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Capital Connections – (Ottawa, Canada)

Dustin Abbott

June 23rd, 2015

Canada’s capital city of Ottawa is relatively unknown around the world when compared to more prominent Canadian cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. Its relatively modest infrastructure makes it unlikely to be a destination for the Olympics or any such major international event in the near future, but a number of compelling reasons make it an excellent choice for photographers nonetheless.


Ottawa benefits from being the seat of government in Canada and thus has a disproportionate amount of rich architecture for its modest population of slightly under a million. Notable standouts in the downtown core are the block of buildings that make up Parliament, the Chateau Laurier, the Supreme Court building, the unique National Art Gallery building, and the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica highlights a number of notable churches.

Both the National Art Gallery and the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica across the street are very accommodating locations for photographers. At one point the Art Gallery only allowed you to pull out your camera in the public spaces, but they have relaxed that policy and you are now not allowed to shoot only in some very specific areas (generally in temporary collections where a lot of the work belongs to others).

The Art Gallery building itself is a fascinating place to shoot, with towering glass ceilings in several areas, public spaces with great lines and depth, some arcades and courtyards with beautiful, peaceful gardens and statues, and of course large gallery spaces in rich colors. The main hub of the building is all steel and glass and offers some stunning views across the river to Parliament.

The Notre Dame Cathedral is another amazing architectural study. It is very European with a tremendous amount of detail and an unbelievably beautiful ceiling of rich, royal blue studded with what looks like stars. It is the perfect color accent to the golden hues of the walls and you will get images whose colors will seem to sear the LCD screen on your camera.

Don’t forget to face the rear of the church and capture the amazing pipes from the organs in the beautiful light that comes in from the massive stained glass window there. Tripods are allowed, and so you have a chance to take your time and perfect your shots.

Finally, take a moment to get a little closer and capture some of the rich details, too.  Include a little storytelling to help complete your portfolio.

The various federal buildings and the neighboring Chateau Laurier are all delights to shoot from the exterior. The Parliament block in particular is great to shoot because of the opportunity to shoot it from a variety of very flattering angles.

There are walking trails all around the exterior, and don’t miss the opportunity to include water when shooting from either the top of the rise at the Samuel de Champlain monument near the National Art Gallery or from the Quebec side at the Museum of Civilization.

Parliament is beautiful in all seasons, and I really enjoyed catching it at blue hour on a recent trip. I also got some great images straight on when including the eternal flame monument. Be prepared to pretty much always have other people and some vehicles to contend with when you shoot there, however.

There are also a variety of monuments and other notable buildings that provide some great photography opportunities.

Natural Setting

Ottawa also benefits from a beautiful situation alongside the Ottawa River along with a number of other rivers that feed through the city (like the Rideau, for example). The downtown area, in particular, benefits from this great natural beauty, with many of the buildings in and around Parliament offering a great vantage point due to the elevated height along the escarpment they are built upon. The location of the Parliament buildings is particularly nice because there are a number of excellent vantage points from which to capture them across the water. That ongoing natural height extends up into the Rockcliffe Park neighborhood that is the wealthiest in the city and offers a number of great vantage points both back into Ottawa and across the river to Gatineau, Quebec.

I’ve shot weddings in the area and got a number of stunning images.

There is also an interesting (and easily accessible) waterfall at Hogs Back Park with some nice vantage points. I watched some hopeful fishermen there for a while, but never actually saw them catch anything. There are a number of other beautiful parks, walking trails, and green spaces in the city where you can get out and enjoy nature in all seasons.

Shooting Tips

You are going to want a wide angle lens in the National Art Gallery space. Because there are a lot of straight lines you are going to want one with a minimum of distortion. I wanted to travel light on my most recent visit, and I was really impressed with the great images I got from the Rokinon 12mm f/2 NCS mirrorless lens. It is my favorite mirrorless lens right now, and the fact that it goes to f/2 proves surprisingly useful.

Using a tripod and an ND filter (particularly a ND64 [6 stops] or heavier) is a great technique for eliminating the crowds at a place like Parliament. I eliminated hordes of tourists using that technique for this shot out in front. My Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC corrects very nicely in post to allow perfectly straight lines; the new Tamron 15-30 f/2.8 VC is even better!

Take the trail down between Parliament and the Chateau Laurier along the locks (Rideau Canal) and you find a walking trail down at the water level that runs along the back of the Parliament buildings and offers some great shooting angles toward the Pont Alexandra and also a great vantage point for shooting the rear of the Supreme Court building.

Here is a little taste of what you can find when you stroll that lovely path:

If you want some unique local flavor, try visiting the Byward Market or walking up Sparks Street. The cafes, outdoor markets, and ongoing festivals will usually give you some great subjects.

You can get some unique perspectives and framing options with a telephoto lens shooting from Parliament towards the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica. There are also some gorgeous vistas along Rockcliffe Driveway and Sussex Drive.


Any new city can be a little intimidating if you don’t know the “tricks” of where and when to shoot. Part of the adventure is learning those things. Often successive trips to a city produce even more photography fruit as you begin to learn the ins and outs. Hopefully this article can be a springboard to help you get out and capture some of the beauty of the Canadian Capital of Ottawa.

Gear Used:

Canon EOS 6D DSLR Camera (Body Only)
Canon EOS-M Mirrorless Digital Camera
Rokinon 12mm f/2 NCS lens
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Zoom Lens for Canon
Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD
EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens
Adobe Lightroom CC Software for Mac and Windows (Boxed Version)
Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud 1-Year Subscription
Alien Skin Exposure 7 (Use Code “dustinabbott” to get 10% anything and everything)

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