Nature Photography in Ottawa - Canada's National Capital

by Stephen J. Stephen
January 1, 2011



Bullfrog by Stephen J. Stephen ©

Bullfrog - Canon 40D & Sigma 50-500 mm F4.5-6.3

When many Canadians think of Ottawa they imagine Parliament Hill, politicians and perhaps museums.  While all of these things can certainly be found here, there is another side of Ottawa that fewer people, other than residents, know about.  Many species of birds, large and small mammals, reptiles, insects and plants abound here and depending on the location and season you could, if you put your mind to it, photograph most if not all of these in one day.

Monarch Butterfly on Goldenrod by Stephen J. Stephen ©

Monarch Butterfly on Goldenrod - Canon Rebel XT & Sigma 105 mm F 2.8 Macro.

All year round the flora and fauna found around Ottawa is a photographer's delight.  Spring and fall migrations along the Ottawa River, are great times for spotting waterfowl and shorebirds.  Summer affords the photographer access to a multitude of songbirds, insects, reptiles, amphibians and many beautiful flowering plants.  In the autumn the forests are resplendent with fall colours and October and November is the rutting season for the region's numerous white-tail deer.  While the number of birds species decreases in winter that season brings its own special subjects including a wide variety boreal bird species such as Grosbeaks, Bohemian Waxwings, Redpolls etc., 'winter' owls like Snowys and Great Grays as well as hawks to Ottawa's fields and farmlands.

Virginia Ctenucha moth by Stephen J. Stephen ©

Virginia ctenucha moth laying an egg - Canon Rebel XT & Sigma 105 mm F 2.8 Macro

I had done some film photography around the Ottawa up until the spring of 2005 when I received my first digital camera, a Canon Rebel XT.  Since then I've spent a great deal of my free time discovering and photographing nature in and around the nation's capital.  Early on, after going digital, I met some great local birders and photographers who have since become my close friends.  I have learned a lot from them all.  We share the same passion for the beauty around us and we enjoy going out together to witness the natural beauty that the Ottawa area has to offer.  More frequently I venture out alone just to enjoy the views, the wildlife and the solitude.

Northern Hawk Owl and Snowshoe Hare by Stephen J. Stephen ©

Northern Hawk Owl - Canon 40D & Sigma 50-500 mm F4.5-6.3 and Snowshoe Hare portrait - Canon
Rebel XT & Sigma 50-500 mm F4.5-6.3

In the past 5 years, the number of nature photographers appears to have increased almost exponentially in Ottawa.  It White tail buck by Stephen J. Stephen ©seems that more and more people have purchased photographic equipment and enjoy getting out to take nature photos.  This rapid growth in interest and activity has increased human traffic along many of the trails with the potential to put some added pressure on the wild areas around us.  However, like the birders that arrived before them, most of the photographers I know recognise the need to put the welfare of our subjects first and the importance of getting “the shot” last. 

As a trained biologist I've learned that it's important to invest time in carefully observing my subjects.  The more I understand about them, and their behaviour, the better prepared I will be to minimise any potential negative impacts caused by my presence.  I often use a portable blind, my vehicle or wait concealed, in the foliage around me, for long periods of time for animals and birds to come to me.  Slow, quiet movements and patience has often rewarded me me with memorable photos.

Snapping Turtle by Stephen J. Stephen ©

Snapping Turtle - Canon 40D & Sigma 70-200 mm F2.8

Ottawa contains vast amounts of green space which can offer the nature photographer wonderful subject matter all year round.  This space includes large areas of farmland, the shores of the Ottawa and Rideau Rivers and of course the “Greenbelt”, a crescent of approximately 205 square kilometres within the city whose land use is strictly controlled.  About 150 square kilometres of the Greenbelt is managed by the National Capital Commission (NCC). 

Fall colours maple canopy by Stephen J. Stephen ©

Fall Colours (Maple Canopy) - Canon 40D & 18-55 mm F 5.6 Kit lens

The NCC portions of the Greenbelt contain many jewels such as the the west end's Stony Swamp with approximately 2000 hectares of woodland, marsh and trails (Jack Pine, Old Quarry, Chipmunk and Beaver) and the east end's Mer Bleue bog which is nearly 3500 hectares in size.  Add to that list, the habitats found on and beside Ottawa's rivers, lakes, ponds, city parks, the Mud Lake/Britannia Conservation Area and the Fletcher Wildlife Garden on Agriculture Canada's Central Experimental Farm and you have many choices for where to bring your camera.  There are, of course, numerous other great photography locations nearby including Gatineau Park, another NCC property, located about 10 minutes from Parliament Hill on the Quebec side of the river but, you don't have to leave Ottawa to find a myriad of subjects for your camera.

White Trilliums by Stephen J. Stephen ©

White Trilliums - Canon 40D & 18-55 mm F 5.6 Kit lens

In Ottawa we are blessed with an abundance of natural treasures.  Showing concern for the wildlife, fellow photographers, birders and others enjoying the outdoors will allow everyone an opportunity to share in its wonders.  I feel fortunate so far to have been able to capture some of it's beauty in my images. 

Stephen J. Stephen by Jim Cumming ©


Stephen J Stephen is a serious amateur photographer living and working in Ottawa, Ontario.  Stephen shoots with the Canon 40D and Rebel XT and Sigma EX APO Pro series lenses, primarily the 50-500mm “Sigma”.
Photo of Stephen by Jim Cumming.

Stephen J Stephen

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