I’ve been shooting some video clips lately and in editing I am always amazed at the things that get recorded on the audio track that I don’t remember hearing at the time. Being within 30 miles of two airports that can handle heavy aircraft and also a Naval Air station, the noise from aircraft alone is nearly inescapable. One friend describe this as noise pollution, and I’m inclined to agree with her.
As I listen to the mid afternoon din from my home I can hear traffic and backup alarms, train noises and the sounds of industry. And when things settle a bit, the heavy breath of my dog and his tip tap toes nails, leaves rustling in the warm autumn breeze and the chirps and whistles of birds. Visually I can only imagine what I hear would be akin to suddenly being able to see radio waves, a true cacophony.
I think about the role of sound in still photography. There is always the environmental sounds when shooting a photograph. Is it loud? Does that loudness read in the image and vise versa? Can you photograph the quietness of a flower while a jackhammer gnaws away behind you? What affect does it have on the image? Is the water from the quiet pond and crashing seashore treated and recorded as twins or distant cousins? If I change the title of an image from something quiet to something noisy is it jarring because of what you see in your mind’s eye or what you hear in your minds’s ear?
When I am shooting I find that I commonly talk to my subjects whether they have ears or not. I may question the wind as to why now? Or I may tell the landscape that I will give it a little more light or reassure a tree that I will return in an hour when the our star decides to turn the volume down. Do they hear me, and do they respond when I press the shutter?
I think they do.
I have two favorite sounds. The first is rustle of bamboo leaves in a light breeze. The second is the combination of a light rain on the cabin of a sailboat at anchor coupled with ringing of a halyard against the mast. I’ve never tried to photography those sounds, but I think of them often and relish the time I get to spend with them so I am sure they play a role in my image-making on some level.
Then there is role of music, how it might influence a studio shoot or during post processing images. The last time I was pulling darkroom prints I had the music so loud, and dancing around the darkroom that I couldn’t get a sharp print. It humors me to think those silver gelatin prints have a fuzzy layer of Macklemore in them.
I saw a quote the other day that one has conversations in the darkroom that you would have no where else. I really wonder about how those conversations and their vibrations find themselves into the prints.
And finally there is the quietness or lack of quietness when looking at a photograph. Much like the imagined experience of reading a novel, seeing the described environment, the emotion and characters that reside in the words on the printed page. When I sit with a print in my studio late at night is much different than at the museum and it’s sounds of the institution, or the gallery and it’s sound of bustle and commerce. Each one adds flavor to experience of what I imagine hearing in the image while I look at it. Sometimes appropriate, other times distracting.
These are some wonderful things to think about, how sounds influence and live in our images. Maybe try this the next time you are composing a shot: Get everything set, then close your eyes and listen for at least 30 seconds and see if you can find the continuity of the moment, open your eyes and then press the shutter. You might be surprised at what you get.