How I modified my van to fit my traveling photographer lifestlye
Living on the road as a travel photographer has its fair share of ups and downs. As the seasons change and the cold draws in I’m certainly beginning to feel it, but they do rightly say that bad weather makes great photos. In a recent post I explained my vanlife decision. Today I’m dropping back in on that subject with more detail about how my van is made for travel photography.
I want to make sure I’m showing an honest representation of everything in this post rather than a ‘perfect Instagram’ photo. To that end, remember I’m showing an accurate insight rather than picture-perfect van life views.
The reason I chose to live in a van was to minimise expenses. I left a 14-year career behind in order to pursue my passion, which has been growing very successfully, and I’m never happier than when I’m exploring. Along with exploring comes to cost of accommodation, flights, rental cars, restaurants, and a whole list of other things. Living in a van while traveling has removed all of that, and I now have all of my gear rather than the gear I packed for a particular trip. I’ve had to plan carefully to get the gear into the van, stored securely, and charged so that it’s ready to go whenever I need it. Here’s what I’ve done: –
Power is always a big concern for off-grid life. In my van, Kofifernweh, I’ve ensured I have a sensible solar capacity and a redundancy system. The solar system consists of a 370w solar panel, which is super-efficient and can be angled to face the sun on short, winter days, which routes to a Victron Energy Solar Charge Controller (MPPT). This contraption ensures the correct energy is fed into the 2x 100Ah LiFePO4 batteries. These batteries are also fed from the alternator via a Split Charge Controller, taking any extra electricity from the running engine once the van battery has enough charge. The reason I chose these batteries is that not only can I use the entire charge if necessary, rather than roughly half if I had an acid battery system, but also because of the weight. The equivalent in gel acid batteries would weigh about five times as much as the batteries I have and with a plated weight limit as well as wanting to maximize economy, the extra expense was worth it.
In order to get everything charged, I have 12v USB sockets throughout the van. This covers most of my gear and is a simple solution. There are other things that need the full whack of a power socket, and for these, I have a 1800w inverter and my charging case. I rigged a tool case to contain all my 230v chargers so I can just plug the case in to the inverter and stick everything inside that needs charging. This leaves my power socket available for anything additional, like my laptop for example.
The other solution I have, which is more of a redundancy, is power banks. I have a whole stash of charged power banks ready to break out in case they’re needed.
When I first started using the van I often forgot to put certain items away. Everything in here needs its place so it’s secure when I’m moving, and I mean everything – even the fridge door. All the camera gear has a nook or a bag that it goes into to keep it safe. Some of the storage is as simple as packing items into bags and stowing the bags, and some are even simpler whereby I just put things on the bed while I’m driving. There are a few items that I try to keep within arms reach at all times so I can quickly get a shot of something I see if I’m driving and can pull over. Beyond that, and in terms of more secure storage if I’m away from the van for any period of time, there’s a safe bolted to the chassis which is hidden from view.
In the past, I concentrated the vast majority of my social media presence on Instagram, but I’ve now started a YouTube series all about the van and the journey. I’ve learned that in terms of B-roll, there’s never enough of it. When you think you’ve got enough B-roll you’ve actually got about half a much as you need! To help myself achieve this I keep a selection of smaller, capable cameras close to hand either in the cab or in an open container in the cabin. Between these devices, I should have any situation covered, but if any of those situations involve me driving I can’t safely shoot myself so I needed a solution.
In both the cab and the cabin, as well as on the outside, I have a few mounting points. There are two like the one pictured, which is a Platypod Ultra screwed into the wood allowing me to attach a ballhead or anything that will take a 1/4″-20 thread or screw. In the image above you can see how I used it to attach my Insta360 One X2, giving me a 360˚ view that I can crop in post.
The mounting points on the outside are GoPro mounts, and I have suction mounts available that I can secure to windows if I choose to.
It goes without saying that I can pitch up in a coffee shop with my laptop – that has nothing to do with van life. What you can see from this and some other pictures in this post, however, is that I have a few options for working inside the van.
I spend a lot of time on the computer processing images, editing videos, and writing articles and tutorials. I find that if I sit in one spot for too long I lose my flow, so I needed to add the option for different places to work in the van. I have a table in the cabin that swivels, meaning I can sit in a variety of positions on the bench seat to get things done. I also have a lap desk that I can take into the cab if I want to work with a panoramic view, just like I am on the beach in this image. A good workspace helps to no end with productivity, so I had to make sure Kofifernweh was up to the job in that respect.
Print Is King
I think the roots of photography are still important in our digital world, and printing is a part of that. There’s something nostalgic about a print, but also something very special about being able to produce something tangible rather than just posting to Instagram. A printed photo that someone can hold in their hands, feel the paper, see how the tones change under different light, is all part of the power that printing gives.
I needed to incorporate a printer into the van build, which I’ve done in the form of mounting an Epson XP-900 to a sliding shelf that I made especially for it. Now that I’ve had it in here for long enough to know that it works well and is secure despite the movement of the van I can get the shelf painted white to match the van, and I’m very happy I added this to Kofifernweh. I now have the ability to print high-quality photos up to A3 size, from anywhere.
In summary, a lot of thought has gone into how the van works for me as a photographer, including when I’m not actually in the van. Being able to rip a van apart and design it from a blank canvas, inside and out, as the perfect van for my needs as a travel photographer specialising in the cold has been amazing fun and it’s resulted in having exactly what I need. You can see the process of converting the van on its Instagram page. I’m happy with my build and I’m enjoying the journey.
You can see more about Kofifernweh here.
Dave Williams is an accomplished travel photographer, writer, and best-selling author from the UK. He is also a photography educator and published Aurora expert. Dave has traveled extensively in recent years, capturing stunning images from around the world in a modified van. His work has been featured in various publications and he has worked with notable brands such as Skoda, EE, Boeing, Huawei, Microsoft, BMW, Conde Nast, Electronic Arts, Discovery, BBC, The Guardian, ESPN, NBC, and many others.