Frozen… at the Harbin Ice and Snow festival
Imagine if you will, being given an assignment that required you to sit in your freezer for 3 days. Then, imagine multiplying that temperature by three, and you might have some idea of what it was like to photograph the 27th Harbin International Ice and Snow festival in January.
Don’t get me wrong, it was fun… looking back on it… but when you are dealing with minus 34 degree temperatures, it’s not always pleasant. Heat packs, for example, only feel warm once you are back inside the hotel. Useful… NOT! So then you try wearing lots of clothes. But try walking around on ice covered footpaths and roads, and then attempting to squat to get that slightly better angle (of perhaps a crazy man fishing while sitting in the middle of a frozen lake with the wind howling and taking the temperature to minus 40) all while impersonating the Michelin Man.
But most crazy of all is attempting to take pictures with your eyelashes sticking together (so that you can’t see) while at the same time, your beard is forming icicles on your face mask so that it gets so tight on your mouth that you can’t breathe. FUN… did I say that already?
However, the biggest problem you face with such conditions is equipment failure. The batteries that normally last 2 or 3 days in my Canon 5D Mark II were getting very slow around the 25 minute mark. Changing shutter speeds and ISO was becoming scary, as I knew the slower it took the camera to change settings, the sooner I would have no power left.
The most amazing thing I discovered was that simply holding the lens (which in this case was a 28-300mm zoom – changing lenses was not an option) was making the tips of my fingers hurt. And I mean hurt. Frostbite. Come on… I WAS WEARING GLOVES. Maybe I am just a soft Aussie who is used to plus 30 degrees rather than minus 30 degrees, but it was indeed impressive the camera was still working.
Finally on the night of the official opening ceremony, after sliding and slipping on the icy ground to get to a good position, wiping the layer of ice that quickly formed on the front of my lens when I stood in a hut for 5 minutes to get warm (forgetting basic physics lesson one), the fireworks exploded in the sky over the massive sculptures that were lit by neon tubes inside the ice.
The sculptures themselves are extremely impressive, the tallest standing around 50 meters high. But at the time I didn’t reflect on this at all, as my main concern was to just stop shaking while shooting at a 60th of a second.
One does have to ask “How could they build these structures when it is so painful to be outside for more than just a few hours a day?”
The reason — they are tough people!