Photogra-Therapy: A Deafening Silence

Photogra-Therapy: A Deafening Silence

It's a relatable but unusual title for an article. However, I'm sure you might have an idea of which direction this is going to go: photography as therapy.

This therapy for myself, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this, is to provide the silence I so crave. Being able to stand on a windy day and hear the wind blowing through the trees. To hear the rushing water from the river cascading over the waterfall and plunging to the depths below. To stand on a deserted beach with no wind and only gentle waves lapping at the shoreline. Yes, all this reeks of romantic overtones, and I apologize for this, but to hear all of this without interruption would be absolute bliss.

"So, what are you talking about," I hear you ask. Many, many years of rock concerts and loud music have taken a toll on my hearing and in my case, have caused tinnitus, a constant high-pitched ringing in my ears. All the time, which I can't stress enough. It can be handy in some cases when you reply with a sorry I missed that, during a conversation, if you really didn't want to reply. Or when sometimes, my partner asks: "why are you sitting in a silent room with no music or background tv on?" To which I reply that the room is not silent, though it would be bliss if it was. Recording videos for YouTube has had its consequences as well. When I posted a few videos online, unaware of the interference the light I was using at the time was creating with my mic, the comments were interesting to read, shall we say. But that's a lighter, more jovial look at it. 


Ok, so what's that got to do with photography? It's estimated that around 30% of people worldwide will experience tinnitus at some point in their life. For myself, thinking back, I've suffered from it for around six years constantly, but it is something that you learn to live with. I'm lucky it's only tinnitus I have, and I am aware of and grateful for that fact. So, this is where photography comes in. This is my release from it, and only over the past year or so have I noticed this. Other sufferers of tinnitus will have their releases, but for me, it's the practice of photography: not the teaching or the editing of the images, not the scouting for locations, but the actual process of creating the image. Weird, I know, but I can nearly pinpoint it to the removal of the camera bag from my back. I've put a link at the bottom of this article to the nearest frequency to the noise I hear all the time, just in case you are curious.

My release comes in the form of focus, if you'll forgive the pun. As soon as I go through the motions of taking off the backpack to get everything set up, I am no longer aware of the high-pitched ringing. Yes, it's still there, but I am no longer aware of it. As I type this article, with the Foo Fighters playing away in the background, I still hear it. And I'm focused on writing this article. So, for me, it's a strange one. Why only when I'm taking photographs does it seem to subside? It can't simply be that I'm not focusing on the task at hand, as I am focused on completing this. Why only the act of photography? 

A Deafening Silence

Am I overthinking this? Well yes, probably, as I am grateful I don't notice it when in the process of capturing the images, and the deafening silence that accompanies it is a welcome relief. Well, it's not really a deafening silence; that's slightly misleading. But to me, it feels like one. I can hear the backpack unzipping, no interruptions, the tripod legs extending, no interruptions, the camera being attached to the tripod, no interruptions, the wind in the trees... you get the idea. The focus of the process dissipates my acknowledgment of the tinnitus, and that is truly is a welcome relief.

Apart from the absolute love of the practice of photography, it's mental health therapy in its own right. The release from the constant ringing and the deafening silence it brings is such a much-needed therapy for me. I'm sure I'm not the only one. To be able to hear the surrounding environment uninterrupted, whatever that may be, is pure and utter bliss.

To this end, I wanted to create a video that was about the process and the surrounding environment, trying to capture as much of the landscape's sounds as I could. I did manage some, and the wind, in particular, was one that I wanted to ensure stayed right through the video. I didn't want to add any Foley, as that would have not been true to the situation. Yes, it would have probably improved the overall feel of the video, but I wanted it to be as natural as possible.

I did add a soundtrack, as I thought that five minutes of environmental sounds were a little too much for the viewers. In saying that, though, some of my favorite videos do just that: record the environment and show the process.

Let me know in the comments below if you suffer from tinnitus and if it dissipates during the process of image-making.

Sound source nearest to my tinnitus.

Gary McIntyre's picture

Gary McIntyre is a landscape photographer and digital artist based on the west coast of Scotland. As well as running photography workshops in the Glencoe region, providing online editing workshops, Gary also teaches photography and image editing at Ayrshire college.

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Thank you for this intimate insight. I also watched the video, very nice. Yes, being alone on the trail is relaxing and calming. I really like the early morning hours before the sun rises and the light begins to spread across the horizon.

You wrote: "but the actual process of creating the image. Weird, I know..." Not weird! Not at all. Not at all. There are many photographers who are like that. They enjoy the act of taking the picture the most (composing the scenery, for example). Just recently there was an article about an image that was incorrectly attributed to Vivian Maier ( ). In that article, Katt, the photographer, said of Vivian Maier:

"I couldn’t imagine why Maier would continue photographing without the promise of seeing the fruits of her labor. It made me sad to think about her dying without having seen her powerful images, but then I realized that maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe it was the act of photography, the moment of exposure, the connection between herself, her subject, and her camera that mattered to her."


I also suffer from tinnitus. It is constant, it is sometimes quieter than other times, but typically (and conveniently) loud enough to cause me trouble hearing my wife. It's always there. Sometimes I have trouble sleeping from the noise. Sometimes I find myself mentally breaking the sound into small, rhythmic chunks that I play in my head like a song.
For me, it was growing up in the late 60's and early 70's living 30-40 minutes away from San Francisco. Every weekend and sometimes weeknights, we would cross the Bay Bridge and hear everything from Santana to Ike and Tina, to The Stones, to The Who....Zepplin.....You get the picture. Combine that assault on the tiny follicles responsible for transmitting sound with 40 years of riding motorcycles and I'm happy I'm not deaf.

Like you, there is a point when I am on a photo journey where the tinnitus disappears from my consciousness. Yeah, it's there. If I stop and think about it, it's playing at the usual volume even after it seems to have faded earlier. I'm fortunate. This mumbo-jumbo magic works whether I am wandering a wilderness trail or I am doing some street photography. It happens sometime soon after I'm out of the driveway and on my way somewhere...anywhere to take some pictures.

Like you, I've wondered about this phenomena too. In my case I believe it comes from a learned thought process that occurs from repetitive experiences. I shoot almost entirely candid. Street, concerts, small clubs. Know what those three have in common? You cannot predict what will happen. I sometimes leave home without any idea where I will go to shoot, but I know an adventure that leads to some sort of opportunity for artistic expression is somewhere right around the corner. It's that excitement that sends me someplace internal where everything is perfect.

Ive got to admit Bob that I did try to break it into repetative chunks as you mention. When I did though it stuck with me all day which became more annoying.
Totally agree with the learned repetitive process, it seems to be this practice that enables the subsidence of the tinnitus.
Glad to hear your artistic expression and adventures are working for you. Long may it continue :) Thanks for reading.

Definitely can relate, and it is refreshing to see it posted and shared like this. I have tinnitus also, it is constant as well (countless heavy metal concerts and a career in the military) I get the high pitch all the time, but more recently I occasionally get a humming or buzzing, so I guess it's progressing. I dove into photography after retiring and as far as I'm concerned it has saved my life. It is absolutely therapy for me, and yes, shooting and editing make it disappear; not a bad solution to a problem :) Anyway, I have tried researching other ways to find relief from the ringing and buzzing and one day I was listening to a guided meditation app and put on some Tibetan drumming thing and it was surprisingly comforting ;) Thanks again for your post/article, photography brings me a lot of joy and I'm so grateful to have found a healthy outlet.

I haven’t tried any meditation apps so thank you, I'll look into that. The photography definitely helps as a therapy for a lot of things, doesn't it. Thanks for reading :)

Gary, very nice article. I like how you worded the article as Photogra-Therapy. I will just like to point out that this is how I got into photography. Not because of tinnitus but to having PTSD from my military time. Once I realized that I wasn't leaving the house and such, I went out got a camera and slowly started taking pictures. Then I ended up reading an article at one point where a few VA Hospitals were using photography as a therapy for their PTSD patients.