Panama City: Freeway of Lights and Stars

This is the second skyline photo of Panama City I have published now. I have a dozen or so images that are all favourites of mine. Honestly, I had been itching to photograph a skyline for quite sometime. Throughout Latin America there are few skylines that work well for photographs. One exception may be the skyline of Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires. All other major cities just aren’t set up this way. Panama City’s skyline, in my opinion, is the best for skyline photography in Latin America. The main downtown core features a long line of skyscrapers that roll along the coast. To make things easy, the highway out of town curves in a way to give viewers and photographers alike a great vantage point. I shot a couple images from the typical spots, but chose not to pigeon hole my creativity. Thus, I ran across the busy highway with tripod in hand and tried to capture the skyline as well as the busy highway. I then begin to walk home where I came across the second photo by chance.  I love the way they turned out.

Panama City

Panama City

Panama City Skyline

Panama City Skyline

How I got this shot

To the naked eye the sky looked black by the time I shot this photo, but the lights of the city along with the tiny bit of light left from the day, were prevalent enough that the camera could see what I couldn’t. I took a quick test shot with an aperture of 5.6 only to see that the street lights looked like blobs of light. That might frustrate many, but I knew that if I narrowed the aperture I would get a skyline featured by stars, not in the sky but along the highway. There are more than a dozen stars in this shot. What I couldn’t plan, however, was how the light trails would look like a trail of fire. That was just chance thanks to the variety of car lights that passed during the length of the exposure.

The second photo was set up by sheer chance and good luck.  I was crossing the foot bridge over the freeway on my way home at the end of the shoot when I saw a police car turning into the road.  I wondered how it would look to have the flashing blue and reds as a light trail.  I tossed my tripod up as quick as I could and set the long exposure.  It came out really cool.

The data:

Photo 1 – Focal length = 36mm, Aperture = f/11, Exposure time = 30seconds, ISO = 100
Photo 2 – Focal length = 18mm, Aperture = f/16, Exposure time = 30seconds, ISO = 100

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Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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  1. These photos are fantastic, they have such a great sense of movement. I love the starburst from the street lights.

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    • Thank you Alouise!

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  2. Great photos! I love nighttime shots with light trails.

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    • Thanks Audrey… I was lucky to have a great subject.

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  3. Inspired by your earlier Panama skyline night shot, I was out taking photos like these the other night. Got one much like your first shot here. Love the red/orange glow on the road. 🙂

    Was trying to time it with the brightness of the giant TV screen so it wouldn’t be completely blown out. Hard to do!

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    • @Matt – That TV screen was the bane of my existance. I tried to catch it when it turned red because that was the softest… but it always seemed to flip bright white as soon as I hit the shutter.

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