Local photographer captures Canada’s capital from high on the rooftops

Max Szyc | Fulcrum Staff

Photo by Adam Feibel

In a world where 3 billion photos are available in a three-second Google search, Ottawa’s Dan Neutel is hoping that his latest photography project will stand out.

Project Rooftop is available as an interactive portion of his website; it enables users to see panoramic views from dozens of rooftops in Ottawa. The pictures were shot from April to September of last year and include a view from the top of the University of Ottawa’s Thompson residence.

The response to Project Rooftop has been incredibly positive so far: It’s been applauded by architects and Neutel has appeared on CKCU, CKDJ, and CBC Radio to promote it.

“I put it up on Monday and my website crashed on Tuesday,” Neutel says. “It’s really kind of taking off.”

Photo provided by Dan Neutel

Neutel graduated from Carleton University in 1999 with a degree in history. Afterward, he was turned down for a master’s program in 19th century German history.

“I had saved up all this money for the master’s program, so I decided to travel abroad for a while,” he says.

After two years of travelling and working abroad—which included a brief stint fixing mountain bikes in Bolivia—Neutel ended up settling down in Japan, where he spent seven years working as an English teacher. During this period, Neutel’s passion for photography began to develop and ultimately turned into an obsession.

“I got a camera and took pictures, and when I developed them as I was going along I realized they weren’t showing people what I saw,” says Neutel. “They were really flat, and when I showed people pictures of things like the Himalayas, they were like, ‘Oh, that’s nice,’ but they were really these enormous, beautiful mountains.”

He began to read books about photography and did everything he could to improve his skills. As an avid skier and climber, he learned how to take panoramic shots of the mountains in Japan.

Neutel decided to return to Ottawa in 2010 and attended Algonquin College to study journalism. His interest in panoramic footage intensified, and he conceived the idea to replace the mountains of Japan with the tallest things that Ottawa has: its buildings.

Getting onto the buildings was far from an easy task. Neutel initially received only three responses for his project: The Westin Hotel, the Canadian Museum of Nature, and an office building at 66 Slater St.

“If I had gotten fewer responses, I probably would have quit. But because I had these three killer views, I kept going,” he says.

Getting on top of Thompson residence was easier. Neutel emailed U of O president Allan Rock directly and was quickly contacted by maintenance officials who were enthusiastic about the project.

Once he had completed shooting on a few rooftops, he was able to show his finished work to property managers at other buildings to demonstrate exactly what he wanted to do. By the time he wrapped shooting, he had taken panoramic shots from 32 buildings.

Once on a rooftop, Neutel set up his camera on a tripod and took a picture every 10 degrees. Afterward, he took the best pictures and stitched them together in Photoshop and finally uploaded them online.

Neutel ultimately hopes to work full time as a travel journalist abroad. He is already working on his next project, which he hopes to have completed and uploaded to his website within the next few months. With every project, he tries to do something original to stand out in a competitive market.

“Photographers are dime a dozen,” he says. “The world doesn’t need more photographers. So I have to stand out and do something unique.”