How to pack for a photography trip to the Oregon coast

Figuring out what to pack for any photography trip is tough. But it’s an especially interesting task when you’re visiting a location with variable weather and an abundance of natural diversity, like the Oregon Coast.

So many questions pop up, such as which lenses will you want, should you bother with rain covers, what about rain boots, and on and on.  It’s easy to overpack, loading up on all the “maybe, what if” pieces of specialty gear, only to discover that you don’t use the majority of items you bring (and wish you brought certain accessories).

However, streamlining your packing list is simple when you consider three important questions:

  1. How much time are you truly dedicating to photography while you’re visiting?
  2. What type of photography are you most passionate about (wildlife, landscapes, macro, travel…)?
  3. How variable is the weather in the month you’re visiting?

Delving into these questions, we’ll look at how to decide what to pack for photography gear, clothing and extras. 

How much you’ll be shooting

Figuring out a packing list is made all the easier when you consider how much time you’ll really be dedicating to photography on your trip. 

If your trip is built primarily around a family vacation, and photography is a bonus, then it’s smart to streamline your camera bag. The odds are that you’ll only use one or maybe two lenses the entire trip, and those specialty lenses, filters, and whatnots won’t get touched. Fight the “but maybe, what if”s that pop up while packing. Keeping things simple minimizes the hassle of finding space, minimizes the stress of having additional valuables with you, and minimizes the guilt of not using all these cool things you brought with you. 

On the other hand, if your trip is built entirely around photography, then feel no hesitation nor guilt about packing extras. Your trip is all about your craft so you want to be prepared. You may never use some (or many) of the items, but it’s important that you have them should an opportunity arise and you want them. Just consider how you plan to store things, and if it means leaving valuables in the car while shooting. 

If you’re going gung-ho with gear, consider buying insurance for it. Add your gear to your homeowner’s insurance policy, or buy a travel insurance policy that will cover valuables. It’s worth it if the worst happens. 

What type of photography you’re focused on

Another important question for making a packing list is knowing what kind of shooting you plan on doing. The desire to bring all of the things can be toned down if you know you’re mainly going to focus on travel photography, landscapes, wildlife or something else. And, by being clear on the type of photography you most want to do during your trip, you can bring the right (and only the right) accessories.

For instance, if you know landscapes are your main priority, then it makes sense to bring those extra neutral density filters and polarizing filters. If you know wildlife is the primary aim, then making room for the big tripod and extra teleconverters makes sense, and you know you can leave behind your plethora of landscape filters. 

Being prepared for any and all types of photography is nice, but not always practical when traveling. So, consider where your head and heart are really at when it comes to photographing from the road, and make your packing list with that in mind. 

That said, two pieces of equipment that many people question packing, yet are always worth bringing for any type of photography adventure, are:

  • a tripod or monopod for extra stability when you need it (and you often need it)
  • a knee pad for kneeling (because low-angle shots are worth it, so be comfortable getting them)

Factor in the weather

The weather on the Oregon coast is variable, which actually makes it easy to forecast: Plan for rain. 

You don’t have to invest a bunch of money in top quality rain gear. Especially if you’re visiting in the summer. Rather, loop back to the questions above and consider how much shooting you’ll really be doing in rain during your trip.

If you’re not that interested in standing in a downpour, then minimal preparation is all you need. There are plastic camera covers you can buy for $5-8 that work wonderfully. (I always keep a stash of these with me for tour guests, just in case.) I also suggest swiping the free shower caps provided in your hotel bathrooms and storing them in your camera bag. They make excellent camera covers in a pinch. 

However, if you’re determined to get certain images no matter the weather, it’s a good idea to invest in a quality waterproof canvas cover for you camera, such as those made by LensCoat. They’ll keep your gear dry for hours in mist or rain. 

Two other considerations are humidity and wind. To combat humidity, pack silica packets in your camera bag to help keep your gear nice and dry when not in use. And when the wind picks up, especially when it’s coming from off the ocean, pack lens leaner and cloths to clean your gear each night, removing the thin layer of salt that is carried by the breeze and builds up on your camera. 

The ideal all-purpose photography kit list

Everyone’s kit is going to look different based on a huge range of factors. But if you’re craving a streamlined camera bag with just the essentials, providing you with everything you need yet not an absurdly huge camera bag, here is what I recommend: 

  • 1 camera body
  • 1 wide-angle zoom such as 16-35mm or 24-70mm
  • 1 telephoto zoom such as 70-300mm or 100-400mm
  • 1 extra lens for your favorite photography (a macro, a telephoto, a super wide….)
  • 2 batteries and a charger
  • 3-5 freshly reformatted memory cards
  • 1 card reader and portable external hard drive for backing up images
  • 1 tripod
  • 2-3 microfiber cloths and cleaner

That’s it! You can accomplish pretty much any shot during your travels with just this kit and some creative thinking. Yes, there’s a ton of other stuff you could bring… triggers and filters and flashes, oh my! But as you pack for your adventure, keep asking this question:

How often do I use this piece of gear on a normal basis?

If the answer is “not often” then you probably won’t use it at all during your trip, so don’t let it take up room. Streamline your bag, and you’ll stay present to the awesome experience you’re having, rather than getting distracted by gizmos. 

A word on clothing

Because the weather shifts quite a bit on the coast, it’s best to pack clothes that allow you to layer. And no matter what the season, bring a waterproof shell and pants. Not only will this be great if it does indeed rain, but if the wind kicks up, a rain coat and rain pants work wonderfully to keep you warm while exploring the coastline. 

My own go-to outfit for photography work during any season on the Oregon coat includes: 

  • Light shirt
  • Thick cotton or wool long-sleeve shirt
  • Rubber rain coat
  • Jeans or canvas pants
  • Rain pants or waterproof canvas overalls
  • Wool socks (with a spare pair in my camera bag. Cotton, rather than wool, in summer)
  • Waterproof hiking boots
  • Rubber boots
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen

In winter I also wear a wool sweater, wool hat and wool fingerless gloves. Lots of wool. Wool is wonderful. I often wear Carhartt overalls, which have built-in pockets in the knees for knee pads. I coat them with Nikwax so they’re water resistant. I have a regular pair for summer weather, and an insulated pair for winter weather. 

I always bring rain gear and rubber boots with me even if it is sunny out because I never know when I’ll want to lay in wet sand or wade into water to get a shot. Having that gear handy protects my clothes (or my camera gear!) while I shoot in unexpected conditions. And as I mentioned before, they’re great for extra warmth when the wind picks up. Great brands for outer wear are Grundens for excellent rain coat and pants, and Xtra Tuff for lightweight but hardy rubber boots. 

The take-away is: Wear layers. Plenty of them. Expect sun. Be ready for rain. 

Ready to book your adventure now?