point where most of us instinctively compare ourselves to those who are more talented, more experienced, or more successful and we think that we’ll never amount to that. I myself (see the above paragraph on the garbage heap) have had this same experience. It’s literally the biggest wall of crap you’ll ever have to face if I’m being perfectly candid. It’s that reason that most don’t like this advice because it requires you to do things that aren’t going to live up to your own standards or the standards of the competition. It’s going to cause those thoughts of ‘see, I knew I couldn’t do it.’

But let’s put that into perspective. You have just begun your journey. You are up against people who have already faced those fears. You’re comparing yourself against people who may have had formal schooling or have been the protege’ of established individuals in the business or people who have the money to try tons of equipment over months that will take you years to get ahold of and try. You, who have 5 likes are up against a person who has 5,000 and is more established and trusted in the community simply because they have been going this 10+ years. You can not achieve the success of your seniors in one go or even a thousand.

So try. Find small ways to try if you can’t bring yourself to do large things. If you have depression holding you back find small ways to try learning to control it. Talk to your doctor about regulating your meds. Take some extra vitamins, clean that corner that’s been making you think depressive thoughts. Speak to a friend for encouragement even though your brain is going to object, sometimes it helps to at least make that terrible voice in your head just quiet enough to crawl from the depths. If you have self doubt, look to your idol’s earlier works. If that still feels too far off look at your second or third favorite idol. Someone closer to where you’re at and begin watching what they’re doing. Learn new techniques to achieve the goals you want. Watch tutorials and then create a thousand (exaggeration or not is up to you lol) examples until you have it down pat. Getting frustrated? Watch a different tutorial. There are a million and one ways to achieve the same effect. Some are going to be easier for you to understand than others.

Over time you’ll find that style that not only suits you but also comes more naturally to you. That is your style. Once you’ve gotten this far look to the next piece of advice.

Find that niche. When you watch shark tank or any show that involves investors they are always talking about big hits in the market. Some of us don’t have a million dollars to force our own idea to stand out amongst everyone else. If you do…well I’d suggest picking up as many marketing books as you can. Even if you don’t, do that anyways as it’ll count even more to get it right when you do advertise. But again, I digress. For those of us who don’t have an investor and don’t have the money to advertise until it’s burned into our clients eyeballs and songs successfully wormed into their brains, it’s sometimes a better bet to think about what’s missing from the market. This can sometimes be difficult as the main reason it’s not there is because no one has thought to do it or there’s such a small need that they don’t feel it’s worth it or perhaps it’s too difficult and something else is easier. But if you add a small thing that no one else has it’ll draw eye’s and ears your way. If you take the time to work that hard you’ll be the only source. If you take the time to notice when you come up empty on searching for something while you’re trying to find what you need to notice that it’s a need then you’ll get your answers. Once you have combine it or have it stand alongside your style.

Those are my two main pieces of advice. I’m sure I’ll come up with more and as I do I’ll create more parts to this but for now: Start there. Believe in what you do. It’s the most crucial and difficult thing but do that and find your path.

Our Origin Story

Twisted Focus began in 2015. After recently graduating with an associates degree for a job I no longer wanted I felt at a loss of what to do. For 7 long years I’d struggled to balance work, home life, and school. Now a huge time gap had been left open. Being in the habit of constantly having no free time for 7 years I went back to what I knew: writing and photography. Two hobbies I’d always loved.

After 6 months of toying with this a family emergency and a 60 mile bus ride I found myself sitting in my sister’s house passing the time chatting with it’s owner. I showed her what I’d been working on. My sister, being a business major, looked at me like I missed something incredibly obvious.

“Why haven’t you started your own photography business?” I had a million answers for that. They basically all boiled down to what had been drilled into my head since I was young: Art does not make money. You can not live off of being an artist unless you are award winning. She read my mind before the words even popped out.

“I’m not talking about quitting your job or anything. Just something on the side. People would pay a lot of money for stuff like this.”¬† The more I thought about it the more I felt like I didn’t have a lot to lose. My husband had already invested in a DSLR for his photography class a year or so ago. Facebook pages were free. Worst case scenario it would end up like my Deviant Art Page in high school: A haunted house that occasionally got people stumbling through the door only to never be seen again.

So away I went. I asked friends to take some extra time out of their day and dress to impress in their latest creation or purchase. At first I took anything and everything that people would volunteer for. Eventually I found myself with a steady¬†paying clientele. If you’ve taken a look at our facebook page or our recent works you’ll notice that I came to specialize in a very particular clientele: Cosplayers.

Soon I was having more clients than I could manage and my income from it was bordering from hobby to business.

It crossed that border last year when I had 3 weddings in two months and I officially made the decision that soon I would file as an official business. At the end of the year I reported all of my extra income and my tax representative told me what I’d suspected, I should file as an LLC in order to help gain tax write-offs. A few months later, in March of 2018 Twisted Focus Photography was filed as an LLC and it’s newly formed counterpart Aperture of the Black Cat (made to house my other works outside of cosplay) as a DBA housed under it.

Also that year several partnerships were formed in the manifestation of some contracted employees.

Naomi Locklin, joined as a photographer shortly after I photographed a mutual friend’s wedding. Shortly after, that mutual friend-John Hampton- also joined as a photographer.

Ricky, my husband, had been with me since the beginning but he’d often asked his friend Ashley Lemin, from school to help when he didn’t have the time or got stuck on something. Thus both our Graphic Design contracted employees formed what I like to call our “Special Effects Division”.

And last to join our team was Lacey Hampton. You’ll notice her name matches John’s. This is no coincidence as she is his counterpart in marriage. John decided to join us in a creative instance and after several amazing suggestions and some really great contacts made in Lansing (not to mentions she’s as cool as the BAU counterpart) I brought her on as a contracted Liason for what I like to call our Lansing branch.

5 years ago I’d have never imagined I’d be where I am today. Just a simple suggestion and a bunch of the most amazing people supporting me both by putting their faith in me as their photographer but also those that put their faith in me as their boss. So here we are. I can only hope to grow in the future and that we will become even stronger and provide even better services for everyone reading this!

Happiness can be found in the darkest of places, if one only remembers to turn on the light. – Albus Dumbledore


The pictures that started it all.