Photographers, are you dreaming about traveling the country in an RV for photography?  Or, maybe you already own an RV that is not meeting your needs.  If you answered yes to either of these, the following Perfect RV for Photography Checklist maybe just what you need. 

The checklist was developed specifically for the unique camping needs of nature and travel photographers. Photography pursuits, especially nature and travel, often require camping trips into remote locations where many typical RVers do not camp. Therefore, I have incorporated these unique needs into a handy checklist to serve as a guide for purchasing an RV.  The list is based on actual issues I encountered in my years on the road.

Before we look at the checklist, let’s first identify what makes a Perfect RV for Photography as well as a good campsite location.

Characteristics of a Perfect RV for Photography :

    • It can move with easy and safety from location to location.
    • The meets the living and working needs of the traveling photographer. 
    • The RV can travel on the types of roads a photographer may take in order to camp close to photography spots.
    • It fits in as many campsites as possible.

Ideal Campsite Location:

Ideally, as photographers, we want to spend our time in the field photographing, not traveling hours back and forth to a photography spot.  So the ability to camp as close as possible to our shoot locations is highly desirable. I have only had a couple such camping locations with the following one being as close to perfect as it gets.

Below are two photos from my campsite at Gooseneck State Park.  The first one is my campsite while the second image was taken about 50 feet from my front door.

My campsite:

A picture of a Lance travel trailer at Gooseneck State Park

Steps from my front door:

So now that we know what makes a Perfect RV for Photography and an ideal campsite let’s look at the list of items we should consider when buying an RV.

Perfect RV for Photography Checklist:

1. Mobility

It is important that an RV be capable of traveling on as many roads as possible in a variety of weather conditions with the least amount of set up and take down time and that it is a vehicle that does not get stuck easily!  (Yes I have been stuck)

      • Roads  Roads with significant grades, tight corners, and low clearance are not suitable for most RV travel. However, I discovered that many great photo destinations can only be reached by traveling these types of roads. Therefore the RV should:
        • Be no wider than 7 feet
        • Have plenty of power
        • Be 4 wheel or all wheel drive
        •  Have great brakes.
      • Wind High winds cause RV’s to flip over and can bring travel to a complete stop.  In fact I once spent 6 days in the middle of nowhere waiting out 40-50 mph winds.  Spending 6 days at $45/night in an RV park in the middle of nowhere was not fun.
        • The Perfect Photographers RV should have as low a profile as possible and handle winds up to 30-40 mph safely. Be aware that most bumper pull trailers and Class A motorhomes rarely meet this criteria!
      • Ground Clearance – Even if you do not plan to engage in major off road adventures, many paved roads in the west have dips which can easily cause the rear of an RV to drag and become damaged.  Then of course, there are the many miles of non 4 wheel drive dirt roads, especially in the Southwest United States to consider.
        • When RV shopping, be sure to jot down the ground clearance of each RV you look at as well as potential lift kits if available.  Factor these into any purchase decision.

2.  Able to Fit in Many Campgrounds

Photography pursuits can take us to popular and crowded national parks and other similar destinations during peak seasons, making it difficult to find campsites.

      • The RV should be no longer than 24-30 feet depending on type of RV.  There are too many great campsites and locations that are not accessible to larger RVs. My preference is 24-26 feet combined length.
      • Locating campsites in prime season is very difficult so the smaller the RV, the greater the campsite selection. In 2018, I spent my summer on the Oregon coast and was only able to stay in one national forest campground with all other nights spent in grocery stores and casino parking lots. Although the national forest and state parks did have some availability, I was too large to get into any of the sites. 
      • Types of RV’s greatly impact their ability to fit into campsites. Motorhomes and Class C’s can be detached from tow vehicles prior to entering a campsite while 5th wheels and travel trailers can’t be detached from tow vehicles when parking.

 RV’s Ranked in Order of Accessibility:

        • Class B Vans are the best for accessing small campground.
        • Motorhomes under about 32 feet are next since a tow vehicle can be detached.
        • 5th Wheels have about 7-9 feet of length advantage over a travel trailer since a portion of the trailer is over the truck bed, not behind it as in a travel trailer.
        • Travel Trailers, depending on the tongue length, are the hardest to fit into small campgrounds since all length is behind the tow vehicle.

3. Well Insulated and/ or Inside Water Tanks

A well insulated RV/Van is vital to successful photography travel.  This includes walls, pipes, tanks and windows. Most RVs, however, are terribly insulated to conserve on weight which can negatively impact the ability to camp in very cold and hot climates. RVer’s chase 70 degree weather while photographers chase prime photography times regardless of weather.  

I highly recommend an RV with:

    • Dual Pane Windows
    • Less Windows
    • Heated Tanks
    • As much insulation as possible
    • No slides- they never seal completely.

4. Minimum Maintenance RV

Although most RVs require maintenance and repairs on a frequent basis, how many of you want to spend your time in a beautiful location repairing an item on your RV?

 Face it, many of us travel to remote photography locations where there are little to no RV repair services.  So the less things an RV has that could go wrong or demand constant maintenance, the better.  Think about RV slides as a perfect example of things going wrong. 

Story from the road – A number of years ago, I had a wiring issue with my trailer brakes in the small town of Page, Arizona.  The town had only one RV technician and he was booked for the next two months.  Added to that he charged about $100 for a service call and $150/hour for actual repair work.  I had to learn how to repair the wiring myself or stay put for two months.  

Keep It Simple Simon or risk losing out on time in the field!

5. Tons of Solar and Battery Capacity

The Perfect Photographer’s RV should be as off grid and self sustaining as possible with a minimum of 600 watts of solar and at least 300 AMP hours of lithium batteries.

Running computers to process images takes power plus charging all the photography and phone gear takes power. And of course, the RV may have a heater that is a big energy draw.  I don’t know anyone who wants to leave a photo location and find a $80 a night campground because they needed power. 

6. Ergonomic Workspace in RV

Unless you only take short trips, photographers need a dedicated workspace to download cards, organize and process images, respond to clients and edit videos from the road.

Most RVs, however, are designed for family camping and have little to no decent workspaces. When looking at RV’s, evaluate the existing dinette or living space to determine if it can be modified into a combined workspace. If the space can’t be modified, cross that RV off the list.  

7.  Space to store camera gear

The RV should have a number of dedicated drawers or cabinets that can work for storage of all photography gear.  This storage should safely contain the equipment during travel, have compartments for accessories such as batteries, cables, flash cards, and the like, and be easily accessible.  Keep in mind that storage areas towards to rear of an RV will experience more road vibrations than areas towards the front.

8.  Security

The RV should be safe from two different aspects:

Weather Threats:

    • First of all, the RV should allow the photographer to quickly move out of an area that is not safe, either from humans, wildlife or weather. This past summer in Colorado, we were given 10 minutes to leave a campground in the middle of the night. 

People Threats:

    • Secondly, the RV should be as secure as possible from thief. This includes good locks, security cameras and phone notifications of activity. In fact the Perfect Photographer’s RV should be able to travel as close as possible to photo locations, again speaking to the ability to travel down as many roads as possible.  Leaving a 5th Wheel or travel trailer for 12-15 hours a day unattended in a campsite is a invitation for theft.  
    • RVs capable of being set up close to photo locations allows you to check on the campsite during the day as well as respond to any security notifications.
    • I want to add that photographers do not usually camp like most RVers.  RVer’s typically head out to explore an area during the day then return for evening campfires, etc.  Photographers are out in the field before daybreak and ofter return after dark all the while their RV’s sit unattended.  Also be aware that travel trailers and 5th Wheels are not as secure as Class C and motorhomes and are high theft targets.

9.  RV Bedroom 

Can the bedroom layout provide a good nights sleep?  

Most RV’s come with terrible mattresses you may wish to replace.  Be sure the bed size is a standard size both for mattress replacement as well as sheet and blanket purchases.

Pay Attention to Windows in the Bedroom.

Although windows are great for light, they negatively impact insulation therefore, I do not recommend having many windows in the bedroom.  For instance, in my present RV, the bed is surrounded by three large windows. In winter, my head stays cold even running a heater all night resulting in a poor nights sleep. 

10.  Adequate Kitchen

Some of the best photography destinations are in remote locations that can involve an hours plus drive to the nearest grocery stores.  The ability to cook and store food is essential.

 In addition to lack of quick access to groceries, one needs to factor in the substantially higher cost of food in tourist and small towns. In one location I visited a baked chicken sold for $16.  

There is probably little more to add here than to mention that the refrigeration and cooking needs should not drain the RV batteries if boon-docking.  

11.  Pets

Traveling with pets poses significant challenges to photographers who spend many hours away from an RV.

The issues of traveling with pets are too varied to cover fully here. However be aware as a photographer that you may leave the RV for a sunrise shoot when temperatures are very cold temperates only to have the temperatures heat up rapidly during the day. If you leave your pets behind, think about how you can keep them comfortable during these temperature extremes.  

12. Storage

 Photographer may need storage for the following items depending on the type of photography one undertakes:

  • Waders
  • Heavy Coats, hats, and gloves
  • Water Shoes
  • Hiking gear
  • Kayaking gear
  • Snow boots
  • Hiking boots

Conclusion:

Find the RV that works for you or you may be working for your RV!  

Hopefully the above checklist can save you from making the same mistakes I made.  Along with the above checklist, I encourage you to answer the questions in: Top Questions Every Photographer Should Ask Before Buying An RV.  

After shopping RV’s for the last three years, I have not found an RV that satisfies my checklist.  Well, maybe I did, but it was not one I could afford! For those willing to spend upwards of $200,000, there are some nice Overlander vehicles on the market. 

I am planning to convert a Van into my Perfect RV in the near future. I will be documenting this process on my upcoming Youtube Channel so stay tuned and see if I can turn this Perfect Photographer RV dream into a reality.

Please let me know if this checklist has been helpful to you as well as what type of RV you currently use for photography trips.

 

 

 

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