Film and Photography
Good-quality cameras are widely available around Panama, particularly Panama City. Don’t expect great deals, though—the equipment is probably at least as expensive as it is back home. Good places to shop for photo equipment in Panama City are the walking section of Avenida Central, along Vía España, and at the huge Panafoto store on Calle 50. The latter is also a good bet for photo processing for you nondigital types. It’s not worth shopping for photo equipment in the Colón Free Zone unless you’re in the market for a dozen cameras or so. Film is easy to come by; try any of the pharmacy chains, such as the omnipresent Farmacia Arrocha.
Disposable cameras are widely available, waterproof disposable cameras less so. Bring a disposable underwater camera or a waterproof case from home if you expect to spend much time snorkeling or diving; the photo possibilities can be spectacular.
Bring a couple of large, sturdy plastic bags to wrap the camera in to protect it from Panama’s sudden torrential downpours and sloshing from boat trips, as well as sand and salt near the ocean. The country’s heat and humidity are hard on cameras, film, and memory sticks; try to keep them in as cool a place as possible. Also, allow time for the camera to adjust from the air-conditioned indoors to the steamy outdoors.
The light is usually best in the early morning and late afternoon, but the sun rises and sets fast near the equator, so work quickly. The scenery can get washed out by the sun around midday.
Always ask permission before taking someone’s picture. Snapping away at a “colorful local” is a good way to offend someone’s dignity. Do not take photos of police or sensitive government installations. In a Kuna village, always ask first and expect to pay for the privilege of taking someone’s photo. The going rate is US$1 per subject.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition