How Best To Photograph The Beautiful Angel Of Harbin

A wonderful sculpture of an angel and harp at the Harbin Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Art Expo in Harbin, China.

I photographed this heavenly delight, which I refer to as the Angel Of Harbin, at the Harbin Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Art Expo on the outskirts of the city of Harbin in far northeast China. I was there in January during the middle of the Chinese winter and, when you're that close to Siberia, that means c-o-l-d. 

Night time temperatures were down to -20 degrees Celsius when I found myself photographing the sister location of Ice World in the evening. My camera operated fine although, during the night time session, I was constantly wiping ice off it.

Fortunately, while the sun was up the temperatures were far more comfortable and, during my visit to Snow World, I was able to range far and wide, often under a blue sky.

The moon goddess statue photographed against the soon to set sun at the Harbin Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Art Expo in Harbin, China.

What You Can Expect To Photograph At Snow World

Snow World is a large outdoor complex filled with dozens of sculptures referencing buildings, historical figures and mythological characters. Once I paid my entrance fee I was pleased to be left alone to wander around, at my leisure. While there were plenty of attendants on site, I was left free to photograph completely unmolested. And for that I was very thankful.

As it was the middle of winter it was extremely cold in Harbin. Fortunately there was little wind and, when the sun came out, the world around me seem to light up with photo opportunities.

Most of the snow carved sculptures at both Snow World and Ice World are quite large. That means you'll end up looking and photographing with your camera tilted upwards when you stand close to a large sculpture.

While that can enhance the visual strength of the sculpture, as is the case with my image of the Angel Of Harbin at the very top of this post, it can also skew the orientation of vertical lines and, as a result, produce a somewhat unusual perspective. Sometimes that looks cool, other times not so much. It's dependent, of course, on the intentions of the photographer and the acceptance of that approach by the viewing audience.

Two Buddhist statues, illuminated by artificial light, make for a dramatic scene against a dark night sky at the Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin, China.

How To Ensure Vertical Lines Are Straight In Your Photos

There are two options to overcome that kind of skewed perspective. You can stand in close to the sculpture, which means there's less likely to be people getting in the way, and photograph with a wide angle lens. Just be sure that your composition includes lots of space around the sculpture which will be cropped out as the subject is straightened with an image processing application like Lightroom or Photoshop.

The alternative is to stand back and photograph with a telephoto focal length. As the camera to subject distance increases you find you don't need to tilt the camera as much to fit the top of the structure into your composition. As the camera tilt is decreased vertical lines photograph more realistically.

I'd say the telephoto option usually produces the most realistic result, while the wide angle option will often produce a more visually dynamic image.

You may not always have the range of lens focal lengths or the ability to photograph from a particular distance. However, with the knowledge that I've just imparted, you may have a better opportunity to make an image that you're happy with given the subject and lens in question and the distance from which you find yourself photographing. 

A bridge, covered in snow, takes visitors over a frozen river at the wonderful Snow World in Harbin, China.

What Makes For A Great Black And White

The dominance of shapes and textures within this particular structure made it an excellent candidate for rendering into black and white, particularly with the aid of side lighting.

Just look at how beautifully the side lighting brings out the shapes and textures within this image and, in the case of our Angel Of Harbin, adds drama to the image.

Artificial light illuminates ice sculptures at the spectacular Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin, China.

What Are The Best Applications For Processing Your Photos?

When it comes to image processing there are a number of ways to go about processing the file. Whether you are working on a RAW or JPEG file you can produce excellent results in applications such as Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW, which is a free plugin available to users of the Adobe Photoshop application.

My preference is Adobe Lightroom, mostly because of it's more pleasing and intuitive interface and also because of the amazing functionality of Lightroom's Library module which allows you to easily import, export, organise and locate your images.

There are now other, excellent alternatives to Lightroom, but it's the unsexy Library module, in conjunction with the relatively seamless way that I can move my images between Lightroom and Photoshop, and back again, that I feel is what most sets Lightroom apart from the competition.

A Brief Overview Of My Own Photo Processing Workflow

My own current workflow sees me locate the file in Lightroom, where white balance, noise reduction, lens corrections and basic transformations (e.g., image straightening and alignment) are applied; prior to bringing it into Photoshop for adjustments to brightness, contrast and color.

I often employ the Google (formerly Nik) Silver Efex Pro 2 plugin to convert the file to black and white while in Photoshop. Finally I sprinkle a bit of fairy dust to complete the process.

I teach Lightroom on a one-to-one basis. I believe it offers the vast majority of enthusiast level photographers with all they need to process large quantities of images quickly and efficiently.
— Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru

The fact that you can also employ Lightroom to easily organise, locate and share those files is a huge advantage when life is so busy.

Light from colored lanterns passes through blocks of ice at the spectacular Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin, China.

Kindness Is Something The Traveller Never Forgets

At one stage I managed to drop my new fleece gloves. I retraced my steps, as best I could, but was unable to find them. I reported the loss and, several hours later as I was leaving this major tourist attraction, a young attendant ran up to me and asked if I was the man who had lost his gloves.

They'd found my gloves and then went about finding me. What fantastic customer service and, more important, what a kind and generous act. You can't imagine how grateful I was, particularly given the torrid time I’d experience with taxi drivers in Harbin. I’ve never know the like. They’re even worse than those I’ve experienced in India.

But one kind act, such as what I experienced from the good people at Snow World, outweighed the significant difficulties I’d experienced with several of the cities low life taxi drivers. The world was, once again, brought into balance by a simple, yet heart-felt act of kindness.

With my visit to Ice World that night, and a three day trek across the top of spectacular Huangshan (i.e., Yellow Mountain) to follow, I new those gloves would be needed and I was very grateful to get them back again.

Simple acts of kindness are the kind of memories that last longest in the mind of many travellers. And I think that's a fact that tourist organizations and retailers all around the world should remember.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru