Searching for photographic records
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds more than 30 million photographs in its collections. These represent a visual history of Canada from the early 1840s to the present day. They are available in their original format, including prints, negatives and slides. Some are available as digital reproductions for consultation online.
On this page
Before you start
Gather available information such as:
- photographer or studio
- date or date range
- region or location
- cultural community or group
- name(s) of individuals or an organization
Places to look
- Go to Collection Search and click on Advanced Search.
- From the Search In drop-down menu, select Archives.
- Enter keywords, Item ID number and/or dates in the search boxes provided.
- Click the Search button.
- Using the left-hand filters under Type of material, select Photographs.
This search will point to descriptions for both digitized and non-digitized images from across the collections.
There are also published collections of photos. Search the library catalogue, Aurora, to find these publications.
To search, use keywords like:
- name of photographer
- name of photography journals
- name of calendars
Or use a subject search term with the addition of “photos” or “photographs.”
- Start specific, then widen your search to more general terms as needed; for example, “Titanic” can be broadened to “passenger ship” or “disaster.”
If you are searching for a photo that you have seen in a book, a museum or online, look for its reference number. It can be in the form of an Item ID number (MIKAN) or copy negative (which starts with an “e,” “a,”, “c”, “C” or “PA”).
- Since not every photograph will have an item-level description or digital copy available, you may also discover records of interest with the help of finding aids (for example: FA-###), box lists or other inventories. If available, references or links to these lists are often located at the fonds/collection level.
- Descriptions can have missing or inaccurate information, or contain historical names or outdated terms. In these cases, you may try using outdated terms if current names do not produce results. If you still do not find what you are looking for, try using related words or alternative spellings.
Access the records
Digital images are attached to some descriptions in Collection Search. Due to preservation concerns, when digital reproductions are available, researchers are encouraged to consult these first.
Records that are not digitized
For the photos that are not digitized, you will need to make a request to see them in person, order copies or hire a researcher.
- Photographic records must be consulted in the specialized media room at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa.
- Items with supervised consultation (for example, material requiring handling expertise, such as glass plate negatives) must be viewed at the Preservation Centre in Gatineau, Quebec.
- LAC requires a minimum of 10 working days to allow for retrieval of material. Colour photography and nitrate negatives require a longer retrieval time.
To order material, include these details from the database entry description when completing the copy or retrieval form for non-digitized items:
- Collection or fonds name
- Photographer or studio
- Item ID number (MIKAN)
- Copy number (which starts with an “e,” “a,” “c,” “C-” or “PA”)
- Album name
- Page number