Turning Down the Noise

Peggy Farren 2016-05-26

Event photographers have options for protecting their hearing

by Tom Tracy

Earlier this year I was hired last-minute to support the photo & video team during a children’'s charity gala hosted each year by the heavy metal drummer for — of all bands — Iron Maiden along with that drummer’'s all-star group.

Arriving at Hard Rock Casino near Fort Lauderdale a little early, I wondered if I would catch a glimpse of some of the Iron Maiden band members, but at the very least I wanted to get a jump on the ballroom table decor/set-up stills and room shots.

I wasn'’t five minutes into shooting decor when I was practically blown off my feet by an outrageously loud guitar during soundcheck. Being a guitar player and an old metal fan myself I soon noticed it was none other than Swedish “neoclassical guitar god” Yngwie Malmsteen, who was the surprise guest musician that night.

Malmsteen lives in Miami nowadays and back in the 1980s he used to brag onstage about his “wall of Marshall guitar amps” so expansive and tall that they can be “seen from outer space.” They certainly could be heard well from just twenty paces away.

Shortly that room would be abuzz with philanthropists, lawyers, realtors, car dealership types and generally an older crowd who, like so many guests at weddings, mitzvahs, galas and wedding anniversary parties, will endure quite a high level of noise from D.J.s and live bands.

I high-tailed it to my camera roller case where, as always, I prepacked inexpensive and disposable wax-style ear plugs that I bring everywhere —-- actually I really like these moldable wax kind which are marketed to swimmers but quite effective against noise too.

We event photographers often spend three and four hours shuffling around a ballroom, sometimes pausing for long periods right in front of the speakers while we wait for an opportune dance floor shot.

I am surprised at how few photographers bother to at least utilize the cheap little foam earplugs available at the pharmacy for a few dollars. They do help and they are better than no protection at all.

The experts say the alarming thing about hearing damage is it’'s irreversible, it’'s progressive, and sometimes the noise trauma that we are exposed to now won’t manifest itself until years later. The results come in the form of tinnitus (ringing) and hearing loss of the upper frequency range which is crucial for understanding conversations as we get older.

And once that baseline of hearing damage is done, they say, it is only that much easier for future noise exposure to compound the hearing loss further and with more serious consequences.

Recently I attended a health fair in Naples which resulted in an introduction to a Fort Myers-based audiologist group who later custom fitted me for professional sets of both swimming ear plugs and musician’s' noise-reducing earplugs —-- something I have actually wanted to buy for a long time.

I’'m looking forward to seeing how they work this year in the often noisy world of event photography.


Tom Tracy is a West Palm Beach-based photojournalist and event photographer and regular contributor to Understand Photography. His website is: www.tomtracy.com
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