Traversing the globe and capturing the beauty and essence of each location, John’s photos stir our inner wanderlust and frame the importance of living in the here and now. Check his story out below.
Say hello to John:
Where are you from? Where have you been?
I grew up right below Yosemite National Park in the little town called Oakhurst. Even with Yosemite as my backyard, I still haven’t seen it all or gotten enough of it. I have been all over the Pacific Northwest and Alberta, most of the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska, the southern portion of Iceland, Europe, Mexico, China, and Mount Everest Base Camp in Nepal.
What’s your favorite place in the world?
Nepal is by far my favorite place for several reasons. The Nepalese people and diverse range of travelers I encountered on my trek to Mount Everest were so genuine and humble. At 20,000 feet, the view and altitude literally took my breath away.
What’s on your “bucket list” of ideas to create?
I would like to collect various forms of shoes that people used in impoverished regions of the planet. I would then create a work where the only thing you see is the shadows of the people wearing them against a wall with the shoes below the shadows. I would want to do this in collaboration with TOMS.
How would you describe your visual style?
Although I generally find myself taking outdoor travel photos, I find myself constantly experimenting with different elements of photography, despite knowing the benefit of specializing in a certain style.
Besides nature, in what other sources do you find inspiration?
Other photographers. I was up at Mount Tamalpais, just north of San Francisco, California, when I started to hike up a hill for the sunset. At the beginning of the trail, I ran into and started a conversation with Christian Schaffer. I didn’t know or make the connection, but I had already seen her surreal photos all over Instagram. I am constantly seeing creative works by other artists and aim to find five new photographers via Instagram everyday.
You’re a Naval veteran – can you elaborate on your military career?
I made a deal with my parents that I would attend college, rather than go to West Point, and pursue Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) for a year, before electing to join the military. After a year of studying Architectural Engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I started training for the Navy Seal training program known as BUD/S. I received a contract from the Navy to be admitted to BUD/S, and left shortly after. During BUD/S, I sustained several injuries, had several surgeries, and was eventually honorably discharged from the Navy due to my injuries.
You’re currently pursuing your MBA – how difficult is it to keep up with your studies while finding the time to shoot?
With work, boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, studying for my CFA, and school, I will admit I am a bit overloaded. I find myself waking up earlier and going to bed later, attempting to get all of my tasks done so when I do have time to shoot, I can leave with a moment’s notice. There isn’t enough time in the day for me to do everything I need or want to do, so I constantly find myself studying on the bus or in a hurry.
Tell us about Troy.
Troy is an 11 year old golden retriever that would follow me anywhere. On one trip we took together, he cut his foot pretty badly, and I carried him back down the mountain. Despite the pain, he didn’t whine or complain, he was just happy to be there. I always make an effort to capture and make the most of the time I have with him, when I see him, because I know his time is limited.
What was the moment you decided to become a photographer?
Photography had always been a hobby of mine, but there was one day a few months ago when I hiked a mountain in northern Yosemite with a heavy fever, in order to take photos of the Milky Way. I spent 8 hours sheltered from the wind in a cluster of rocks. I was tired, freezing, hungry, and I spontaneously cracked a huge smile. I couldn’t have been happier.
Of the photos you’ve taken – what are your three favorites?
What was your most memorable shoot?
While shooting at Burney Falls in Northern California, I had managed to take two photos when my girlfriend at the time, managed to break two of her toes, while climbing down near the water. I carried her all a quarter mile straight up the hill and took her to the hospital.
What’s the funniest story you have from being a photographer?
While backpacking in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park across the Great Divide on the Alberta/British Columbia border, I left one of my cameras on the top of Wonder Pass and didn’t realize it until our group had already trekked about 10 miles away. Parting with the camera was one thing, parting with the shots on the memory card was harder to stomach. I left several crudely constructed signs at a few main trail intersections, in hope of someone finding the camera, seeing the signs, and the finders being good samaritans. A day after our trip, I was overjoyed to receive a call from someone saying they had found the camera. The funny part was the assortment of funny photos that they had taken with my camera that I would later discover.
If you could photograph anything in the world, what would it be?
I would want to take a photo of Earth from space. One of my favorite photos is the The Pale Blue dot captured by the Voyager 1 Space Probe, 3.7 billion miles away from Earth. Earth is merely the size of a pixel, and it reminds me of what tiny space we occupy in this universe.
Who do you want to give a shoutout to?
I want to say thank you to David Elliot, the founder of SovrnRebpublic. I won a contest for one of their bags, and they later became my first official sponsor. I always take one of their products wherever I travel. Also, thank you to Chris Burkard. While I lived in San Luis Obispo, I visited his gallery in Pismo, California several times and had a blast at one of his InstaMeets. He was more than happy to chat and share stories. I emailed him regarding travel tips for Iceland, and he promptly gave me a huge amount of information for my trip.
What’s your philosophy when it comes to being a great photographer?
Over the past few years, I can’t recall how many times someone asked me, where something was, how to get somewhere, advice about a location, what camera settings to use, or simply what was an interesting place to visit. Just one person telling me they went to a location or were inspired because of my photos was all I needed. So I aim to take photos that encourage people to step out of their comfort zone, explore, and say, “I want to go there.”
What do you think is the biggest thing holding you back in your photography?
I want to change the world, and I don’t know if I can do that with my photography alone.
What’s the most inspiring photo you’ve ever seen?
As a major nerd growing up, I was a huge fan of Nikola Tesla. There is an old black and white photo of him sitting beneath one of his Tesla Coils with 30 foot arcs of lightning streaming out all around him. I purchased all the components to make a Tesla Coil myself and can’t wait to recreate his famous photo.
What photography advice do you wish you had when you were first starting out?
I constantly find myself returning to archives of old photos and appreciating a random shot or unique photo I took. My advice would be to always keep several up-to-date backups of all photos. I lost a few thousand and only managed to save a few, of a seven week backpacking trip through Canada when my computer crashed.
What are 3 tips you have for aspiring photographers?
- If you are just starting out, don’t go out and buy the nicest gear you can find. Start with something simple and really understand the functions of a camera. If you get something with a ton of options and functions, it will be too much to handle.
- Find something that you have a passion for, whether that be the environment, portraits, water, or wildlife, and keep shooting it.
- Connect with other photographers. I have randomly met some very interesting people at shooting locations that I make an effort to stay in touch with.
What kind of gear do you have?
I currently shoot with a Nikon D810, Nikon 14-24mm, 24-120mm, and 70-200mm. I am excited to be getting an underwater housing for my D810, from aqua tech image solutions soon. I have been shooting with a GoPro and GoDome. As a water enthusiast, I am excited to shoot some Mavericks in the future.
What’s one lighting tip you’d like to share with other photographers?
Wake up early and not just for the lighting. On a trip to Iceland, waking up at 4 am allowed for private shooting time with the famous DC-3 Plane crash. Today, it is still one of my favorite memories. Shielding my camera from extreme winds and the black sand.
Do you have any projects you’d like to show off?
I recently completed a project with the company Live Lokai. They launched a new product for breast cancer awareness month with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and invited me to collaborate for photography. I had done a project when I was younger to raise money to donate to the center that treated my mother, so the project had a massive impact on me. She put my first camera in my hands and took me to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite, fueling my future desire to take photos and explore. So, as a tribute to her for the project, I went back to where she gave me my first camera and recreated the photo.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Probably join the Navy Seal training program.
What has photography done for you as a person? How has it changed you?
It has connected me with some very unique and inspirational people. It has driven me to explore and see interesting places around the world.
Who’s your biggest hero in your life?
My future self, because I know what I am capable of and what I will accomplish.
What’s one of your biggest fears? What’s something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t?
Considering I am going to climb Mount Everest one day, I find it funny that my biggest fear is heights.
What will you be doing five years from now?
I hope to be working for the World Wildlife Fund.
For anyone who wants to get in touch with John, here’s some contact information:
Website: www. johnditomaso.com
John, thanks for sharing your story with us! 🙂
If any artists out there want to collaborate with FStop, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.