Magazine Article


Revved Up


On the race track, the ski slopes, and out in the field, sports shooter Gil Smith is a force to be reckoned with. An automotive advertising specialist who has created ad campaigns for Chrysler, Nissan, Jeep, Yamaha, Volvo, Smith is currently one of Canon's "gang of five" pro shooters testing the new 1D digital camera.
Growing up in L.A. and New York, Smith cut his teeth on the film and TV industries. "My mom, Teri York, was a TV spokesperson and singer, the first TV weathergirl," says Smith. Smith himself played Joey on TV's "Dennis the Menace" in the late '50s and appeared on the TV series 'Peter Loves Mary' in the early '60s.

While still in his early 20s, a series of fortuitous events put him on the photo fast track. After a year at RIT, he returned to California, landing a job with James Wood, whom he refers to as the "hottest commercial shooter at the time," and shortly thereafter serving as studio manager to Reid Miles, through whom he came in contact with the likes of Pete Turner and Art Kane, one of his visual heroes.
In the summer of '78, he landed a plum photo assignment: a major multimedia show for Chrysler. "Chrysler was at the brink of bankruptcy," says Smith. "The big thing then were these dazzling multi-screen, multi-projector promotional shows for salesmen at conventions.
"For six weeks, I went on the road, shooting in New York, San Francisco, all over, snapping 34 rolls of Kodachrome on my Canon 1N. The final product was a 64-projector slide show, a three-screen panoramic spectacular."
In 1980, he opened his own studio—a taxi garage with a drive-in studio on the second floor—and began building his clientele.
Maintaining his relationship with Chrysler, Smith was hired by Coca-Cola to launch its "Coke Is It" campaign. In the late 80s, he was awarded ad campaigns by Apple, Nissan, and Yamaha, Jeep, and Volvo, and John Deere. A career strategy was starting to emerge. The car market had become his specialty.

Smith's facility with capturing speed and motion on film has earned him myriad sports-related assignments. To sell its streamlined, powerful products to prospective clients, Network Associates called on Smith to create automotive imagery.
The ad image of a race car speeding around the track unhindered by inclement weather—is a grand illusion. This dramatic racing scene was actually shot in his studio, with Smith and special effects firm Reel EFX transforming a driverless, stationery open wheel racer, empty helmet, recirculating pond, and various tools and tricks, to create speed and power where none actually existed.
Shifting to the ski slopes, Smith added a new look to the sport with his ad campaign for Oakley Eyewear. To create the look, he and the client wanted—a closeup, wide-angle effect—the camera had to be fastened to the skier as he schussed. Smith had to attach the apparatus in a way that the skier's comfort, mobility, and safety would be uncompromised.
"Because the base of the skull is the quietest place on the body, we took a demo backpack, emptied it out, and rigged it with a proprietary 'arm' that extended right over the skier's head, with a Canon A2 attached at the end." Lightweight and capable of motordrive shooting, the A2 could now move left or right, laterally, and in different positions.
For the apparatus to lie flat on the skier, Smith gained permission from the jacket manufacturer to cut out a section of the back. "We shot Polapans to check the angles of the images that were shot with the 'third arm' and to get go-ahead from the client." The look Smith generated with this campaign is still in high demand.
Another Oakley campaign brought Smith out to the Supercross at the Yamaha testing facility in Corona, California. Capturing the sport's speed and power was the name of the game. Shooting with his Hasselblad ELX, he used natural light and a Speedotron to throw the strobe at his subject, and a shutter speed of 1/60 second to create a blurry afterimage. Smith used a Condor crane arm with a 6x8 platform, "leaning out and panning with him as he jumped 90 feet or more into the air." The image (pg. 19, middle) was originally shot in color and converted to B&W in Photoshop, explains Smith, to lend greater flexibility to the finished image.
Glance at Smith's website,, and you'll be hit by his powerful extreme sports images. He often wins sports shoots from A.D.s drawn to his site—his strongest marketing tool, that is, along with word of mouth from his satisfied clients.

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