From Photography to Filmmaking: Starting to Listen

Small American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) laying in vegetation on edge of water.

Small American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) laying in vegetation on edge of water.

 

This is the third entry in the From Photography to Filmmaking monthly column by Drew Fulton.  To see the previous posts, visit the archives.

Photography is primarily the pursuit of a single sensory experience that of vision. We talk about composition, exposure, and focus. As we start to think more about using the moving image to tell stories, this all encompassing pursuit of vision all of a sudden must also include another sense. We have to start to listen!

During this busy holiday season, I challenge you to take a few minutes to close your eyes and just listen. I think too few of us really listen to the world around us. Take a moment and sit on a bench in the mall while doing your holiday shopping and just listen. What does the laughter of a child or the wail of a tired infant tell you about the scene? What about the distant rumble of a vacuum or the swish of an opening and closing automatic door? What sounds add to the story? What distracts you?

As filmmakers focused on the natural world, we have to do the same thing. As you are filming, take a few minutes to just sit and listen. Does the bubbling of the nearby stream matter to your film? What about the distant roar of the highway? How about that really loud bird that is singing just a few feet away? Are those sounds part of your story or are they simply distracting your viewer?

Just as we are careful about selecting what we include in our composition and in our frame, we also have to pay attention to what is included in the audio soundscape. Sound recording is an activity that is equally as complicated as photography and I warn you now, it might just become your next obsession. On most video productions there is at least a dedicated sound person, if not a full team, that focuses on recording or creating the sounds that accompany the visual imagery. However, as solo filmmakers, we likely don’t have that luxury so we must make our own recordings. But before we dive in to the technical side of audio recording, take the next few weeks and make a conscious effort to be aware of the sounds around you as you are photographing. Try to explore your soundscapes and make notes of what you hear and how it might influence your stories. Next month, we’ll take a look at the tools and techniques to capture the audio for our films.