Canopy Family Panama

Especially for Photographers

Green Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher 1/200 sec at f / 4.0 ISO 400, 500mm

The Canopy Family understands that photographers have different needs than hard-core birders.  The common goal of many birders is to identify as many different species as possible, or spend their time searching for a few elusive species that our environment holds. Wildlife, nature, landscape and birding photographers strive to capture outstanding rainforest photography.  Most photographers prefer finding a single setting with perfect composition, waiting patiently for the correct lighting, rather than walking around with heavy camera equipment.

We also understand that even a carbon fiber tripod, when carrying an eight-pound 500 mm glass attached to a pro DSLR, would inevitably constrain the walking range of anyone.  How do we counter this issue? Well, instead of taking the photographer to the picture, we take the picture to the photographer. You only have to go outside to go on an amazing photography expeditions!

We are very excited to welcome all photographers. Our standard group sizes for tours are 8 participants per guide. We understand that the interests of birders and photographers vary greatly, and if you are a serious photographer, we highly recommend to request a private guide for photography expeditions.

Images from Canopy Tower/Canopy Lodge Photo Expeditions

Enjoy some images by Eloy Castroverde of Greenfield Images taken during one of our photography expeditions in 2011 led by Reinier Munguia.


The Canopy Tower

The Canopy Tower lounge and observation deck are ideal places to set your tripod and camera in comfort, while a variety of monkeys, sloths, iguanas and birds are close enough for great eye-level rainforest photography. Some of our photographers even decide to spend most of their time here -- and it’s no wonder why!  With wireless internet, an iMac to download pictures, cold refreshments at hand, couches, hammocks, your room just one floor down, and having wildlife this close and intimate -- all makes for an ideal photographic vacation!

1/250 sec at f /3.5, ISO 800, 14mm

On the ground floor we also have hummingbird feeders abuzz with activity.  Here you will get great shots of perching hummers and maybe even that one-in-a-million spot-on flight shot! 

At night the observation deck becomes a great place to take pictures of star trails.  Also, from the observation deck the sunrise with the surrounding forest dotted with patches of fog and clouds make for great rainforest photography.

The Bridge of the Americas and the skyscrapers of Panama City in the distance, also make wonderful photographic subjects.

A closer subject, the Centennial Bridge, with its modern form and lighting, makes for a great shot as well.

With all these tools at your disposal, you will be assured to get some amazing rainforest photography at the Canopy Tower!



The Canopy Lodge

Yellow Eyelash Viper
Eyelash Viper 1/200 sec at f /18, ISO 2500, 180mm

Just off the Canopy Lodge veranda we have a variety of feeders (hummingbird, grain and fruit feeders), only steps away from the guest rooms.  Upon request, the feeders can be camouflaged to make for a more natural setting for photography.  There are also plenty of flowers and fruit on the Lodge grounds, planted in such a way that the morning provides good natural lighting.  The plants also attract many species of birds and insects.  For a list of some of the species that visit our feeders, please see the FAQs below.

Insect light
We recently acquired an Ultraviolet light that we use upon request.  At night the UV light attracts large numbers of interesting insects for amazing rainforest photography opportunities.

Rain opportunities
Photographers know that the worst environmental conditions can produce outstanding photos.  Rain and lightning are great examples, albeit a more technical art form.  With nearby Cerro Gaital, a tropical rainforest national park, the rainy season’s thunderstorms and cloud formations are amazing to capture in pictures from the dry comfort of the Canopy Lodge veranda.


Red-eyed Treefrog
Red-eyed Treefrog 1/250 sec at f /10, ISO 1000, 180mm

Another great experience is to go out in the early hours of the night in search of amphibians, reptiles and spiders.  With a good flash or flashes, one is able to take great pictures of these rarely seen animals in their natural environment.  Interesting species are sometimes gathered and brought back to the Lodge, where the next morning they are placed in ideal lighting conditions and photographed (perfect for your macro lens!), then the creatures are returned back to where there were found.  Hummingbird feeders at night commonly turn into bat feeders, with Orange Nectar Bats making their nightly rounds.  With the help of flashes, you can capture the bats during feeding, for very unique photographs!

El Cerro La Cruz, overlooking the entire El Valle de Anton (Valley of Anton), is located just 15 min. from the Lodge. Photography expeditions here make for even more fantastic sunrise photography.

The Canopy Camp

Ruby-topaz Hummingbird Rafael Lau
Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, photo by Rafael Lau

The Canopy Camp is an ideal location for photographing the best of Darién’s birdlife.  Right outside your comfortable tent, a deck gives ample view for setting up a tripod and camera.  Surrounding each tent is lush tropical vegetation, ideal for luring in birds, butterflies and insects up close.  From your private deck, you have spectacular views of the adjacent forest and towering Cuipo trees. 

An open air lounge with hummingbird feeders and fruit feeders nearby is a great place to set up for photographing the wildlife at the Canopy Camp.  Tall trees near and far offer different distances and attract a wide variety of birds along with White-faced Capuchins and Geoffroy’s Tamarins.  With ample space for tripods and cameras, many of our guests would be happy spending their days without moving from this spot!

An open area with a dozen verbena bushes attracts several species of hummingbirds at the Canopy Camp along with other nectar-feeding birds and butterflies.  It is a great place to focus on hummingbird photography in a natural setting without the aid of feeders.  Benches and shady areas make this area a very comfortable place for extended photography sessions.

From the open area at the Camp, within minutes you can immerse yourself in mature secondary forest along “Nando’s Trail”.  With the right photography equipment for forest and low light conditions, this is an ideal place for capturing images of understory birds such as Black Antshrike, Golden-headed Manakin and Royal Flycatcher. 

In the Embera village of Nuevo Vigia, local artisans display colorful, hand-woven baskets, plates and masks, Cocobolo wood and Tagua Nut (vegetable ivory) carvings depicting the flora and fauna of the area, and brightly colored fabrics worn by the Embera women. Photography expeditions here offer charming photographic opportunities of the local culture of Darien. The men, women and children of this indigenous community also make wonderful photo subjects. 

Darién is a matrix of open and forested areas with winding rivers and cultural centers.  A diverse variety of habitats offers many photographic opportunities away from the Canopy Camp property.  Exploring the Chucunaque River by local “piragua” (dugout canoe) brings you up close with riverside species such as herons, kingfishers, raptors, parrots and much more. Our attentive guides will aid in leading photography expeditions, as well as finding and bringing in bird species to meet the goals of our guest photographers at all three Canopy Family lodges.

Embera baskets Panama
Embera woven baskets


Photography FAQs

How many hummingbird feeders are there, and what hummingbirds visit the feeders regularly?

At the Canopy Tower we have five hummingbird feeders. The hummers that come regularly are White-necked Jacobin, White-vented Plumeleteer, Long-billed Hermit and Blue-chested, Violet-bellied, Rufous-tailed and Snowy-bellied Hummingbirds.

At the Canopy Lodge we have four feeders around the lodge and two in the garden. We also have plenty of flowers and trees (Heliconias, Erythrinas and Verbenas) that attract hummers. Regular visitors to the feeders and the garden are Garden Emerald, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Purple-crowned Fairy, Long-billed Starthroat, Green Thorntail, Rufous-crested Coquette, Green, Stripe-throated, and Rufous-breasted Hermits, Green-crowned Brilliant and Rufous-tailed, Violet-headed and Violet-capped Hummingbirds. The Snowcap and the Brown Violet-ear are seen along a mountain trail about 45 minutes from the lodge.

What hummingbirds migrate attitudinally or disappear for certain periods during the year, either during the dry season or during the wet season?

There is some altitudinal migration at the Canopy Lodge. For example, the White-tailed Emerald is seen during the dry season (January  April). The coquette and the thorntail are best seen October - January.

What other feeders do you have and what species regularly visit?

We have 7 fruit feeders and one grain feeder at the Canopy Lodge, but none at the Canopy Tower because they attract White-nosed Coatis (a relative of the raccoon), which can become a nuisance. The fruit feeders attract several tanager species, including Blue-gray, Crimson-backed, Lemon-rumped, White-shouldered, Golden-hooded, and Dusky-faced. Other visitors include Thick-billed Euphonia, Rufous Motmot, Clay-colored Thrush, Whooping Motmot, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Collared Aracri, Striped and Buff-throated Saltator, Black-striped Sparrow, Tennessee Warbler, Red-legged Honeycreeper and even a Gray-necked Wood-Rail! The fruit feeders in EL Valle are very well attended indeed! We stocked them with bananas 4-5 times a day for the best rainforest photography opportunities.

The grain feeder attracts White-tipped Dove and Ruddy Ground-Doves.

Note: We have set up the feeders under trees so there are many natural perches around them. We also attach small branches to the feeders to create more perches.

What species can generally be expected during a morning at the Canopy Tower?

From the Observation Deck of the Tower, you can photograph some canopy specialties (these birds are almost impossible to see from the ground), like the Blue Cotinga and the Green Shrike-Vireo. Other favorites seen regularly include 3 toucan species (Keel-billed, Black-mandibled and Collared Aracari) along with trogons, tityras and puffbirds. Regular mammal visitors are Brown-throated Three-toed and Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloths and 2 monkey species (Mantled Howler and Geoffroy's Tamarin). Large Green Iguanas can be seen feeding on cecropia or basking in the sun.

What lens(es) should I bring?

That is easy: bring the longest lens that you have. However, since it can be pretty dark under the canopy in the forest the focal distance of the lens is not the only limiting factor, but the minimum aperture is also important. Everything less than 300 mm will be frustrating. A 300 mm f4 with a 1,4 TC could be a good start. A 300 mm f2.8 would be better For DSLR shooters the 160-600 mm or 200-500 from Sigma, Tamron and Nikon, respectively do a pretty good job. However, if you have a 500 or 600 mm f4, this is the lens to bring!

Having a macro lens at hand is a good idea. The lens should be at least a 105 mm. Even the most patient butterfly will be scared by the short distance you need for a true macro shot with a 40 mm macro lens! Although most tours focus on birds - unless you join our Panamas Brilliant Butterflies tour - most birders and the guides are interested in nature in general. The guides will point out interesting insects and give you the time to take a picture of it as well.

A lens for some scenic shots should also be taken with you. The morning view from the tower is spectacular and the rainforest itself offers plenty of fab photo opportunities.

Can I use a flash?

Generally, a flash is okay to use. But take some things into consideration: be aware that most flashes are not made to be combined with long telephoto lenses. There are special flash extenders to work with these larger distances (better beamer). However, to use these to perfection or at least satisfaction takes a lot of practice and time. Therefore, we would not recommend to use these for the first time while being out in the rainforest. A leaf partially covering a bird is never nice but with a flash this will turn into a terrible picture. And, of course, the flash might scare off some birds; if in a group, it is mandatory that everyone is thoughtful about not to disturb the birds!

Where can I charge the batteries?

All Canopy Family lodges have 110V outlets 24/7 (if you are not from the US, bring adaptors). However, there is no possibility to charge the batteries in the cars. It is always a good idea to have a second battery (or more for bridge camera owners) in your pocket. Make sure these are also stored in waterproof baggies or containers.

Tripod or Monopod or ?

A good tripod/head combination is probably the most stabile platform to shoot with long lenses. However, it is also the most inflexible way. It takes quite a while to set it up, it is heavy and when several people try to find the best spot focusing on a bird someone will bump into the tripod! If the bird moves just a bit one has to reposition the whole setup. Shooting a long telephoto lens handheld is also not for everyone, therefore a stabile monopod with a ballhead is the best compromise to bring for the excursions. Just make sure that both the ballhead and the monopod are made for the weight of your lens/camera combo. That being said, a tripod is nice while you wait at the feeder. So if luggage allows why dont bring both

What else should I bring?

Rain gear is a must for the camera! It is called RAINforest for a reason and even during the dry season there is always a chance for a brief thunderstorm. We would recommend a cover from Lenscoat. While not as cheap as a plastic bag, those covers are definitely waterproof. And since there is a dedicated cover for every lens/camera, the camera can still be used while the cover is attached, hence the camera is protected. Take a small towel along to wipe of water drops from the front lens; you will need it any way for the binoculars. In general we would recommend to invest in a lens coat. Its not so much about the camouflage, but a lens coat protects your equipment from scratches and bumps while climbing in and out of the car and handling your equipment.

Knee pads: While a lot of birds are up in the trees, some of the most sought after birds (such as the Rufous-vented ground cuckoo!) will be found on the ground. To get a good shot you would need to get down on your knees, or even have to lay flat down on the ground! 

Memory cards: Off course bring plenty. It is very difficult or next to impossible to buy another card while staying at one of the lodges, therefore dont be cheap when it comes to memory cards. 

Do not forget to bring a pair of good binoculars! Yes, it means to carry even more, but even the best lens/camera combination cannot replace a quick look through the binocular to scan for a bird and sometimes it is just not possible to take a decent picture but observing the bird with a binocular is still a great way to enjoy the experience.

Unidentified Frog Eggs 1/160 f /10, ISO 640, 105mm

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