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Van life photography: capture your van life journey in photos

The allure of the open road, the freedom to explore uncharted territories and embrace a minimalist lifestyle. This is what van life is all about. For those who have chosen to trade conventional living for a nomadic existence, every mile travelled holds the promise of adventure and unparalleled views.

With an ever-changing landscape ahead of you, capturing those fleeting moments through the art of photography is an immense skill to nurture. Here are a few essential van life photography tips and tricks that will elevate your game. Not only that, but they will ensure you come away from each destination with spectacular shots that embody the experiences you’ll have as a digital nomad.

Charlie and Dale completed a year-long Pan American road trip, working remotely from their campervan Ringo. Pictured in El Chalten, in front of the Fitz Roy range at sunrise.

Get to know your camera equipment

Before hitting the road, it’s a good idea to get to know the camera equipment you’re taking with you so you can confidently take snaps along the way. You never know when inspiration will strike, and you might lose out on the opportunity to capture them if you’re fumbling with the camera settings.

A reliable compact DSLR camera, a versatile let of lenses and a tripod will all provide you with a good foundational set-up. Additionally, you may wish to invest in back-up storage like an external hard drive. This will ensure you don’t run out of space during your travels. Take the time to familiarise yourself with your camera equipment. So, you’ll be well-equipped to translate the magic of your van life experiences into stunning visual narratives.


If you’re living in a van, you don’t have much space, so a small selection of your favourite lenses is key. Before running Nohma, Charlie used to work as a freelancer photographer. Her lenses of choice for van life photography are:

  • 24-70mm f2.4 (a versatile choice with options for both wide angle shots and zooming in)
  • 70-200mm f2.8 (a short zoom useful for wildlife shots)
  • 50mm f1.8 (a great little prime for lifestyle and travel photos)
The photographer vs the shot – capturing seals on a trip to the Isle of Uist with a Nikon D700 and 70-200mm f2.8 zoom lens

Phone cameras

For those with a lower budget or who are just getting into photography, there’s a lot to be said for the mighty phone camera. Phones these days have incredible cameras built-in. With a decent understanding of settings and lighting, good framing and a bit of post processing in Lightroom mobile, you can take some epic shots without having to spend a fortune on an expensive camera.

Paddleboarding in in Baja California, Mexico and camping in the High Sierras, California. Both taken on an iPhone 14 Pro and edited with Lightroom mobile.

Understanding how to perfect shutter speed

When you’re on the go, perfecting shutter speed is the key to capturing a sense of energy and vitality. Whether you’re freezing the action of crashing waves against a rocky shoreline or creating a blur of passing landscapes as you make your way from one location to another, understanding shutter speed will unlock a world of creative possibilities.

At its core, shutter speed refers to the amount of time the camera’s sensor is exposed to light. A faster shutter speed, such as 1/1000th of a second, will freeze even the most rapid action. This will allow you to capture crisp details and sharp outlines. This technique is particularly useful when shooting fast-moving subjects like wildlife or extreme sports, preserving every detail of the moment for eternity.

A quick shutter speed is super important for wildlife photos, especially birds, like these pelicans in Costa Rica.

On the other hand, a slower shutter speed, such as 1/10th of a second or longer, introduces intentional blur and motion into your images. This approach can transform ordinary scenes into dynamic works of art. By conveying a sense of movement and energy, you can transports your audience directly into the heart of the adventure.

Mastering lighting techniques

In the realm of van life photography, light is the fundamental ingredient that breathes life into every image. It’s responsible not just for showing the details but it also affects the mood, the tone and atmosphere of a shot, and the luminosity.

As a van lifer, you’ll encounter a broad spectrum of lighting conditions, from the golden hues of epic sunrises to the dramatic shadows cast by towering architecture. Being able to harness those conditions and make the most of natural light is paramount to capturing the essence of your experiences on the road.

Knowing how to shoot in low light ensures you don't end up with blurry photos at a magical time of day. Shot just outside of Arches National Park in Utah.

Mastering lighting techniques is an ongoing journey of observation, experimentation and adaptation. Embrace the ever-changing conditions that nature presents and trial different angles or settings to get the look you’re striving for. You may even want to experiment with editing techniques to achieve a certain mood or style by brightening the image.

Telling your story through composition

Composition is the art of arranging the elements within the frame and guiding the viewer’s eye. This infuses each image with a sense of depth and storytelling. By working with the principles of composition, you’ll transform mere snapshots into captivating works of art that transport your audience directly into the heart of your adventures.

Pay close attention to the surroundings that form the backdrop of your van life adventures. You’re likely to be surrounded by sweeping landscapes or vibrant cityscapes that can form the basis of your compositions. Look for unique angles and perspectives that highlight the juxtaposition between the rugged beauty of nature and the cosy confines of your home on wheels, creating a dynamic interplay that tells a compelling visual story.

Framing is key, and using the back doors of your camper to frame your shot gives perfect context to van life photos. Shot in Monument Valley, Arizona.

Include these main shots in your van life photography

Creativity is guaranteed to strike when you’re moving from place to place, but if you’re unsure where to begin, here are a few key shots you should try to capture along the way:

Golden hour

Make the most of that enchanting hour after sunrise or before sunset, known as the golden hour. Bathed in soft, warm light, it lends a magical aura to your van life snapshots, casting beautiful hues and elongated shadows.

Golden hour adds an element of magic to any photo. Shot in Arches National Park, Utah.

Reflective surfaces

Seek out reflective canvases like tranquil lakes, meandering rivers or even the windows of your van. By doing this, you can capture mesmerising reflections. These mirrored images infuse your van life snapshots with a captivating and otherworldly allure.

Capturing reflections on the Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia.

Candid moments

Embrace the spontaneity of your van life journey by seizing candid moments. These encapsulate the essence of joy and camaraderie shared on the open road. Unscripted instances paint a vivid picture of your adventure and foster a deep connection with your audience.

Candid campfire moments in California.

The van

Embarking on a van life journey isn’t just about the destinations; it’s about the experiences, the memories and the essence of living on the road. Photographing your converted van and the adventures it takes you on adds depth to your storytelling. So, whatever the goal of van life for you, make sure that comes across in the images you take. Because this is what you’ll want to remember in years to come.

A van amongst giants – driving through Arches National Park, Utah

No matter how long you intend to be on the road, be sure to capture plenty of photographs from your adventures. Documenting your journey will provide lasting memories you can look back on in the future. So, when the cold weather sets in and the yearning for the open road returns, those visual reminders of your summer travels will brighten your spirits. Revisiting those captured memories can reignite that feeling of wonder and discovery. Plus, they will serve as inspiration to plan your next big road trip adventure.

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