I felt excitement and fear. I had to get under this chunk of ice that might collapse anytime soon and capture this shot.
We were in the middle of Lake Baikal, in the heart of Siberia in late March. It‘s the world's deepest and biggest lake by volume, and I was crawling on ice, two metres thick, to photograph this huge chunk of emerald ice that was hanging off a cliff. I don't know how many tonnes it must have weighed, but it would’ve been detached from the cliff sometime in the coming weeks, and I was under it.
I took the shot with my Sony Alpha 7R II and the FE 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master lens, with the aperture closed right down to f/20 so I could capture a large depth of field with the landscape in the background, as well as the ice. I had spent the day driving and trekking around the lake with some friends looking for these types of formations. I found this formation of ice just as the sun was going down.
I chose the FE 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master lens because I didn’t want to risk changing lenses in the freezing conditions. If you make a mistake and change a lens in a warm van, for example, you could introduce fog, which could then freeze inside a cold camera. So I try to only use one lens when shooting in extremely cold environments, but one which gives me ultimate quality.
I had to get the camera down very low to capture the image; it was virtually resting on the surface of the ice. Without the rear screen I would have had to put my face and whole body down on the ice. The screen literally saved my skin because my nose and fingers were freezing and in great pain - the last thing I would want to do is put my face and elbows on the ice to look through a viewfinder.
In a lot of my images, I photograph people and stories about society and the environment. But for me, this image captures so much about the dynamics of life itself. It’s a story, not just about a piece of ice, but about water as well. Baikal holds 20% of the Earth's fresh water, and it's also threatened by logging in the areas around it, as well as soil erosion, pollution, industrialisation and tourism.
The camera and lens allowed me to capture the nuance in the ice. It is one single, uniform, block of water, and yet you can see many shades and contours. You need to have a very good lens to capture this quality of the ice, it helps it to shine.
This pristine chunk of ice is an expression of what nature can offer if we just leave it alone.
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