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Four years ago when Jane and I first began discussing a project on the John Muir Trail I figured it would require little additional shooting. Having photographed the Sierra backcountry for close to three decades, I was certain I could fill any needs from my library of transparencies. It was searching these files that I came to a harsh reality; I had very little JMT coverage.

Many of my summers in the Sierra had been spent well off the trail. What coverage I did have was for the most part taken in the winter months and were of little use. Working with the imagery I did have, I started spending summers filling the gaps. During this time, I would plan my shoots to correspond with the “monsoon season”; waiting for favorable photographic weather forecasts, then heading into the backcountry for multi-day excursions when the timing seemed right for the light. Finally, I thru-hiked one early season to see what specifics I might be missing, after which I would spend a summer getting the final shots. Approximately 20% of the images were shot with “light” equipment, spontaneously, on my thru-hike.

With rare exception the images herein are from, or within an easy hike of the John Muir trail.

Other than the historical photos, the images reproduced here stem a 27 year period. The majority of the film images were shot on Fuji Velvia 50, some on Kodachrome and a couple of Ektachromes. Equipment used during this time included a Wisner 4×5, Mamiya 67, Pentax 645, Canon EOS film and digital cameras, Olympus OM-1. Lenses covered 14mm to 300mm. My tripod for most shooting was a Gitzo Reporter with an Arca Swiss ballhead.

Film images (with the exception of 4x5s) were scanned using a Nikon Cool Scan 9000. I personally processed the scans in Photoshop CS2 to match the colors truthfully to the transparencies (even on page 109). There are no digitally inserted elements (such as clouds, rainbows, unicorns, etc)

Digital originals were shot in camera RAW. Raw capture depicts neither color nor contrast accurately, requiring these files to be matched to memory. I did my best to create representations of what actually occurs in nature and resisted the temptation to over saturate colors, resulting in the “bubble gum effect” as a good friend refers to it.

All of the full two page spread panoramas were created in photoshop by merging several film or digital captures, shot specifically for that purpose.

John Dittli
Crooked Creek, April 2009

Fine art prints of select images are available from

John Dittli has been exploring and photographing the western landscape for well over three decades.   Prior to his first national published credit in Wilderness in 1986, John’s work appeared in numerous outdoor equipment catalogs.  Since that time his images have appeared in hundreds of publications worldwide including most major conservation magazines, books, calendars, catalogs and corporate advertising.  As an activist for preservation of wildlands, John uses his work to promote awareness and encourage protection of threatened places.  From county courthouses to the halls of Congress his images have been used to help pass important conservation legislation.

John lives with his wife Leslie in a solar powered strawbale home they built by hand above the headwaters of Crooked Creek.


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