Catching up with James O’Neil and life on the road.


Some might say that Photographer James O’Neil is living the dream. Eighteen months ago he gave up his job at one of London’s top retouching houses to pursue his two passions, climbing and photography. So far he has hiked across the California desert, climbed a Canadian glacier, abseiled down a gully in New Zealand and summited the westridge of the Salbit in Switzerland.

On the way he has created a portfolio that exudes wonder, epic vistas which perfectly encapsulate the almighty power and beauty in nature. Images which make you want to quit your job right now and join him.

two stand up paddle boarder on an open calm ocean

two hikers walking between trees towards a distant mountain

Where are you right now and what can you see?

I’m currently in Joshua Tree, California, looking out across the hidden Valley Campground. This is in the heart of the Joshua Tree National Park, surrounded by huge sandstone monoliths, quintessential Joshua Trees and like-minded travellers. I’ve been here a number of times and am always in awe of the alien and uncanny landscape.

How has living on the road affected your work?

By living on the road, I’m able to spend more time in the spaces I want to photograph. Rather than having fleeting trips, you’re able to submerge yourself in the area, get to know it better and to understand the light more. Also you get to meet more of the local community in each area. By meeting and truly getting to know the people who live in each place you generally get to see more of the local spots and otherwise unknown adventures too!

Panorama of mountain climber on summit

What has been the most memorable moment so far?

Sometimes you just get one of those perfect days where everything goes right. I was recently in Switzerland, climbing and hiking in the Swiss Alps and photographed an old friend who’s training to become a Swiss mountain guide. We climbed the Salbit Westgrat together. We were blessed with clear blue skies all day in an otherwise stormy week. It was one of the biggest days out I’ve ever done, being on the move for about 24 hours, but the vantage points, lighting and vast scenery made for some of my favorite shots to date as well as a sterling day out!

Do you ever miss your old office life in East London?

There are parts of the London studio that I miss, mainly the people who I worked with, as we were more of a family than just work colleagues. Also, having a work routine can be enjoyable and easier. Though that said, I feel far more comfortable and at home being outdoors with a flexible work routine, especially in the summer months. I’d become very restless being indoors most of the day.

a lone male traveller standing on the edge of a lake watching the sunset

female lone hiker looking up at giant sequoia trees with filtered sunlight

What would be your advice for photographers looking to adopt a nomadic lifestyle?

The hardest part is the first step! If you’re really interested in this lifestyle, test it out. It’s quite easy to stay in the comfort zone of a stable 9-5 and let these desired adventures and photographic ideas go unfulfilled, but you never know until you try. Go away for a couple of weeks to shoot and explore, While you’re out there try to imagine what it would be like if it was for a month, a year, two years… There are a lot of ways to make a sustainable life work on the road, especially with the ease of travel, readily available internet and social media to promote your work anywhere in the world.

Where next?

After Joshua Tree, I’m popping back to the UK for a couple of weeks before heading into mainland Europe in my homemade campervan/studio. The first stop will be Switzerland, to shoot more adventure photography ideas with my mountain guide friend. I’ll then be heading further south into Italy, to the Dolomites, for more big landscapes!