If you’ve been a wedding photographer for any amount of time, you know that you are going to spend a lot of time in loud wedding receptions, and this is my public service announcement to please protect your freaking ears. All wedding photographers and filmmakers need ear protection as part of their kit for the long hours we spend in front of bands and DJ speakers at volume levels unsafe for our hearing, and so, I rounded up a few options for you to consider below.
First, let me tell you my experience over the hundreds of weddings I've photographed in hopes that it might save a few of you from the mistake of not taking your hearing health seriously. When I started photographing wedding receptions, like every photographer I've ever met, I just ignored the loudness of the music and got on with making photos. For first few years, even though the music could be impossibly loud, I was no worse for the wear, until one night, I wasn't. This kind of thing can happen in an instant. At first, it seems like no big deal, something you think will pass after a few hours, but this night, the ringing didn't stop, and I spent a sleepless night wondering if I had a permanent problem. Truth be told, since then, I've lived with a mild case of Tinnitus, a condition with no cure, meaning I have no escape from a slight constant ringing in my ears. While I don't find it debilitating, I also don't think I hear as well overall now (ask my wife, ha!), especially in loud environments. Super-quiet spaces can be kind of annoying too. Thankfully, it hasn’t gotten any worse over the years thanks to good ear protection, and most of the time, my mind tunes it out. All that being said, please take my advice and mitigate your risk, possibly with one of the four solutions below.
Four Options for Ear Protection
My top choice are earplugs from Eargasm, which you can buy for around $35 USD and are what I use at every event I photograph. These earplugs reduce the sound by around 15dB but don’t block it in a way that keeps you from hearing everything, so you can still talk with people without having to take them out. They come with some adjustable tips for fitting and a metal case for throwing them into your camera bag. One hundred percent, this is my favorite recommendation, and to be honest, they’re so good that I often forget I’m even wearing them.
In the low-cost category, you have the foam and gel style earplugs that you can buy in bulk at a superstore. These work great, and you don’t have to keep track of them because they are disposable. However, they cut the sound down in a way that can affect your ability to hear clearly while you’re working. Easy, cheap, and effective but not as convenient if you need to communicate with your clients, second shooter, or the wedding coordinator.
Moving up the food chain, there are earplugs for made for musicians, like the Soundbrenner Minuendo, at about $160, which take the best parts of the Eargasm earplugs to an even more flexible and advanced level. These earbuds do not have electronics but they do have a switch on the top that allows the user to cut the volume of the environment down anywhere from 7dB to 25dB so you can choose how much volume you’re receiving. Pretty cool if you don’t mind the price tag, and they have the benefit of a small and black form factor that looks a lot like Bluetooth earbuds.
AirPods Pro 2
Lastly, I know of at least a few photographers that are using their AirPods Pro 2 in place of earplugs to cut sound down at events. Apple does not list this as a feature of AirPods, but with active noise cancellation and transparency mode, it does seem like it offers at least some protection. If you already own AirPods Pro 2, I think it would be worth it to try these out and, of course, you have the added benefit of all the other features of the headphones. The downsides to using AirPods in my mind are first, there was no design goal for AirPods to be used as hearing protection in loud environments and second, you have to keep them charged. I’d argue that something is usually always better than nothing, so if you have some, I'd definitely try them out.
Apple Watch users, your watch comes with the Noise app that will warn you when you’re in areas where the sound could damage your hearing. Just make sure you allow environmental sound measurements, and you’ll have some warnings when you’re in unsafe environments. Next time you're working a reception, check the numbers. If your gigs are like mine, they can easily top 100 dBs, which is way beyond what is healthy for your ears.
That’s it, just a PSA from me to you that I really hope you’ll take to heart if you’re a wedding filmmaker or photographer working those long weekend nights in front of the band. Remember, your ears are a one and done. If you damage them, that’s it. They won’t repair themselves .This is an easy fix and cheap insurance for your future.
Last note: I hope it's obvious, but I'm not an expert on ear protection, Tinnitus, or sound, so if you have real questions about this stuff, consult your physician.