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Fenton Resident Lives a Dream as Detroit Lions Photographer

Gavin Smith has a dream job with the Detroit Lions, but the position takes hard work, dedication and creativity.

After opening a second studio, surviving a grinding wedding season and taking thousands of senior pictures, a fall Sunday sounds like a great time for an average professional photographer to put their feet up and relax.

However, Fenton’s Gavin Smith is not your average professional photographer.

A fall Sunday means more lenses, lighting, pressure to be at his best and another a full day of work, with perhaps a little fun mixed in along the way. Smith serves as the officials Detroit Lions photographer, a position he earned in 2006.

While it sounds like a glorious job, and Smith loves every bit of it, it’s still a stressful position, especially when he hasn’t had a day off in three weeks.

Pre-game warm-up

Smith doesn’t wait until kickoff to start his day; he’s in his Grand Blanc studio at 8:30 a.m. getting nearly $70,000 worth of equipment ready for the game. The Lions are hosting the Seattle Seahawks on this day, or else Smith would have been on the team plane the previous day to another NFL city.

It’s not just shooting NFL athletes and coaches on game days. He arrives at Ford Field hours before 1 p.m. and shoots various Detroit Lions community events, including check-donating ceremonies.

Smith then gets a list of players he needs to shoot for various Lions publications and websites. For example, he might need to shoot a few pictures of Cliff Avril for his blog, Detroitlions.com.

Game time

The players run out on the field and the madness begins. While Smith has been a lifelong Lions fan, he's not there to sit and enjoy. Smith and his assistant Taylor Hurley try to capture every angle of every play with photographs and video, which requires some major hustle from time to time.

The first big play of the recent game against Seattle is a touchdown reception for Ryan Broyles. Smith captures an image of the rookie sneaking the ball into the corner of the end zone and then quickly gives the memory card away, so the photo can be posted on www.detroitlions.com.

Smith gets a unique perspective of the game through the lens. He can see where the holes are, where they should be, missed blocks and big hits through his zoom lens that is about as big as one of his legs.

Sometimes the action gets close, but even after a colleague is drilled in the leg with a helmet and starts walking with a limp, Smith doesn’t flinch when he switches cameras as Titus Young and two Seattle defenders fly within a couple feet of him on a 46-yard touchdown pass.

Smith said his job is much easier when the team is playing well.

“Even when they are doing bad, you have to make them look good,” Smith said.

By the time halftime comes, Smith can feel a twinge is his neck. He runs into the locker room among Lions giants Gosder Cherilus and Ndamukong Suh to get an adjustment from the team chiropractor.

“It’s a nice perk of the job,” he says.

Keeping the gig

When the Detroit Lions were holding auditions for the job back in 2006, he had been shooting events at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, including professional boxing and music concerts. The constant traveling started to wear on him. Lions officials asked him to try out and he beat the competition to get the job.

“A lot of Detroit people applied for the job and they said ‘who is this guy?’” Smith said. “They thought I came out of nowhere.”

His work quickly showed he belonged on top, but he has to adapt constantly to stay there. He has a dozen magazine subscriptions, even one from Europe he can’t read, so he can study photos and come up with new ideas.

“You have to constantly re-invent in this business,” he said. “You have to have a knack for it.”

The pressure is always there to perform just as the players do on the field. He received a little heat for not getting enough celebration shots when the Lions won in overtime against the Philadelphia.

The biggest decision of his life

While the pressure is there on the field, so is the pressure off the field. 

Smith recently made one of the biggest decisions of his life. He will be opening a new studio and living in his new home starting this winter in the old Linden fire hall.

He will live in the upstairs apartment and have a state-of-the-art studio below, complete with a Gavin Smith Photography logo on the front of the building. He said he might even install a fireman’s pole to get downstairs. Smith’s Fenton studio will remain open. He knows it was a big risk.

“It’s either going to be the smartest decision I ever made, or the dumbest,” Smith said.

In the locker room

As the Lions pull out a last-minute victory against Seattle, Smith is sure to get plenty of celebration shots this time around. He sprints to the middle of the field as the clock runs out and heads to the locker room for the postgame celebration. He then must upload all of his pictures and video so they can be used for articles, program covers and Facebook posts. He finally leaves Ford Field around 5:30 p.m. and gets to his home around 7 p.m., with plenty of work waiting for him at the studio Monday morning.

However, just before Smith leaves the game, he gives Calvin Johnson a print of the Lions star receiver celebrating a touchdown and Johnson is extremely gracious, saying his mother will frame it and put it on the wall.

Just another fall Sunday for Smith.

Mark W Rummel November 13, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Interesting story, Editor Jason. And as you point out, it's much more enjoyable to photograph a winning team, which the Lions aren't quite this year...
Jason Alexander November 13, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Luckily, they pulled out the game I was at, Seattle. Smith said last year was a lot of fun. Looks like this year, not so much....
star November 13, 2012 at 11:39 PM
Great Story!! Best of Luck Gavin!
Lenny Haise November 14, 2012 at 10:27 PM
Great story great job team not so great.

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