All Smiles

One San Diego couple’s relationship blossomed alongside their accidental business — a traveling photo booth in a custom-built 1966 VW Microbus.

Under the family’s Southern California carport, Scout DeCamp and her brother Jake spent hours and hours watching and helping their dad Pete restore vintage Volkswagen models. He’d restore them, and Scout and Jake’s friends would admire and brainstorm: What could you do with a VW? Then one day a thought occurred to Scout and Jake’s friend, Nick Margiotta: A photo booth! Inside a VW Microbus!

The idea was the perfect mix of the VW campervan-loving culture of Southern California and the retro-cool aesthetic pervasive at parties and events. And that brainstorm session was also the genesis of Scout and Nick’s burgeoning relationship. Three years later, after many dates and much used-VW searching, the couple cemented their relationship by getting married and embellishing a Pete-restored 1966 Riviera split-window camper. Newly christened as The Photo Bus, the van (actually now two vans) is now the couple’s full-time business, spreading smiles around Southern California as only a VW can do.

Since Forever
Back in high school, Nick’s best friend, Jake, drove one of his dad’s projects, an army green vintage VW Vanagon. The two spent summers tooling around, surfboards in the back of the VW, going to concerts and camping at the beach. Sometimes, Scout came, too. (Neither of them dreamed they’d eventually marry!) “It’s funny, through our whole relationship, VW buses have always been there,” Nick says.

Booth-Building Basics
Two rules the couple decided on when incorporating the photo booth: No drilling holes or otherwise harming the bus’s original custom beauty, and everything must tie in to the vintage-camper theme. Nick constructed a huge, removable “Photo Booth” marquee to attach to the rack, then built the screen into vintage suitcases and wired it to old arcade buttons. An artist friend hand-painted instructions in retro lettering, and they hid the printer in the icebox. It all takes up one of the bus’s facing benches; the other is a picture-perfect booth seat.

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Accidental Success
“We didn’t have a game plan. We were just like, ‘Let’s build out a bus and see what happens,’” Nick says. After guests gushed about their creation at a few parties, the two figured they’d buy space at a wedding show to see if their fun project held business potential. Parked on green turf in front of a rustic wood backdrop, the old blue van stuck out like a sore thumb amid the clean white booths hawking wedding standards like stationery and linens. But as soon as the doors opened that morning, The Photo Bus was mobbed. “There was a hoard of people asking for photos, hopping in and out,” he says. “We booked so much from just that one show and the word-of-mouth those bookings created that we haven’t paid for advertising since.”

Spreading the Love
With business booming, the couple has added two buses (tracked down and revived by papa Pete) but resisted adding employees in order to retain the character and personalized service that makes them unique. Nick and Scout personally attend each event; about 60 percent are weddings, another 40 percent private parties and corporate events. They love hearing the memories their bus sparks: about the VW someone drove in high school, or took across the country, or grew up with. And Nick and Scout are sharing a piece of Southern California culture. “People see it and say, ‘Of course! We’re in San Diego! So California,’” Nick says.

Still Rollin’
Though the photo booth looks permanent, it can easily slide out and be secured to allow the old split-window ’66 VW Riviera to fulfill its original purpose.1 The stars were aligned the last time Nick and Scout took it camping. Their favorite (but popular) campground in nearby Cardiff had a site open just a short walk from the beach. Parked one site over was a couple from Georgia cross-country road-tripping in their VW Syncro 4X Vanagon with solar panels on the roof. “It was so rad,” Nick says. “They hadn’t seen a splitty [Volkswagen Type 2] in California yet, so they were amped to see one still being used as a camper.”