I’m Starting a Photography Side Business for Fun

I love photography and I love business, so I’m indulging my inner entrepreneur and starting a photography business. I also love my day job so it will be a photography side hustle and a fun experiment.

I’m a tinkerer. I’m the person who is constantly moving furniture around to optimize a room layout.

I like testing ideas and seeing what works.

Photography has been a hobby of mine for years, going back to a little Olympus APS film camera that I had as a kid. I get a lot of satisfaction from both the technology – the equipment and processing tools – and the art.

Over the years I’ve amassed a modest collection of basic DSLR gear and learned a bit about a variety of photo processing software. I still have a lot to learn but know enough, and have the tools, to make some engaging photos.

Since I’ve become a dad my subject matter has skewed heavily towards portraits. I find people are more interested in photos of other people too, so it’s practical both from a family documentation standpoint as well as entertainment value.

As a result I have quite a collection of family portraits to draw from, and creating a simple portfolio wasn’t too much effort.

I started looking around for a suitable WordPress theme and stumbled on this awesome tutorial for creating a photography website. I loved the minimalist look right away and jumped into making my own site.

After a couple hours of work over the course of several days, I came up with what I think is a pretty decent site to showcase my portfolio and solicit clients looking for a photographer in Stow, MA.

Now that the basic framework is in place I will start optimizing for organic search and other marketing. As it stands, no one would ever know it’s there!

First on the list is a more SEO-friendly main page, and then some location-optimized landing pages for surrounding towns.

Once someone finds it and decides to try out the service, then I can get some feedback and start optimizing the customer experience too. It’s all sort of a shot in the dark at this point.

I’m excited to have a platform to experiment on, and just see what happens. I have no real expectations, other than to have some fun and learn a few things – both about photography and about business.

I’ve already really enjoyed getting back into some simple WordPress website construction after taking most of the last couple of years off from working on my family travel blog. Not to mention the fun of going back through years of family memories!

How Not to Review Products on Amazon

I recently learned that Amazon reviews are not the idyllic community of engaged shoppers that I had subconsciously assumed. Naive me.

The Story

It all started with headphones.

I got a pair of earbuds as a Christmas present this year. In the box there was a little piece of paper with the typical “register for extended warranty” type stuff. It also said there were other perks for registering.

I usually throw those things right in the recycle bin. But on a whim I went to the website.

I couldn’t register for the extended warranty (since it was a gift I didn’t have the order number). I could, however, indicate interest in reviewing future products. I figured, why not?

A few days later I got an email saying they would like a new product reviewed, offering to refund the purchase price of a new pair of over-the-ear Bluetooth headphones. The email didn’t say anything about the review needing to be positive, or even that it needed to happen to get the refund.

So I took a chance and bought the headphones, thinking I could just return them if I didn’t get the refund (I don’t need another pair of headphones).

But to my shock the refund showed up in my PayPal account within hours of me submitting proof of purchase. Wow.

I used the headphones for a week or so and then wrote a review. I did give them 5 stars, which to me means a product I’m happy with and is a good value for the price, with no significant deficiencies (again given the price context). I think I was pretty balanced in the review text and I did my best to review as if I had paid for them.

I disclosed in the review that I had gotten a refund for the headphones.

the offending review

What I did not know is that Amazon does not currently allow compensated reviews of any kind.

Whoops.

Here’s Amazon’s policy, including a prohibition on the following:

Offering compensation or requesting compensation (including free or discounted products) in exchange for creating, modifying, or posting content.

Here I was thinking I was doing the right thing by acknowledging that I had received compensation for writing the review. Turns out I was breaking the rules already anyway.

The company that asked me to do the review actually reached out and let me know about the policy – and they asked me to take out the disclosure.

Um, no.

So I deleted the review and offered to send back the headphones (they declined and said to just keep them).

I tried to let Amazon know what happened. The representative I chatted with didn’t seem too interested, but thanked me nonetheless.

Learning Experience

I was honestly shocked that this company was so brazenly trying to undermine the review system. I was very naive – apparently this is a thriving industry.

I don’t have a problem with compensated reviews (clearly). Reviews take time, especially decent ones that say more than “nice product” and I don’t have an issue with someone getting compensated for their time.

But the compensation needs to be disclosed. Then people can make of it what they want, and everything is in the open. Incentivizing people to hide their compensation sucks.

Amazon isn’t helping things here. Apparently compensated reviews used to be allowed, as long as they were disclosed. I think by forcing this underground they’ve made the situation worse. Data from this article in Forbes about “Amazon’s Fake Review Problem” supports my gut reaction here:

Since the announcement [that compensated reviews would be banned], though, there’s been no improvement. Indeed, ReviewMeta’s data indicates that the average review weight – the measure of how trustworthy reviews are overall – has almost halved since Amazon announced its strategy for dealing with the problem.

In any case, my overall trust in Amazon reviews is way down.

Having said that, though, I’ve rarely bought a well-reviewed product and found it to be lacking. It’s even true with my infamous headphones – they’re a legitimately good product.

Anyway, I’m done with compensated Amazon reviews.

But I am going to try to review more products that I buy for myself – do my part to counterbalance the system of undisclosed compensated reviews.

Yuck

Overall the experience felt gross and I didn’t like it at all. I should have been more skeptical and checked the rules first.

Actually, there is a bigger take away:

Had I recognize fully that I didn’t need the headphones, and therefore getting them at no cost represented minimal, if any value, I would have ignored the offer. I wouldn’t have missed out on any happiness (the headphones didn’t solve any problem I had) but would have avoided the trouble and anxiety that resulted from the experience.

Ecology of the Mind

I read this article today which excerpts a section of a talk by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu on the relationship between the human mind and nature. Buddhadasa was a Thai monk who lived between 1906 and 1993, and he was known as a “forest monk”. I found a lot of resonance with the main concept of the piece – “the ecology of the mind”:

In other words, Dhamma is the ecology of the mind. This is how nature has arranged things, and it has always been like this, in a most natural way. The mind with Dhamma has a natural spiritual ecology because it is fresh, beautiful, quiet, and joyful. This is most natural. It is calm and peaceful because nothing disturbs it. It contains a deep spiritual solitude, so that nothing can disturb or trouble it. Its joy is cool.

Check out this page for some additional reading on “dhamma”.

Weightlifting: Not So Scary After All!

Weights are scary right? I always thought so. Even in college when I actually went to the gym on a semi-regular basis I never strayed much beyond the various machines with little silhouette figures that show how to do each exercise.

Even that stopped when I dislocated my shoulder on the fly machine. That’s a story for another day, but the point is until recently I hadn’t been in a gym in like 15 years.

But great news! As it turns out, weight lifting doesn’t actually seem to be scary, and is actually pretty fun.

I had been running a lot since last spring, but with winter now fully upon us I’m finding it a lot harder to get out on the roads. Between the snow banks and earlier sunset it’s just not working. So I’ve been looking for another way to get some regular exercise (besides chasing my 3 kids and fixing up my dilapidated house).

I saw a chance to win a 3 month membership to a local gym at a fall festival and gave it a shot. With some luck I won and decided to use it as motivation to learn to use the free weights.

I got started on the idea of lifting weights reading one of my current favorite blogs Mr. Money Mustache. He’s a big fan of weight lifting as a tool for general fitness and the logic made sense to me.

Not wanting to pay to join a gym, but also not wanting to invest in fitness gear left me doing mostly pushups, pullups, and the occasional 6-year-old curl. So the free gym membership was the perfect segue.

I told myself if I used it, and liked it, then I’d look out for some cheap weights to use at home.

Turns out I did like it, and it wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought.

For some reason it’s intimidating to jump into the free weights area and start lifting. Much more intimidating than using the machines.

Not going to lie, it took me a couple of trips to even venture into the free weights area. My routine was something like: warm up on treadmill, walk confidently towards free weights, see that some else was in that area, make abrupt turn like I was actually going to the water bubbler the whole time. Repeat.

There was always like one other person. Not empty, so I could try things without fear of being judged. Not a bunch of people so I wouldn’t be noticed. But one other person. Always.

But after lots of self-talk and studying of YouTube videos I managed to drag myself in there one night. I grabbed some dumbbells and did my best impression of the guy I had seen doing curls a few minutes before. No one laughed – call that a win.

After that I went to the gym pretty regularly for a couple of months before starting to look on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist for home weightlifting gear. It took about 2 weeks of scouring ads and several near-misses on good deals before I scored a complete package of bench, squat rack, bar, and plates plus some random other bits and pieces for $160.

weight-bench-and-squat-rack
My private gym.

That getup is now sitting happily in my basement where I cleared a space, and I’m loving the 30 second commute to the gym whenever I want to workout. That convenience has drastically increased my workout frequency.

I got everything  before my 3 free months ran out too, so no gym membership fees either! Suffice to say I’m pretty happy with how this whole weightlifting thing is working out so far.