In every room, city, and scene. In all places at all times. Ambience is ever-present. Our brains are trained to usually tune out ambience in order to focus on more important sounds, such as the human voice. For example, if you’re in a conversation with somebody at the park, you won’t necessarily think about all the sounds you are hearing. Leaves rustling in the wind. Children playing. A fountain trickling. Birds singing. All of these sounds create a bed of noise that surrounds us in the background.



Seemingly quiet places have ambience too. You could be at home with the windows closed and the TV off, but there’d still be the hum of the refrigerator. A soft buzzing of the lights. The occasional footsteps of housemates walking by.

Ambience Is All Around You

Try closing your eyes and just listening to everything around you. If you’re outside in a city, listen to the cacophony of noises and pick out each element. Traffic coming and going. Distant honking blending into swaying trees. Maybe you are in an office place. Listen for the intermittent phone rings, the chorus of keyboard typing and mouse clicks, and footsteps to and from the water cooler.

It is often part of our job as filmmakers to recreate realism. Luckily, adding sound is often times something we can do during post-production. Starting to observe all the sounds around you in real life will make you a better sound designer and editor.


Enhancing Realism

Begin to notice when scenes are too quiet or bare. That means if two characters are having dialogue in a restaurant but the only audio that was recorded live was the dialogue itself, it won’t have the feeling of a real restaurant. Imagine some of the sounds that might be present in the background of a real restaurant. Faint chatter from other patrons, waiters taking orders, dishes being bussed, maybe even some music that is playing through some overhead ceiling speakers.



This is where ambient sound effects come into play. Fortunately for us, there is a quick and easy way to add these realistic sounds into a scene or edit without ever having the actual recorded sound. Soundsnap offers a searchable library full of different types of ambience. Each sound is tagged with keywords, so searching “restaurant ambience” will display hundreds of downloadable effects that you can preview and then download for use in your projects.


Affecting Emotion With Ambient Sounds

In addition to enhancing realism, ambience can also be used to affect emotion. By considering the volume, intensity, and sparseness of ambient sound in your scene, you’ll be able to add another layer to your story’s narrative. 

Here are a few examples to help you get started:

  • Bar scene. Characters are talking at a table in the back. You have their dialogue recorded and have already inserted some background music, but the room sounds too empty and fake. Is this a trendy bar with a lot of noise and excitement? Or is this an abandoned spot with a questionable crowd? Listen to these effects to see what might help your scene.


  • Outdoor adventure. Your protagonist is exploring or en route to a destination. You’re looking to add in the sounds of his/her environment. Consider how the mood and tension might change based on the intensity of the wind. Is it a light breeze so that the viewer can relax? Or are the winds howling with foreboding darkness? Listen here for ambient sound beds that can shape your narrative.


  • A state of introspection or altered perception. Imagine that your character suddenly sees something that triggers an emotional memory or response. As a filmmaker, how can you bring the audience into the character’s thoughts and feelings? One method is to adjust (automate) the ambient noise to fade out or distort at the moment you want the audience to drift away from the realistic surrounding world and be drawn into your character’s mind.



It is vital to convey realism so that the audience believes the characters and the story. Try experimenting with ambient sounds in your scene to improve the realism and effectiveness of your projects.




Jason Brandel,

Filmmaker/Video Editor