Great Portrait Locations Around Montreal

Portrait locations: So where do we go to shoot?

Over the years, I’ve shot a lot of weddings.  I’ve also shot a lot of wedding portraits in so many different locations.  Some portrait locations come up again and again… and again (I’m looking at you, Old Montreal) and some are out-of-the-way places I’ve only been to once (but would like to go back to).  Many couples ask me where a good place is to do their portraits, so I’ve put together a brief summary of some of my favourite places to shoot.  These places aren’t just for weddings, obviously, but some of them work better for accessibility.  Let’s face it: when you’re wearing a big, poofy dress and have a busload of relatives following you around, accessibility matters!

This is a brief summary talking about the advantages and disadvantages of each location.  If you have any portrait locations that you think I should add to the list, let me know in the comments!

Old Montreal

You had to know this would be on the list, and would probably be the first one.  People love shooting portraits in Old Montreal because of the centuries-old architecture.  Some of it might be in a state of disrepair, but for portraits that can actually work to your advantage.  As a photographer, I can tell you that there are tons of great spots for portraits in this section of the city, and you’ll never see the same one twice.  Unless you’re a wedding photographer.  Then you’ll see those locations quite often.  It does get repetitive after a while.  Having said that, this is definitely the most popular of all portrait locations in Montreal.

Pros:

Great architecture you won’t find anywhere else in the city.  The old courthouse building next to City Hall great lighting on sunny days thanks to the white walls that provide ample fill lighting while you’re in the shade, but it’s not always the cleanest area (see cons, below).  It’s also the only part of the city where you don’t have to wait more than a few minutes to catch a horse ride, if you’re looking for that sort of thing.  Tired from your long ceremony and need a quick bite to eat?  Not a problem.  Ice cream is not that hard to find.  If the weather report said it was supposed to be sunny all day but it’s been raining for hours, then there’s the World Trade building nearby.  I’ll discuss this location soon as it’s also quite popular.

Cons:

If you think you’ll be the only one there, think again.  Old Montreal on weekends during the summer is a typical tourist area: completely packed.  Many of the large spaces (read: City Hall) have several wedding parties in them all taking portraits at the same time, so you might have to wait a bit for a good spot.  Accessibility can be an issue if your group is in multiple cars as it’s really difficult to find parking.  It’s not so bad with limos as the drivers usually just park next to City Hall and wait until you’re finished.  If you aren’t bringing a whole group of relatives with you, then it’s not such a problem.  Now about that courthouse area… it’s not always clean.  Pigeons tend to be quite fond of it, so the ground can be a bit of a mine field.  And that isn’t always the worst of it…

World Trade Building

The World Trade building on the western edge of Old Montreal is one of the most popular portrait locations for one simple reason: you can shoot there when it’s raining.  I like to refer to it as, “Wedding central, plan B”, because on rainy days it gets full of wedding parties looking to do portraits.  The location is fairly well-lit because of the skylight roof and has a quasi-outdoor feel to it.  Every photographer has at least one shot somewhere in their archives using the reflecting pool.  It also features nice stone stairways and even a section of the Berlin Wall.

Pros:

Great architecture, free to shoot indoors and lots of space.  What more do you need for a portrait shoot?  If the main area is too crowded or is reserved (they do rent it out for private use), there are other areas to use.

Cons:

Not exactly a well-kept secret.  It hasn’t been too crowded in recent years, but I do remember having to wait for a while to get a good spot the first time I went there.  Rest assured, if it’s raining then you won’t be the only people there looking to shoot portraits.  While the natural light is generally good, it’s not always that bright so higher ISO’s do tend to be used.  Off-camera flash is never a bad idea but while management has no problem with photography, they do require a permit if you want to bring in any extra lighting gear with you.

Parc de la Visitation

This park can be found on the northern shore of Montreal, a little east of Papineau.  The area that I generally use for portraits is the section with the ruin of the old mill.  The ruin itself is the most interesting backdrop for portraits, but there is also a café on site that has great stone walls.  There is also a small, modern bridge that overlooks the river and an interesting garden of sorts.

Pros:

The area offers a variety of backdrops, from the ruins of the mill to the café to the forest that makes up the bulk of the park.  I’ve never had a problem finding a spot to shoot at this portrait location.

Cons:

Parking can be (very) difficult as it’s usually busy on weekends.  Not as bad as Old Montreal, though.

wedding portrait locations parc de la visitation
infrared wedding portrait

Centre de la Nature

This nature park is one of the more well-known portrait locations, but the combination of its size and the fact that it’s not on the island of Montreal (it’s in Laval) mean that it never feels crowded, even when there are lots of people there.  The grounds are always kept in great shape and there are plenty of large, shaded areas for group photos.  There is also a pond with wood walkways and a gazebo.

Pros:

Parking isn’t an issue.  The location itself has a parking lot that isn’t free but also isn’t too expensive ($7, I think), and there is also street parking available.  The location is easy to find as it’s between St. Martin and de la Concorde, a bit west of Pie-IX.  If you want the look of the Botanical Gardens but don’t want to deal with  the entrance fees and the crowds, Centre de la Nature fits the bill.

Cons:

If you want to keep everything on the island of Montreal, then this location might be a bit out of the way for you.  Considering how much of Montreal is under construction over the summer, getting off the island and then back on might be a challenge if time is an issue. You might want to look at other portrait locations, such as the Botanical Gardens.

Bois Franc

This park is in Ville-St-Laurent, close to central Montreal but far enough that parking and crowds are easy to deal with.  It was one of those best-kept-secrets portrait locations when I first went there in 2006.  11 years later it’s become quite popular, but it’s rare that I’ve had to wait too long to use a spot for group portraits.  The area is in the middle of a newer townhouse development and is always kept in great shape.  It features a pond, a nice bridge, a small waterfall and a gazebo.  In short, plenty to work with.

Pros:

Being a suburban area, parking isn’t that difficult to find.  This is good if you’re traveling with a caravan of relatives.  It’s not too far from the highway, the west island or downtown Montreal, so it’s a good central location.

Cons:

There isn’t too much shade for large group photos, so you’ll have to get creative if you’re there at 3:00 in the afternoon on a cloudless day.

wedding portrait

Botanical Gardens

In all my years of shooting, for some reason I only did my first portrait session at the Botanical Gardens this summer.  It was an engagement session that went quite well.  It’s odd that I only just shot there this summer as it’s one of the more popular portrait locations in Montreal.  If y0u’re looking for wide-open spaces and lots of greenery in the eastern part of the city, this is where you’ll find it.

Pros:

Great landscaping is easy to find here.  It’s also clean and has parking lots.  If you have a large group it shouldn’t be too hard to find enough space.

Cons:

Depending on when you go, it can be quite busy.  There is ample parking, but it isn’t free.  Admission isn’t free either, and if you have a large group then the price can add up pretty quickly.

Westmount Lookout

This interesting area at the top of the hill in Westmount is a new one for me.  I’ve known about it for years but never thought of adding it to my list of portrait locations  until this year.  A couple suggested it for their engagement session as a last-minute alternative to the Botanical Gardens because they wanted to avoid the Tour-de-l’Ile crowds.  It worked out pretty well.  We didn’t wander around too much but we made good use of the areas we went to.  This location consists of a lookout overlooking the city (which was great on the clear day that we had) and a forested area that doubles as a nature trail and a bird sanctuary.

Pros:

Not very well known (we were there on a Sunday afternoon and didn’t feel crowded at all) so you won’t have to worry about waiting for people to move out of your background.  There is also free parking on the street.  The forest provides plenty of shade if you want to stay out of the sun.

Cons:

Not as easy to get to as some other locations.  You have to work your way up through Westmount side-streets until you get to Summit Circle.

infrared engagement portrait
wedding portrait

Stewart Hall

If you grew up on the West Island, then you may already be familiar with Stewart Hall.  It was a mansion on the lakeshore that was donated to the city of Pointe-Claire and is now used as a community centre.  It has lots of green space that’s free to use and a nice view of the water.  The house itself can be rented out for events so it’s a good location for a one-stop-shop wedding.

Pros:

Ample shade for group shots on sunny days and plenty of parking.  It can also serve as Plan B in case of rain if you are in the general area because the house has a covered patio.  It is generally not crowded and, if you want to avoid traveling downtown, is a great option.

Cons:

It can be a bit out of the way if you’re coming from downtown or further east.  While the building does make for a great spot to shoot when it’s raining, it isn’t free.  You can use the grounds all you like, but to use the patio or go inside the house (which is an option) you have to get a permit from the city.  The pricing varies depending on whether you’re a Pointe-Claire resident, but it’s over $100 for a 2-hour block no matter what.

2017-06-22T20:11:48+00:00

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