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
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.”
New York, the
says he grew
up “all over the
place, and [hasn’t] changed that pattern
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
“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
“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
“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.”