Rose of Gio’s Villa Brownsville


Portrait of Rose, Operator of Gio's Villa Brownsville, TX

Meet Rose Jordan. She operates Gio’s Villa of Brownsville, one of Texas’s oldest and most dearly loved family-owned restaurants.

If you follow this blog you have probably picked up on the fact that I love making portraits of real people in their natural environment.

A great portrait doesn’t always have to employ a bunch of equipment or demand a lot of digital manipulation. I’m not one of these rabid souls that argues digital is everything and film is nothing — after all, many of the world’s greatest images were captured on film.

I photographed Rose inside Gio’s Villa, using a Sinar P2 – 4X5 view camera and Kodak TMax 100 B&W film. I set the overall exposure for the ambient light in the room, then placed a large soft box light off to the left to give form to Rose’s face and body.

For me it’s what feels right. If you are a painter you choose the brush and medium that will allow you to achieve the look you want. Photographer’s should do the same. Some subjects just beg to be photographed on film.



The Lost Art of Hand Writing


The Lost Art of Hand Writing Fine Art Photos by Greg Phelps

With the advent of the computer, word processing software and email, the art of beautiful penmanship has become a lost art. My own hand writing has almost become illegible — and to think I came from a mechanical design background where everything was hand-lettered!

I decided to do a photograph as a remembrance of that almost forgotten era.

This is a fountain pen, a ball point pen and a mechanical pencil from the Cross writing instrument company. I always thought they made beautiful writing instruments. I used a piece of sandstone rock as a background and some lavender blooms as a background.

Lighting was pretty simple: one large, soft box directly overhead and then surrounding the entire set with reflector cards.

Why not pick something you are fond of and see what you can come up with as a commemorative image?

Patty F.


Patty_750I keep my eyes open for interesting people that I might like to photograph wherever I go. I was having lunch with a client at a really nice restaurant recently when I spotted this attractive young woman across the room. She was working as a waitress and exhibited an extraordinary amount of grace and elegance.

After lunch I approached her and introduced myself. She was a little apprehensive at first, but then my client jumped in and said, “If he wants to photograph you, do it — you’ll really be glad he did!” and so she agreed.

The next Saturday she came to the studio and we made a ton of pictures. She was extremely natural in front of the camera and we got some great shots — this is one of my favorites. Since then I’ve used her as a paid model on several assignments.

One of the joys of photographing people is getting to make new acquaintances and sometimes even friends and colleagues.

Greg, Shrimp Boat Owner and Volvo Marine Supplier


volvo_800wThis is Greg, he owns 15 shrimp boats and docks them at the shrimp basin in Brownsville, TX. Shrimping is big business here on the Gulf coast of Texas.

I was asked to create a photograph for a magazine that the Marine Division of Volvo puts out. It’s all about the people who use Volvo engines in their boats. Unfortunately, I only had a two day notice before the magazine’s deadline. And, guess what? Yep, it was raining both days so all the shrimp boats were out on the gulf, netting shrimp. What’s good for shrimpers isn’t always great for photographers!

Since Greg also owns a marine supply store there at the basin (where he furnishes supplies and repairs to all the shrimp boats and some recreational boats as well) we decided to do the photograph indoors.

I used two Profoto B1 heads for lighting, one on Greg and one skimming across the photo from left to right in the background with a soft white umbrella. The new TTL metering capability of the B1 for Nikon cameras is so cool — I was able to control each head individually right from the camera which meant that I could make all lighting power and light ratio adjustments without having to run back and forth to each light and adjust it individually. What a blessing, not to mention really speeding things up.

When setting up lighting for a shot where ambient light is going to play a part, it’s a good idea to manually establish the correct exposure for the background first. Set this exposure in your camera on manual, then use the TTL capability of the flash to do the rest. This works beautifully with speedlights, too. If you do this it is much easier to balance the background brightness with the subject lighting by adjusting the shutter speed of your camera and not touching the aperture.

Space, the Final Frontier


Lockheed Nose Cone Assembly

I love everything to do with outer space, so when I was chosen to make a series of photographs for Lockheed’s annual report I was ecstatic!

The buildings that I worked in were ginormous — and talk about clean, you could eat off the floors!

This is one of my favorite shots from the series. It was in the nose-cone assembly area. First, with Lockheed’s help, I repositioned the nose cones in order to produce a dynamic perspective; to show the scale I introduced two engineers.

Lighting was a real challenge. I used studio strobes. There were eight heads strategically placed to light what I wanted to be seen. It took me and my assistant about three hours to set up and test the shot before bringing in the engineers (companies don’t like it much if you tie up their personnel for extended periods of time). I was pretty excited when they chose this image for the cover.

Texas State Senator Eddie Lucio


Texas-state-senator-eddie-lucio-800I moved from Michigan to Brownsville, TX in 1983 — right around the time Eddie Lucio began his political career.

We met accidentally on the city golf course, where I was enjoying time with my father-in-law. Eddie was campaigning for his first run at the Texas State Senate and came over to us and just started talking. Not about politics or why we should vote for him, but about what a good day it was for golf. He was an excellent golfer and he even volunteered to give us some pointers. I remember being so impressed with his friendliness and being a regular down-to-earth person. He is one of those people who make you feel like you are the only one in the room when he is talking with.

As time went on we crossed paths many times and he was always interested in me and my business. He even made an unexpected trip from Austin (350 Miles from Brownsville) to the grand opening of my second studio.

On one of our chance meetings I suggested we do a portrait of him in the Senate chambers in Austin. He liked the idea and had his staff help with arranging everything — even lugging and setting up tons of equipment. All the security people knew I was coming and they gave me the royal treatment.

This was the final picture we came up with — I love it and so does he. He has a 30×40 inch on canvas hanging in his Senate office. I like doing portraits of people in their natural environments.

Red & Blue in Galveston, TX


red-blue-galveston-tx-800Galveston, Texas is a really cool town for photographers. It’s right on the Gulf of Mexico so you have all the neat stuff along the beach to photograph and the town itself goes waaaaay back.

I spotted this old store while walking around the town looking for interesting things to photograph. It looks like it had been out of business for a long time. I wonder what it was like during its heyday. Architectural photography is my trade, but stumbling upon old buildings and capturing a beautiful visual image for posterity is one of my passions.