Once a year Montreal has a winter event called Celebration of Light. It gets cold here, so we celebrate what we can. One of the highlights is the Montreal Ice Hotel, and the local photography meet-up group planned on attending one very cold night. I arrived a little early after taking shots of the Montreal Underground, so I walked around a little with a friend before meeting up with the group. We talked a little, compared gear and then headed to the hotel. We only had until about 9pm since they kicked out everyone that wasn’t staying over at that time.
The one thing I didn’t not imagine was how hard it was going to be to take pictures of the hotel. Night photography alone can be difficult, but the location compounded it 10 fold. There wasn’t just one issue, there were a few.
- It had been a little warm lately, so some of the snow was melted. This made some locations very grey, while others were just dirty from all the visitor.
- The hotel was beautifully lit with red, white or blue LED lights. This created high contrast lighting that washed out details, as well as wreaked havoc with the color balance. The blue LEDs were particularly difficult to photograph. I had experienced it in the past at an old company I worked for, but had totally forgot how much it burns into the image.
- People. They were everywhere and we were lucky, as it wasn’t a busy day
- The rooms were very small, it was hard to set up a tripod in such small areas, and you needed one because of the available light.
All the same, I got a few shots off. Below are the best, and as you can see, none are close to being portfolio worthy. I post them here to tell you what went wrong.
The below hall shot was one of the first shots I took. I liked the angle of the left side, but the right was a little off. It wasn’t bright enough to get good detail in the snow, but that actually was a better result. The texture of the walls had issues with a lot of gashes and marks. You could also see the cables in the walls. I had to Photoshoped out a lot of them. The floor had a big grey spot in the middle where there snow was melted. I airbrushed and cloned the area until it looked like continuous snow.
The next room I visited was crazy blue. It had a great carved chair in it that I set up and photographed. The amount of processing I had to do afterwards to get the right color and balance was crazy. It was totally washed out. I probably had incorrect white balance settings going in, but shooting in RAW helped save it. Minor touch ups were done on the snow and chair. Simply to get some artifacts that stood out a little to much.
I really wanted to get some good closeups of the texture of the ice, but found it difficult to find a good subject that wasn’t blue or red. The white rooms lacked a little ‘coolness’, all except one room. The room had two beds, and a table and chairs. It was crammed with ice furniture, I couldn’t get the tripod set up enough to get anything worth while. It was also constantly being visited by people, and I was in the way. The below image, as well as an interesting detail of a chair are all that turned out.
The coolest building on the location was the chapel. It had great detail and nice lighting. I tried to get a good shot from outside, but the entryway had bright blue lights that created a weird effect on the shot. It really didn’t balance with the orange sky from the city as well as surrounding red lights. It was to bad, as some of the long exposure shots played well with the moving clouds.
Inside the chapel, I got a few good shots. Some of the blue lights create weird artifacts (see below), but in general, the lighting inside was more subtle in color than anywhere else.
The most spectacular part of the chapel was the alter. The details were great, but no perfectly photogenic. Cracks in the snow took away from the texture as you moved in close. I did my best, but settled on a wide angle shot of the room.