If you are into ice, like ice sculptures and ice buildings, Harbin, Heilongjiang province China, is the place to go. Harbin is all about ice! The three-month annual Harbin International Ice & Snow Festival that starts on January 5th, is most likely the most spectacular ice event in the world. Be prepared however: it can be very cold, especially at night. Don’t be surprised if the temperature, when leaving your hotel in the morning for some breakfast at Starbucks, is still at minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit), as I found out the hard way.
Photographing the ice and snow structures can be a bit challenging. Apart from the extreme weather conditions (did I say it’s very cold there?), prepare for extreme light conditions as well; very bright with a lot of reflections during the day when the sun is out and very dark as you will want to take pictures of the sculptures after sunset when they are lit up in many different colours. A neutral density (ND) filter may come in handy and be sure to set your white balance correctly before you start shooting if you’re not into processing RAW images (with RAW image processing it is possible to set the white balance afterwards). Although the ice sculptures are lit up brightly at night, bring a tripod anyway to allow for long exposure shots. There will be a lot of people around you all very busy taking pictures of themselves so getting a clean shot will not be easy. There will be less people before sunset and the golden hour will make for some nice shots anyway. You will be hanging around a few hours at least so put on warm clothes, especially for your hands and feet.