Lake Pontchatrain Wedding | Madisonville, LA

March 30, 2015  •  2 Comments

Lake Pontchatrain Wedding | Madisonville, LA


I reserve black and white conversions for a select few images, but something about this wedding conveyed alot of "texture" and little details that I think come through very powerfully in the simplicity of B&W. 

















© Brendon Pinola Photography 2015

Equipment continued (lenses)

March 12, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM

(click here for review) 

I love, love, love this lens and I can't see ever selling it. It's a prime lens, meaning that it has a single focal length, it doesn't zoom at all. This allows the lens to be designed with alot more simplicity than a zoom lens, which makes it smaller and lighter than zoom lenses AND allows it to  have a much wider aperture, making it great for low light and getting very shallow depth of field. It's unbearably sharp, it nails razor sharp focus more often than any other lens I own, and it's relatively lightweight for an L lens, as they normally incorporate heavy duty construction and aspherical glass elements.

On my full frame cameras, 70mm is "normal" or roughly the same view as the eye sees, neither zoomed in nor wide. So that being said, the 35mm is definitely a wide lens, but not ultra wide. It's a sweet spot for me and the perspective you get from shooting a little wider can really set your work apart, especially because to frame a shot you often have to physically move closer to your subject instead of just zoom in.

As with most of the other L lenses, it has counterparts both in the lower-end range of Canon lenses and from other companies. Canon makes $320$850 and $1,500 versions on this lens (The L of course being the most expensive) and they vary in build quality, focus accuracy, sharpness and other attributes..

Sigma also makes a 35mm f/1.4 that is rumored to be very sharp and possibly new competition for the Canon L, and it comes in $500 cheaper. I've found Sigma lenses to have the potential to be very sharp and usable in nearly any form of photography, but the build quality isn't up to the level of an L lens, and in my opinion you're more likely to get a copy of the lens that misses focus or has other problems. 


EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM IS

(click here for review)

This is a lens that EVERY photographer should at least aspire to have in their kit. Unless you get into shooting sports, it will probably be the most expensive lens you'll ever buy, but it is more than worth it. It has a constant maximum aperture of f/2.8, instead of an variable aperture that changes throughout the zoom range, and this is a world, nay a universe of difference from the cheap kit zooms you'll find bundled with cheap cameras at Best Buy. Most variable aperture zoom telephotos have a max aperture of f/5.6 or f/6.3 when zoomed all the  way in. A max aperture of f/2.8 is 233% (or 2 1/3 stops) brighter than f/6.3. If you're shooting in a dim reception hall, having to cut your light in half more than twice is going to make your variable aperture lens virtually useless.

Especially on a full frame camera, 70-200 is a fantastic focal range, from "normal" to a very nice portrait length. It has one of the heaviest-duty builds you'll even see in a lens and it's meant to last. It's famous for being very sharp, very accurate in terms of autofocus and it has all-around great image quality statistics.

Canon makes more versions on this lens than any other focal range (f/4L, f/4L ISf/2.8L, f/2.8L IS) but in my opinion, for a lens this crucial, you should wait until you can afford the Image Stabilization, which makes a big difference in how sharp your images stay, especially at slower shutter speeds. Nikon has their version which I've heard is also epic, and Sigma and Tamron each have their own offerings which deserve consideration since they are more affordable.

This lens is HEAVY because of all the glass and engineering technology that goes into making a lens that has a constant max aperture, is very sharp and durable, it adds up to...alot. Also, stick this big, sexy white beauty on your camera and you have INSTANT credibility :D While the 35mm is what I use most at weddings and other events, if I had to use a single lens for a portrait session it would be this one, hands down due to the flexibility of focal range, useability due to max aperture and stabilization and of course the outstanding image quality. Buy a good camera strap and get a chiropractor on speed dial. This thing is truely a millstone around the neck.

I also  sometimes carry at 1.4x teleconverter which multiplies the focal length of the lens out to 98-280mm. This comes at the cost of one full f-stop of light (the lens will not function wider than f/4). It's not a dramatic advantage in focal length, and there's also a slight drop in image quality with this attachment, so it's not something I use on a regular basis. If I had a consistent need for a fast lens longer than 200mm I would probably start shopping for a Sigma 120-300 f/2.8Canon 70-300 f/4-5.6L IS USM or Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS USM



EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

(click here for review)

Alot of photographers would have listed the lens at the top of their list in terms of how much use it gets, and if they don't it's because it's still at the top of their wish list. It is an amazing lens. Another piece of advice that I give people who wanted to start exploring photography is to  go buy themselves a "nifty fifty." As usual, Canon offers an ultra affordable $125 version, a better quality and performance $400 version, and the $1500 mammerjammer "L". Personally, I used to own the $400 version and looking back I would have been just fine keeping that one instead of coughing up the extra grand for the L, but the L is of course an epic lens also.

50mm is a great focal length. On a full frame, it's slightly wider than the "normal" perspective, but still a very usable length for almost any situation. The wide max aperture (f/1.8, f/1.4 and f/1.2 respectively) allows low light use and a shallow depth of field for a creamy blurred out background or bokeh.

This L lens improves the speed and quietness of autofocusing noticeably from the lower versions and it's a very sharp lens. Some hold the opinion that the cheap f/1.8 version of the lens isn't really usable at apertures wider than f/2.2 or so, and the f/1.4 lens can be used at f/2 with acceptible results, whereas the f/1.2 can be used wider or (some think) even all the way open at f/1.2. It's a top choice for people who photograph kids as you need very fast autofocus to keep up with the random movements of children and the ability to grab a sharp shot in a split second.

On a "crop" body like a rebel or mid-grade body, the 50mil is about equivalent to 80mm, which is not a choice good for wide shots and groups of people, but is a very good range for portraits when combined with the wide aperture. Even if you can't see yourself ever paying $1,500 for the top of the line version, some version of the 50mil prime should be in your bag.

Sigma also makes a 50mm f/1.4 that owners claim is nearly as sharp as the L series and only slightly more expensive than the Canon mid-range. (Side-note, if you think I'm crazy for paying $1,500 for this in the first place, take a look at the $5,000 cinema lens Canon is now offering for videographers.


EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM

(click here for review)

In terms of image quality and awesome portraits, this lens is a beauty. In terms of size and weight, it's a beast. It's nearly as heavy as the huge 70-200 even though it's physically smaller and is, again, a prime lens with no zoom capability. Most portrait shooters that own it will call it  their favorite piece of glass and for good reason. It's a great length for flattering portraits (another link about portrait focal lengths), and on a crop sensor it equates to a 136mm f/1.2 which is even better if you don't mind the difference in image quality from the smaller image sensor. Unlike many prime lenses, the 85mil is totally usable and still beautifully sharp even all the way open at f/1.2. The ability to shoot a portrait and throw everything but a very small sliver of the subject out of focus is a powerful thing.

The reason that it ranks only 5th on my list is because for a big heavy lens like this to move around its focusing elements with enough precision to nail focus even down to within even a tiny fraction of an inch, it has be done relatively slowly. It's certainly no slouch (and for $2,200 it shouldn't be) but when shooting weddings, I find it's sometimes just slightly too slow for me to be able to grab a candid shot of a beautifull moment on the first try in the blink of an eye.

It's usually my choice for engagement and bridal sessions where I'm shooting portraits with the luxury of more time to compose and focus my shots, but during weddings it splits time with the 70-200mm depending on how fast paced the action is. Canon makes a dramatically cheaper 85mm f/1.8 USM that focuses as fast if not faster and is also very sharp for the price. Anyone but the most demanding photographer in terms of sharpness and smooth creamy bokeh would be happy with the $420 version, and of course would have $1,800 left in their pocket. That was actually the first prime lens I ever owned, and looking back I wish I never sold it.

***UPDATE 07.25.13 I recently sold my 85mm as I felt the $5,000 combined value between it and the 70-200 weren't justified by the total amount that I used them. I am planning on purchasing the Sigma 85mm 1.4 at some point though as it has very high scores on DxO mark...

Sigma 20mm f/1.8 EX

(click here for review)

I've had this lens for a long time and I still can't part with it. Coming in at "only" $629, its cheaper than most L lenses. The quality of the glass and the general engineering of the lens is inferior. It's not particular sharp at f/2.8 or wider, it has very noticeable vignetting and barrel  distortion, especially when used wide open and it doesn't control lens flare well at ALL when shooting towards the sun or other bright light source. The build quality isn't as good as Canons, and it doesn't even have a ultrasonic (or what Sigma calls Hypersonic) focusing motor, so focusing is relatively slow and noisy. Despite all these shortcomings, I have a special place in my heart / bag for this lens and wouldn't discourage anyone from at least trying one out.

If the price is too steep for a lens with these weaknesses, Sigma does make 24mm and 28mm versions that are a little cheaper, but if I went that route I'd probably go for the Canon 28mm f/1.8 as it's a very good lens for the price, and more compact than the Sigmas. (Canon also has new 24 & 28mm f/2.8 USM IS versions that are strangely high in price but have been getting very good reviews). The ultimate and most comparable contender in this category would of course be the Canon 24mm f/1.4L, but at $1,750, I haven't found enough need to add a fourth expensive prime lens that would be within a 61mm range with my 35, 50 and 85.  

Here are the reasons I haven't (as of yet) looked for a better performing super-wide option. There is no other 20mm lens from any manufacturer that opens up to f/1.8. Canon makes a 20mm f/2.8, but the performance at 2.8 isn't much better than the Sigma and the price is comparable, though the Canon does have USM autofocus. Next, the Sigma (like several other Sigma lenses) is designed to be able to achieve proper focus on an object even from a very short distance away. Sigma lists the minimum focusing distance at 7.9", which is very respectable, but take my word for it, it's actually more like 3-4". Using a super wide lens 4" from something provides a very unusual perspective. It's not flattering for portraits and creates noticeable distortion, but you can be very creative with these capabilities.

The other weaknesses are things that can be used in creative ways, but are not right for every shot, so I don't use the 20mm as often as I used to. Canon makes a variety of good wide options including the 24-105 f/4L, 24-70 (f/2.8L, f/4L ISf/2.8L II) and 24mm f/1.4L, but I don't think it will ever completely replace this lens. One of the newer Canon 24-70 lenses or possibly the newest version from Tamron are definitely on my wish list, and might be a reason to finally part with my Siggy 20mm


Canon 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro

(click here for review)

This is a lens you can do without until you build up a kit that will handle 99% of the shoots you'll be doing. Technically, at 100mm this lens should be good for portraits, and at f/2.8 you can get some good results, but even with USM af, this lens doesn't focus very quickly. This is because  the elements inside it have to travel a very long way to cover a range all the way from the very close ranges needed for macro work all the way out to infinity. It's also not a terribly bright lens and doesn't focus well in low light. However, it is a true macro, meaning that it can take shots at 1:1.

I don't use my macro very often at all. At weddings I really only use it for ring shots, and there are other methods and lenses that will work for up close detail shots like this, which is why I didn't spend $1,000+ on one of the L macros. It works very well for what it's specialty is, but not the best choice for much else.




Canon 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye

(click here for review)

Another specialty lens. On a full frame camera, the fisheye creates a full 180 degree angle of view with a ton of distortion for a wacky  perspective. Harnessing this intentional distortion is something that takes alot of practice, especially when there are people in the shot, as you don't want to warp a person's body too much or it quickly becomes an unattractive effect. Whether used to be comical or artistic, it's not something you want to do very often or the novelty of the unusual perspective will wear off in your work and you'll look like a one trick pony. I don't even necessarily use it at all on any given shoot. There are alot of fisheye lenses available, even attachments for other lenses, although I've found that true fisheye lenses can offer great sharpness and clarity, whereas the attachment lenses tend to have very poor optical performance. You can buy a fisheye without autofocus very inexpensively, but using one takes more time and trial and error to use since it can be very hard to tell if you have the shot in focus at such a wide angle. 






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::about the author::

Brendon is a photographer in the Birmingham area, available worldwide for nearly any project or event. Visit his main website (linked below) to see his portfolio, resume, bio or to get in contact. Add this blog to your RSS feed and "like" his Facebook Fan page to receive fresh photos and content. 

Brendon Pinola Photography 2013

American Pictoralist  |  Storyteller


Equipment continued (Memory Cards)

March 12, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Lexar Professional 1000x (150mb/sec) 16GB Memory cards

Buying good memory cards is becoming more important than ever before. Almost all pro level cameras use Compact Flash cards, but a few are starting to accept Secure Digital (SD) cards. They are not as durable, but they are cheaper and easier to find in a pinch. Cards get formatted so many times that they're pretty much bound to fail at one point or another.

Since the RAW files I shoot are much larger than common jpg files, I can only fit about 500 photos on a 16GB card (a little more when using the older MKII). I've heard that when using the 36mp Nikon D800 you can't even fit 500 files on a 32GB card! My full weddings range from 30-80GB total. I bring at least 96GB to every wedding so that even if one of my cards decides to give up the ghost, I'll never run out of card space. 

Also it's very important to pay attention to the speed of your memory cards. When you're shopping for cards you'll come across cards with the same amount of storage for a wide range of prices, and there's a reason. My RAW files are up to 40MB each, and my camera can take 6 of them per second, so up to 250MB of data per second can be flying onto my memory cards. The big bad 1Dx can shoot up to 14 frames per second! The cards of yesteryear were rated to write at around 15mb/sec. If you throw 250MB at them in one second, your camera is going to freeze up and will  not take any photos until the buffer empties and all the photos are written to the card. While we don't have memory cards available that will write fast enough to take that much data continuously, we do have cards that write at 150mb/sec, so that's what I use.

Some cards are rated differently, for example 133x 233x 400x 600x or 1000x. In my opinion, 400x (60mb/sec) is now the bare minimum if you're shooting RAW, and if you have a high resolution camera like the 5D MKIII or Nikon D800 you're going to want to go faster to avoid your camera bogging down. While you can buy cards as big as 256GB or still find them as small as 1-2GB, I find that 16GB is a good size because you don't have an entire wedding loaded onto a single card (so if you lose that card you lose the whole wedding) but you don't have to keep up with a dozen different cards if you were using 4GB. I normally bring four 16GB and one 32GB cards. I've gotten flawless performance from my Lexar 1000x   cards and I also have Kingston mid-grade cards that I recommend for those who cant' afford the big boys.

When it comes to transferring the images to my computer or laptop, speed is again a factor. When I used to use slow 15mb/sec cards, transferring a full wedding to disc could be a 2hr+ task. Now I use a USB 3.0 card reader, also from Lexar that allows incredibly fast transfer speeds, and I can empty a full 16gb card in less than 2 minutes. There are Firewire card readers that offer similar performance.



Now on to the lenses, the real heart of a good camera system. There's a saying that I love that says, "Amateurs talk about cameras, professionals talk about glass..." (The saying ends with "...Masters talk about light" but that's for another blog post). I talk to up-and-coming photographers on a regular basis and I always advise them that IF they are at a place where they're only going to be investing $500-1000 in upgrading from their "amateur" level camera kit instead of throwing down the full $20,000 for an entire pro level kit, INVEST in GLASS FIRST. Sure, a Rebel or low end Nikon or Sony doesn't have the cajones of a big pro body, but realistically, every camera on the market today is light years ahead of the cameras that true pros used only 10 years ago (minus the aspect of long term durability). Now, 10 years ago it took more talent and experience to get great images out of such relatively limited equipment, but all things being equal, the cameras we have now are pretty amazing.

All those comparisons aside, your camera is only a tool. I used to feel offended when someone would say "Wow, that's a great shot, you must have an awesome camera!" But now I just reply, "Yup! I taught it everything it knows!"

Even though cameras get outdated on a seemingly monthly basis, if you buy good lenses, you can keep them for a very long time with no problems. When I started in photography full time, I made the mistake of buying lenses as fast as I could, finding the cheapest version of a certain type of lens that I could, and I ended up finding the limitations of those lenses very quickly, selling them for a big loss, and spending alot more money on the lenses that I really wanted. For this reason, I also advise photogs looking to move up to do whatever they can to invest in gear that they know they won't have to replace soon. Generally speaking Canon's "L" series lenses are awesome,  but there are lenses from other brands that may have a place in your bag as well. I'll list my current lens lineup in order of which spend the most time on my camera.

Equipment continued (cameras)

March 12, 2015  •  Leave a Comment


First off, I'm a Canon guy. Nothing at all against Nikon. If I could afford to own a full kit of both brands I would, but at the costs of lenses and keeping everything maintained and up to date that would just be rediculous. Both have stronger and weaker aspects, obviously neither is the clear superior. They even leapfrog each other periodically in certain aspects, which keeps the competition up to always improve. In fact, before the latest fleet of cameras from Canon were released I was thinking about switcing to Nikon, but thankfully, my new camera (read on) is (in my opinion) the finest camera for wedding photographers ever made. Your move Nikon. 

I buy all my equipment from B&H Photo. Although they have a zillion (Hebrew) holidays throughout the year that they are closed during, they generally have the largest selection, consistently good prices, and a healthy amount of reviews about most products.

EOS 5D Mark III 

(click here for review)

This is my main camera body. I love it!!! It's a 22.3 megapixel full frame camera. In this day and age, high resolution isn't as important for event photography as is the ability to quickly lock focus and get clean, crisp images in very low light. It has dual card slots, which is a great feature! With as many photos as I shoot, my memory cards get filled and emptied very often and this raises the possibilty of one failing. Having photos saved to two cards at once all but elliminates the possibility of losing a  critical photo in the middle of a wedding or other photo shoot. I also have the option to have one card serve as an "rollover card" so that if I happen to fill the main card at an inopportune moment I won't have to stop shooting.

The battery in the camera is rated to about 1,000 shots per charge, and I go way over that, so I have the battery grip that holds two batteries, plus gives you the ability to shoot vertical shots without using a different hand position since duplicate controls are on the side of the grip. I find this helps me keep vertical shots lined up better since I don't have to reach around awkwardly.

The MK3 has a very fast and accurate autofocus system and it works even in the very dim lighting situations that come up all the time during a wedding. It also maintains very clean images even at very high ISO so I don't have to sacrifice image quality for a properly exposed photo.

I shoot in RAW, and if you're a pro shooter, you absolutely have to. There's some shooters out there that insist that if you "get it in camera" in other words, use the best possible camera settings and/or lighting techniques, you don't need much further editing, but it's important to understand that the human eye is much much more capable than even the best camera sensor, and the amount of luminocity and tone that can be captured in a single photo is much lower than what we see with our naked eyes. Even if you take the "perfect shot" there is always something there that can be improved with editing, and shooting RAW gives you almost infinitely more flexibility in this regard. I won't explain the whole process, but think of it in these terms. If you had to write a song, would you want to pick 8 keys of a piano first and then write a whole song using only those keys, or would you just want to keep the whole piano? You probably will not end up needing all 88 keys, but having those extra 10 octave will open up so many more options for you.

I use full manual settings (M on the contol dial) 99.999% of the time. Even a top of the line camera like this isn't quite to the point that it can make decisions as well as I can with its Auto, "P for Professional" and priority modes..


EOS 5D Mark II

(click here for review)

EVERY professional photographer should have a backup camera. When you're shooting thousands of images at a time on a weekly basis, even a high end camera has a possibility of having its shutter break or some other error develop at any time. Furthermore, I don't believe that your backup camera should be the Rebel or whatever consumer grade camera you just upgraded from if you're new in the market. If your  camera goes out in the first hour of wedding coverage, your client doesn't deserve subpar photos because your backup gear couldn't stand up to the challenges of the wedding day.

My backup camera is the  5D Mark II (previously my primary body). Yes, it's a generation older than the MKIII, but tons of top end wedding pros still use this body and it's capable of brilliant image quality. I've shot many great weddings with my MKII and if my MKIII were to bite the dust, I'd be bummed, but I wouldn't be the least bit nervous about whether or not I could continue to deliver the quality of images my client hired me for.

I have the time signatures of my cameras synced together so that if I happen to use both bodies at once, or have to switch to the backup my photos will sort chronologically during editing without any problems.








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The Battle House, Mobile, AL | Mariaya & Michael's Wedding

March 11, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

The Battle House, Mobile, AL | Mariaya & Michael's Wedding


Mariaya's wedding is one I will never forget, not just the day itself but the details surrounding it. She was married to Michael at the Battle House in downtown Mobile, AL on Christmas Eve 2012. It's almost a four hour drive from where I live to Mobile, so on top of the holiday becoming a long work day, I had 8 hours of additional time driving to get home at 3am Christmas morning. The natural thought would be, "why would anyone want to get married on Christmas Eve?" The day held special meaning for the couple and they had a history of celebrating it with family and intended to have, not necessarily a small wedding, but an intimate one with just their closest friends and family. It was certainly a cheery day and the closeness of the couple with their loved ones was visible and made it obvious that there was no where anyone would rather be. I especially remember that the food from the Marriott Renaissance-owned hotel was phenomenal. Thought the weather was sunny, it was quite cold and the entire wedding took place inside the hotel, and I made liberal use of one of my then-recent lighting purchase, a PCB Einstein strobe. It allowed me to add natural-looking beautiful lighting where the available electric and window lighting was "intimate" (see: dim). 

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