Through a photographer’s eyes: looking at Ottawa from a different angle

Justin Van Leeuwen is an Ottawa-based event and portrait photographer who, in his spare time, takes pictures without people in them. Many of the images seen in his LTOttawa posts can be purchased as limited edition canvas prints through his website.

Ottawa photographer Justin Van Leeuwen

Ottawa is a lovely city.

If you live here, you might not be appreciating all of the wonderful sights there are, simply because you are used to them. We may not have the appeal of the “BIG” Canadian cities: Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal (the former of which I lived in most of my life), or the exotic feel of a foreign land… but remember: more than seven million tourists come to our city every year.

They’re obviously seeing something – so what are we, as locals, missing?

This is our nation’s capital, and there are many unique opportunities, locations, and events every week, thanks to bodies like the National Capital Commission whose “job, simply put, is to plan, develop and use these properties as a source of pride and unity for Canadians.

Do you know what this means? It means the city is clean, it has monuments, museums, art galleries (all with great architecture), and more than 60 festivals throughout the year, winter, spring, summer and fall. Those are, of course, the obvious examples. But as an outsider looking in, I can appreciate how “normal” or boring your every-day city looks.

But think about it; what is it that almost every tourist, but few locals, marvel at the minute they pass by: our parliament buildings. They are simply STUNNING!


Parliament Hill (

And that stagnant body of water running right beside it. You’ve seen it a thousand times right? Let’s revisit this…the Rideau Canal is something not just unique to Ottawa but to the history of Canada, and honestly, it’s not like it’s Toronto’s Don River.

It’s a lot of fun to photograph under the right light:

The Rideau Canal (

And is even more dynamic during Winterlude:

The Rideau Canal (

From there we can travel down to the ByWard Market, which maintains a local, home-grown feel about the vendors within the area – and doubles as a great spot for people watching (if you’re into that sort of thing).

The ByWard Market (

Jumping back onto tourist attractions, there is always the recently renovated Museum of Nature. My boys, ages three and one, absolutely marveled at it’s offerings.

Of course, while they were fixated on the dinosaur bones, I took in the lovely glass-lantern tower which, despite it’s apparent simplicity, seemed to present more photographic opportunities than I could work out of it in a single day.

The Museum of Nature (

After moving here three years ago, I took it upon myself to thoroughly explore my new home, on foot, so that I could immerse myself in some of the things that would too quickly become commonplace to me. It took me a long time to actually see the O-Train, despite crossing over it’s bridges twice daily, and even longer to photograph it.

OC Transpo's O-Train (

Further North of the O-Train tracks (no longer connected, but part of the same line) lays the Alexandria Bridge. While there are “no trespassing” signs, and I have heard tales of fines being issued for a careless few, this bridge is explored, traversed, and photographed often. You can quickly cross it and go all the way to Quebec and back – my favourite view of it and the Ottawa River, comes at sunset (protip: most of your good light for photographs will come at the extremes of the day, so make a habit of taking a walk just a few hours before sunset).

The Alexandria Bridge (

I should mention, I didn’t “see” the images I’ve shown here the first time I stumbled upon a location. But I did note them for their potential to photograph, either alone or as a backdrop to one of my portraits, just under different circumstances. Even after living here for three years, there are places I pass by every day –  places many people I know have passed by even more.

If you just take the time to look at things differently, from a different angle, you might see Ottawa in a way nobody else has before.

The Glebe (

The Elmdale Tavern (

World of Maps (

I encourage you to explore your neighbourhood, your block, your city.

Do it with your family and friends, or go alone – just get out and spend some time actually seeing, opening your eyes, and observing this wonderful city we live in.

It will surprise you.

Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful photography in such a thoughtful post. We hope to see more of you soon!

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