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.

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