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Zebediah Smith for Travelscope

By Emily Stifler

If you told Zebediah Smith when he was 12 that someone would pay him to film cheetahs in South Africa, he would have said it sounded pretty good. This year, Zeb won an Emmy for doing precisely that.

Shooting for the TV series Travelscope has taken Zeb, 31, around the world. This summer he went to the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, a remote part of B.C., where he followed the series’s host in float planes and canoes through fjords and old-growth cedar forests to watch grizzlies and moose. Next he went to Easter Island, in the South Pacific, to film the unique culture that’s evolved there.

The idea behind the series, Zeb says, is “to let us take you on a journey as if you were going to take this trip. There is a huge focus on local culture, people, food and traditions… It could be anything from trekking Rwandan volcanoes to looking for gorillas, to finding the best kabob place in Istanbul. If we go to Paris, we’re not going to focus on the Eiffel tower and Notre Dame; we’re going to go to a local café and find the best croissant.”

This nomadic filmmaker has ties to Montana through his father, Richard Smith, a wildlife photographer, naturalist, and self proclaimed “hippy folk singer” with whom Zeb shares the Bozeman-based photography business, Wildsmith Photography.

The Smith men have a common bond in their work, which Zeb calls “a true joy.” They’ve been working together for a decade, and started taking wilderness camping trips together when Zeb was young.

“Zeb just sort of picked up the naturalist side of the whole thing just being out there enjoying everything the outside has to offer,” Richard, 64, said. “He came by it naturally.”

Moving between New York, the eastern seaboard, Colorado and Montana, Zeb says he grew up “all over the place, and [hasn’t] changed that pattern too much.”

In 2002, Zeb made a video from a winter Yellowstone trip he and his father took in 2002. It was a gift for Richard, and was “one of those amazing moments of feeling like this is one of the places I’m most connected to – the Rockies, Montana and Wyoming,” Zeb said. Now, spending a month or two here each year, Montana is as close to a home base as he has.

Last winter while Zeb was visiting Montana, there was a full lunar eclipse on a full moon. It was the first in some 300 years, and even though the mercury hovered around -20 F, “We had to go see it,” Zeb said.

At 9 p.m. they went to a spot where there were no city lights. The stars were out, and before the eclipse started, the Spanish peaks were visible in the moonlight.

“We just had to wait and let the night take over,” Richard remembers. “It could have been overcast, but it turned out to be a clear as a bell, cold winter night.” Around 3 a.m., as cold and tired as they were, the Smiths looked at each other and agreed neither of them could think of anything better. They stayed out until 4 a.m., shooting photos and film, observing, and freezing their asses off.

“Experiencing this once in a lifetime moment, it doesn’t matter that it’s negative 20,” Zeb said. “To be able to share that with someone who feels the same way and the fact that it’s my father is pretty special.

“We’ve grown into it together. It’s almost like we’re one person a lot of times,” Richard added. They got two shots that night they deemed good enough to post on their website.

As for the Emmy, Zeb says he’s shocked, but glad he received it for cinematography, which he is most passionate about.

“I love being out in the field and having those experiences and being able to be a part of the culture and beauty and landscape.”

He’d like to work for Montana PBS, filming wildlife. “It’s one of the places I go back to find inspiration. When you go out in Montana to that true wilderness and can find peace of mind, the rushing world [fades] away. When I’m traveling I try to think back to those moments in those places where I’m centered.”