The art of a sound image

Marrying photos and film, professional wedding photographer Neale James has nailed a niche with his audio-visual displays. Feel inspired to kick start a special DIY presentation that goes beyond the still with his advice.

Hailing from a background of more than a decade in radio broadcasting, perhaps it was only a matter of time before I somehow managed to shoe-horn the medium of sound into my day to day photography workflow, specifically weddings.

By sound, I’m referring to the recording of real actuality from a shoot; audio from a wedding ceremony, for example, the speeches, the general murmur of the event itself. For me, I believe the sounds of a day can be as precious as the photographs themselves. And sound can be a potent sense in all kinds of photographic capture, not just weddings.

Let me give what I think is a pertinent example. I have boxes of photographs of my late parents who passed far too early in my life. Through these images of course I remember times, places, styles, even emotions. But I have no sound. And, as the years pass, the images don’t fade, yet their voices soften. What I would give to have my father’s voice read me a story from when I was in my formative years as a child. I’m 46 this year.

But isn’t sound the sole domain of video capture? Doesn’t the visual sense belong to cinematic production? I don’t think so, not exclusively, no.

Why Photofilms?

Stills will never replace film or video, as much as I don’t think video can quash the appeal of standing in a gallery allowing a picture, either painted or photographic, to envelop your imagination. And that’s where I think sound and stills marry powerfully.

Some people, myself included, find being filmed quite an intrusive experience. From personal observation, subjects seem more inclined to present or act to a video camera, whilst the raising of a stills camera to capture single shots whilst the story continues around you is an entirely different experience. I can continue a conversation when photographing someone, but ‘hide’ behind a video camera seemingly glued to my eye and there is certainly a barrier to personal interaction.

Recording sound can be a subtle journalistic experience. The equipment need not dominate the environment. Small pin microphone systems that look like little badges are extremely effective at gathering an audio atmosphere. I am yet to encounter a really adverse reaction to popping a very small microphone on the top table just prior to the speeches.

And so I find myself championing photofilms; producing slide shows that use what people say to guide the viewer through an entirely different experience whilst looking at photographs digitally.

The Tools for the Job

So where can you use a photofilm? Youngster’s first words accompanying a portrait shoot, weddings and legacy photo stories where your subject recounts a life event.

In terms of equipment, a set up can be very simple. There are various brands in the market place supplying digital recorders for capturing sound in the form of speech, music or background atmosphere. I use the Zoom brand a lot within my work and suggest the H1N as a good starter unit. If you can pilot yourself around the controls of a DSLR or your DVD player at home, you can work out how to record speech using one of these. This recorder has one touch record, and an auto levels control to aid the beginner not totally au fait with the importance of controlling input levels. You can place this recorder about a metre away from the action, and capture stunning sound. YouTube is also a wonderful place to gather information on file formats and how to best use this equipment.

Depending upon your computer operating system, you have a wide choice of software options for producing slide shows. I’m a Mac user and so Final Cut Pro X is a simple software solution for piecing together professional looking photofilms that marry sound and stills, though for advanced user options, I now prefer Adobe’s Premiere Pro.

Bridging the Gap

Whilst photofilms may not be an entirely new concept, I think their application to photography breathes opportunity to extend your documentary or reportage photographic repertoire. As a professional, I’ve watched with interest the rise of post-production techniques that have lessened the gap between experience and raw beginner enthusiasm. Embracing sound and editorial film sequence skills takes us all to a next level. You can’t Instagram sound.

Will says, «I liked the idea of a ‘picture within a picture’, so I got my best man, a wedding photographer, to take about 300 snaps of us doing different things, these were then printed out and used as props in the video. Our friends have joked that my fiance and I have matching trainers, so I thought it fitting that the final scene should be our trainers holding hands and marching off into the sunset (AKA our shoe cupboard).»Although the whole process took a few hours, and some of the backwards scenes needed more thought, once I got into the swing of moving elements and taking a picture with a remote trigger, I made steady progress. Plus it was fun to learn something new of course.»

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