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Natural Noise: Using sound to tell compelling stories

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BY BRAD ZAHAR

Sometimes you need more than images, when you are trying to showcase nature’s beauty.
As someone with a TV and video background it’s always been about visuals, but as I’ve learned in my young career, a good piece of audio can enhance the story you’re trying to tell.
Using natural sound is a way to let your audience hear something other than the narration or music. While music can be dramatic, natural sound takes your viewer to the scene. Every hunter knows few sounds get your heart racing faster than hearing the leaves crunch as that 150-class buck moves in toward your stand. Wouldn’t it be awesome to hear those crunching leaves while sitting on your couch while watching a hunting show?
When fishing a mountain stream for trout or a running riffle of water for steelhead, you want to hear the water and the birds chirp — we associate those sounds with our love of the outdoors.
Yes, you have to paint visuals, but bringing video and audio together is what gives television a different perspective from other media only it can achieve.
As cliché as this sounds, when it comes to narration, less is more. The story is not about you.
Growing up in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, I was a rare kid who hunted, fished and hiked. Telling people about my adventures and even showing them photos didn’t engage my peers.
When I got into television news I knew I had to find a way to make people care about what story I was telling. Other than having great visuals, the easiest thing I could control was the audio. The key to creating a compelling story is balancing the music, narration and natural sound.
I first got the opportunity to tell an outdoor story for television in February of 2014 when a local professional bass fisherman was gearing up for the Bassmaster Classic. It’s one thing to sit and narrate for two minutes about your subject and use a few quotes from him about the event and his expectations. But it’s a whole different ball game when you have video of him on the water with the sounds of the fish fighting and the fisherman talking to the fish as he battles him and celebrating when he lands the prize.
Standing on a boat next to a fisherman, shooting is as real as it gets. Add in the right mixture of audio and you have created a piece that not only captures emotion, but brings the viewer at home onto the boat.
Good audio though, too often becomes overlooked in pursuit of finding the perfect shot of video.
Pay attention the next time you watch a hunting show this fall. Are you actually engaged in it? Do you feel like you’re there? I know there are some that I feel like I’m in the stand with the hunter. Other times the shows are just a lot of talking with a nice shot of buck walking toward a stand.
What kind of story do you want to tell? The one that keeps the viewer glued to the screen in anticipation, or the one that’s easily forgotten? ♦
– Brad Zahar spent the last four years as a TV journalist. Now he writes and shoot video for several publications across the Great Lakes region. He can be found on Twitter @Brad_Zahar for all things fly-fishing, hunting and Cleveland, Ohio.
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