My little wooden Buddha has the best spot in the house, in terms of keeping an eye on me. He rests right above my TV, facing the couch, in the living room.
And it’s a good thing, too, because I trust his insight.
Or my insight, as it were. Because my little wooden Buddha reminds me to develop that insight through an on-again, off-again meditation practice I’ve tried to keep up with since 2006.
When I am practicing, I find it helpful. I can relax, concentrate, and unspool the tangled wires in my mind. But finding the time, as with anything, is hard. And even when I think I’m starting the habit again, it doesn’t take long for me to fall out of practice.
I often share the National Geographic story that helped me tinker with meditation as a way of life. I figured, if a Buddhist monk was, on paper, the happiest person alive because of meditation, surely it’s worth a try.
There’s also something about a philosophy/religion that tackles attachment and confronts desires that appealed to me. It still does.
So my little wooden Buddha sits up there, eyes closed, palm in palm, waiting for me to sit my butt on a cushion and close my eyes for 10, 15, or 20 minutes. And breathe.
I picked him up in a little gift shop on State St. in Madison, Wisconsin, in 2005 – when the idea of some sort of meditation practiced first took hold. Now, all these years later, he’s still sitting there calmly, waiting for me to begin again.
A few months ago, a friend asked me, “How do you take all those cool Instagram shots?”
My simple advice: pull over.
A lot of my Instagram photos are snagged on my work commute, through back country roads with great views of the sky. Some are grabbed when I’m traveling for work, or out doing errands. But the common thread is that I pull my car over, get out, and snap the shot.
Sure, keeping an eye out for possibilities helps. Also, I try to keep locations in mind so that, if I return, I can pull over and grab the shot.
But the kicker is to just get out of the car. That’s it. If I see something noteworthy, or worth grabbing, I pull over and snap the photo. This is how I avoid banal Instagram shots like food or coffee.
Step one: go somewhere. Step two: see something cool. Step three: pull over and take the shot.
There are times when I’m concerned about traffic, especially on highways. And if someone’s behind me, I tend not to pull over. Something about being on an empty road makes me more likely to pull over. But that’s why I keep a mental inventory, for times when I am alone on the road. If a car does happen to pass by, sometimes I’ll pretend like I’m looking for something along the road.
It also helps to make sure no one’s on the property. You avoid awkward questions that way.
I’m usually not afraid to take pictures of someone’s property. Sometimes the shot is worth it. In general though, and for the style of photos I like to share, #abandoned property is best.
For the above shot, I stopped by a house that I pass fairly often. I noticed the For Sale out front, and saw that some of the barns in the back looked pretty rough. So I pulled over to walk around the property to grab some shots.
I probably looked mighty suspicious to neighbors, who had a clear view of the property. But the light was just right, and the abandoned buildlings were in disarray. It was a great opportunity to do some iPhoneography.
At heart, I’ve always been a photographer. I was the one snapping pictures on family trips, at fraternity parties in college, and on cross-country vacations.
But besides some disposable Kodak film cameras (remember those?), it’s always been digital.
As I got more into photography, the more I toyed with the idea of playing with a film camera. There was a local camera shop in town that still processed film. Film is still relatively cheap. All I needed was a camera.
Then, last summer, we were cleaning out the attic at work when one of my co-workers stumbled on his old Pentax K1000 – the camera our communications department used before we switched to digital.
So I gained a whole new side hobby: film speeds, new lenses, not-quite-automatic exposure controls. Pretty cool.
I definitely use the Pentax differently. The shots are a bit more thoughtful, more composed, and (I’ll just say it) more artsy. With film, there’s only one shot to get it right. So maybe it’s a bit more my methodical speed.
It did take me three wasted rolls of film before I learned how to load the thing probably, though. So there’s that.
But the first developed roll turned out just fine. I stuck to fairly boring landscape shots, but I’m getting the hang of it.
But Doctor Octopus has never been a cool Spider-Man villain. He doesn’t have the edge of Venom, or the mania of Green Goblin. He just has those arms. And those glasses. And that gut.
Which is why my favorite rendition of Otto Octavius was Erik Larsen’s in the early 1990s.
Octopus was the scientist whose mechanical arms were grafted to his body in an experiment gone wrong (naturally), driving him to a life of crime. Probably Spider-Man’s most intelligent foe, Dr. Octopus was the schemer. He was also a good organizer, drafting the Sinister Six into existence.
Until Larsen’s run, and especially in the early Spider-Man issues. Larsen portrays Otto with a snazzy double-breasted white suit and black shirt. The glasses stay, as does the bowl cut, but the simple addition of the suit does wonders.
Erik Larsen was my canonical Spider-Man. His rendition of Black Cat, his work on Savage Dragon, his return to Amazing Spider-Man, the weird way he draws…did I mention I got to meet him once? In Chicago?
During Larsen’s reign, Doc Ock was stylish without being handsome, exactly. He looked like a professional villain. With self respect. He’s all business.
Which is why the above panel is probably my favorite super villain quote ever. Strictly business, that’s what that is.
“You’re going to die Spider-Man. I’m going to kill you.”
Since then, Doc Ock has taken on many forms and appearances (Ock’s new career as Spider-Man is both weird and hilarious), but Larsen’s will always stand out as, at the least, the most dignified.
All of my “Things I Like” photos were taken with a Canon EF 50mm F/1.4 lens, pictured here – except this one, obviously, which was taken with an 85mm.
But the 50mm is my favorite. I, like a lot of beginning photographers, cut my teeth on the 50mm prime lens. Originally, I had the f/1.8 model that served me well for two years. In fact, I took a lot of my favorite photos – hell, maybe a majority of my photos – using that “Nifty Fifty.”
Over the holidays, I found Canon dropping the price on the f/1.4 model by $100 or more. I thought about it, and thought about it, and finally pulled the trigger in January. Canon has been updating – and raising the price on – their other primes, like the 28mm. I figured with the recent 50mm price drop, Canon would refresh it next. So I pulled the trigger and took advantage of the deal.
I use a 50mm f/1.4 almost exclusively at work, with a Canon 7D. It’s my go-to portrait and classroom lens. I love the quality, the color, and the contrast the lens produces. And I’m super glad to have one of my own now.
There are tradeoffs to having a 50mm lens on a cropped-factor camera like my T1i: you need space to work in, and you can’t capture a whole lot in the field of view. But I find it often takes intimate photos that can’t be beat.
The dream is to someday hook it up to a full-frame Canon. Some day.
For now, though, it’s still my go-to and favorite lens.