Story and photography by Jim Clark
Author’s Note: Click on files below the images to hear the sound!
Be still and listen, the earth is singing. — Karen Davis, artist inspired by nature
Oh, the sweet symphony of melodies that is nature. Can you hear it when you are photographing those grand landscapes or that flock of sandhill cranes as they take flight above the marsh? Well, it’s all out there just waiting for you. All you have to do is listen.
Wildlife sounds include hoots, screeches, roars, bleats, tweets, barks, pants, purrs, squawks, buzzes, shrieks, hisses, cracks, belches, chirps, peeps, hums, croaks, trills, clucks and more.
But have you listened to the songs of the weather or of the earth? There’s the patter of rain on a leaf, the wind’s gentle whisper through a loblolly pine forest, the crashing of waves on the shoreline or the clapping resonance of an impending thunderstorm. As George Santayana wrote, The earth has music for those who listen.
Newly minted nature photographers tend to focus on what they see, not what they hear. They fail to take advantage of the moment they are photographing when they don’t use all of their senses. On the other hand, more seasoned nature photographers know not to ignore the messages that nature conveys. They know that auditory clues may guide them in finding and photographing something very special.
I was an active and passionate listener of nature long before I picked up a camera. A hardcore birder since age 10, I explored the rugged mountains of southern West Virginia and quickly grabbed onto the idea that knowing what I was hearing would help me find new natural treasures. It wasn’t just the bird calls and songs, but the entire nature soundscape that enveloped me. To this day, I am easily distracted when outside with others, as I’m constantly listening to nature. Yet, when taking pictures, it has given me a distinct advantage.
There are two reasons for incorporating the understanding of natural soundscapes into nature photography. First, on the logical side, sounds help identify species or ecosystems that you want to photograph. Second (and more importantly), on the emotional side, sounds provide an extra level of appreciation for being in nature.
After reading Bernie Krause’s excellent book, The Great Animal Orchestra, I have added nature sound recordings to my photographic toolbox. With digital recorder in hand, I now not only capture images of nature, but I also record the sounds. My learning curve is steep, but by taking small steps and using a professional nature sound recorder, I’m making progress. By adding nature sound recordings, I have added an extra dimension to my continued understanding and enjoyment of the natural world.
My advice: add the skill of listening to your toolbox and listen carefully. Learn not only the calls and songs of individual species, but the soundscapes of the system as well.
Wherever you are within the hardwood forest, the desert, the coastal shoreline or alpine tundra, embrace the melodies and symphonies the natural world is offering you. It will not only enhance your experience of photographing nature, but it will help you to anticipate and chase those amazing moments of the natural world.
Writer’s Note: It has been an honor and a pleasure to share my love for nature and photography with all of you during these past four years. Thanks so much to Niki Barrie and Sharon Cohen Powers for their support, encouragement and prodding to get these articles out in a timely manner. Niki, you are the best editor I have ever worked with during my career. I hope the readers have enjoyed my various musings about this wonderful world of nature and the importance of using our skills as nature photographers to inspire and motivate others. I’m not sure if my column “Nature’s View” will still be used for the new NANPA eNews, so just in case, see you around the next bend of the trail!
A past NANPA president and contributing editor for Outdoor Photographer, Jim Clark is a nature photography instructor for the Chincoteague Bay Field Station, Wallops Island, Virginia. The author/photographer of six books, Jim is particularly proud of two children’s books he did with his son Carson. Jim was also a major contributor to the book Coal Country. Jim’s website is www.jimclarkphoto.com; his blog, www.jimclarkphoto.wordpress.com; and you can visit him on Facebook.