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Shooting Stars : Familiar Technology Helps Photog Keep Celebrity Subjects in Focus


Sophia Loren and Pee-wee Herman have sat patiently for him. So have Arnold Schwarzenegger and Andy Warhol, Keanu Reeves and Robert De Niro, Bette Midler and Bette Davis, Kevin Costner, Winona Ryder, Elton John, Kim Basinger--the list goes on, to include pretty much every celebrity you can think of.

Commanding the attention of all these famous faces is Greg Gorman, for two decades one of the top personality and advertising photographers in Los Angeles and the nation.

As one of the highest-priced professional photographers working today, Gorman has access to the most advanced equipment in his trade, but the innovation that has meant the most to him is one familiar to many of the most casual snap-shooters: the auto-focus technology in the ubiquitous 35-millimeter, single-lens reflex camera.

"The auto focus frees you up from having to think about the technical aspects of the camera," Gorman says. "It allows you to concentrate on capturing a moment in a person's life, which is really what I do."

Gorman does most of his work with 35mm cameras instead of the the large-format cameras--with their commensurately larger and sharper negatives--that have been traditionally favored for studio portraiture. It is the unobtrusive nature of the 35mm camera that Gorman finds appealing; they are less likely to come between the photographer and subject, or to interfere with the rapport he needs to create.

"You have a better chance of capturing more of a personality in the photographs" with the 35mm camera, Gorman says. "That's not so easy with actresses and actors who are more comfortable hiding behind a role than they are revealing their own character."

As familiar and perhaps pedestrian as auto-focus cameras may be, few know how they work. The Canon EOS cameras that Gorman uses are actually a compact computer that processes the light coming in through the lenses.

Sensors, called charge couple devices, can recognize the point where the two ghosts of a split image line up into one, just as we would with our eyes. The sensors, mounted on a microprocessor, then send that information to the camera's auto-focus motors and other tiny computing centers--in particular, the light-metering system that sets exposures.

"The shrinkage of all this photographic technology into a small camera like this gives me so many more options when it comes to capturing the real essence of the people I shoot," Gorman says.

But Gorman does not embrace every area of new photographic technology. He avoids computer retouching, for example, which has become standard practice in the business.

Instead, he still hires one of the few remaining hand retouchers to work directly on the negatives and prints. "Hand retouching is definitely a dying art, but I find the process with computers too artificial," he says.

Gorman, a native of Kansas City, Mo., came to Los Angeles when he was 20 years old and attended USC, from which he eventually earned a master's in film. He has been a photographer ever since; a third book of his photography, "Greg Gorman Inside Life," will arrive in bookstores this fall.

Freelance writer Paul Karon can be reached at



Age: 47

Profession: Photographer

Favorite Cameras: Canon EOS 1 and EOS 1N, with 28-80 mm zoom lens

Most Important Camera Technology: Automatic focus and automatic light metering

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