Gavin Smith took a picture of former Detroit Red Wing Steve Yzerman that is hanging in the Hockey Hall of Fame. His photo of Matthew Stafford is in the Professional Football Hall of Fame. His work can be found in Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine.
The official Detroit Lions photographer has shot sports stars and celebrities across the country. But his favorite thing to photograph, he says, is area youth sports.
Smith, a Fenton resident, recently opened a studio at 305 South Leroy Street in Fenton as an expansion of his Grand Blanc-based business . Smith aims to bring his national, big-stage approach to area families.
“We are not a 'say cheese' place,” Smith said. “We want that 'wow factor.' We don’t just want a picture for your wall, we want a conversation piece.”
Smith says he wants to be the hometown photographer, but with a little bit of an edge.
Fitting in Fenton
The studio opened July 4, but is still getting the final touches, including a theater with a 12-foot screen where customers can view and choose pictures. Smith moved to Fenton nearly three years ago and said he fell in love with the area. He said he wasn’t particularly looking to open a new studio, but loved the downtown location and signed a lease the day after seeing a sign up.
“I love the people here,” he said. “I love the small town community.”
Smith recently shot photos for the Lake Fenton Youth Football and Cheer program. President Ken Hill said he brought in Smith and a couple other area photographers to vie for a new contract.
“He blew them away with his images, quality service and prices,” Hill said. “He was phenomenal.”
Smith said sometimes his credentials intimidate customers, but he insists his prices are competitive with other photographers.
“There is no formula to what I’m doing. We are having fun. We are making cool images,” Smith said. “I love making images. Every image that I love, I want to top it the next time around. We are still a hometown studio, but with a cool flair.”
Getting his start
Smith got his start in photography as a youngster by stealing his dad camera and replacing the film.
“I wasn’t supposed to touch it,” he said.
He continued photography as a hobby, but later in life, in the late 1990s, he bought one of the early digital cameras and began posting his pictures on a website as he traveled for friend and family to see, but pretty soon people were asking him if he could shoot events and portraits and then business “started to go crazy.”
Smith’s first big break came from a chance meeting and an opportunity to shoot NASCAR at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The work spread to professional boxing and music concerts. In 2006, the Detroit Lions came knocking at his door and asked him to try out to be their photographer. He got the gig.
“I didn’t even know they were looking. I didn’t act too excited, but when they left out the door I was going crazy,” he said. “It’s a dream job. I’ve always been a Lions fan. Now I have a locker, and a place on the team plane. I can call Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson friends.”
His work with Lions led to opportunities with Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine and beyond.
“To be one of 32 people in the world to be able to say I’m an NFL photographer is pretty amazing,” he admitted. “To know people go in the hall of fame and see my pictures is pretty damn cool.”
However, Smith said he tries to remain a hometown guy.
“I try and stay humble. I don’t take myself too seriously,” he said.
“I bring the same lighting and equipment that I use to shoot (Detroit Lion Ndamukong) Suh for the cover of NFL magazine or the Hall of Fame picture of Steve Yzerman to shoot toddlers to high school athletes and give it to parents for $17 a package,” Smith said. “To see the look at the parents faces, ‘are you kidding me? This is my kid?’”