Photography at Minus 30 Degrees Celsius

Visitors to the Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival are dwarfed by the size of some of the larger ice sculptures, lit by neon light, at night.

China is a long way to travel for the average western tourist. And once you’re there the distances between major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Guilin and Xian are significant. And even then you’ve only barely scratched the surface of what China has to offer. From densely crowded, modern cities to historic villages and magnificent scenery, China has it all.

Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is probably not on the radar for most western tourists, whether solo travelers or group tourists. The city is a long way north of Beijing and close to the Siberian and North Korean borders. It’s very hot in summer and freezing cold in winter. Yet the city has a population of 8 million people and, given that it was once part of Russia, is dominated by European architecture.

The middle of the Chinese winter is not the time most westerners would choose to come to China. But that’s the best time to visit Harbin and revel in the fun and Disney-like beauty of the Harbin Ice Festival. It’s a huge venue that can be visited day or night.

A pre sunset visit to the Harbin Ice Festival would provide the enthusiastic photographer with great opportunities to photograph with the aid of warm, low sunlight illuminating the ice sculptures. I visited during the evening and, with temperatures down to -30 Celsius, it was an amazing experience.

At one stage it was so cold I had to wear a balaclava to overcome the stinging dryness in my face. But once I got going I had an absolute ball photographing all manner of man-made ice sculptures, some representing famous buildings throughout the world, for almost 3 hours.

Concerned about battery life I wrapped a fleece beanie around my camera to help keep it warm. Even then I found I was constantly wiping ice off my camera’s rear LCD screen, the liquid inside which is prone to freezing. This is certainly something to watch, though I’ve been told that even if your camera’s LCD does stop working, under such conditions, it should come back to life when it warms up again. I know the feeling.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru