How To Shoot Great B Roll?

What b roll is and tips for these shots

B roll is a key part of the footage shot for any video production. It is the backbone for all projects and is essential to get it right. But before getting into how to shoot it, what exactly is it?

What is B Roll?

“B roll,” or “B-roll” is any supplemental or alternative footage that comes second to your primary footage or your main shot. Primary footage or “A roll” is the main focus of the video, B roll is the cutaway shots that often make the bulk of a video’s visuals.

For example, when shooting an interview with a fisherman, the A roll will be footage of the fisherman talking. B roll will be shots of the fisherman working, the type of fish they catch, their boat, etc. These shots can also take many forms, such as stock footage, newly acquired footage, pictures, animations, and even graphics.

The terms A roll and B roll trace back to the early days of Hollywood films. Back then, the principal photography was termed A roll. The secondary film is called B roll or B-reel. It is a filler or transition between scenes. While the term A-roll has fallen out of common use, B roll’s term still remains.

What is it for?

Sometimes filmmakers and video producers will place the secondary footage as a less critical part of the production. But it can be just as important as the primary footage. Some ways to use it are:

  • Provides variety to the visuals and story.
  • Sets the tone.
  • Provides flexibility to the editing process.
  • Establishes setting or characters.
  • Covers gaps or mistakes.

A man uses a canon camera to film a medical procedure.
A man captures a sergeant at work.

Tips for shooting

How to shoot B Roll

There are just as many rules for B roll as there are for shooting primary footage. But there are some general rules and tips that can provide the best video capture.

  1. Plan before you shoot

    Take time during the pre-production phase to discuss plans for shooting the secondary footage and ensuring continuity with your primary footage. This will include scouting locations, planning camera movements, or insuring notes are took during primary footage. Some productions will wait to shoot the primary footage first, take notes, and then shoot their secondary footage based on that.

  2. Variety

    B roll can be as creative as the filmmaker’s imagination. Perhaps it will be footage of the subject walking in and out of the location. Or perhaps historical footage of the events being discussed. Maybe graphics to emphasize points of view. Be creative with camera shots of wide, close-ups, differing angles, bird’s eye, panning, and even time-lapses. Get as many interesting or eye-catching shots that can be added to what the final edit can use.

  3. Details

    As mentioned take close-up shots can be an effective way to emphasize points. This can also illustrate objects or the important points of the story and further enhance the narrative. Capturing some of these small details can really make a point hit home while also being fairly simple to shoot.

  4. Experiment

    Not all shots will be in the final product. Many ideas may not work or perhaps the things filmed do not relate to or help the overall narrative. The shots can be creative and at times differ depending on the project. The only thing worse than shooting footage that is not used is not shooting footage that should be used. It is never known, in the moment, what shots will be amazing and what will be scrapped. Better to have it than not.

  5. More is better

    There is no exact length of B roll for shoots as each video is different. A good rule of thumb, however, would be to shoot 4-6 times the final video length. After all, it should be kept in mind that this footage will make up the backbone of much of the video edit. It can be a headache to arrive at the near completion of the edit only to realize that it is 15 seconds or a minute short. It is best to allow breathing space in the editing room while also providing a wide selection for the final cut.

The importance that B roll plays in video production is instrumental. Its creative use can be fun to formulate, and though it may not be the first priority for a shoot, it is critical for the production of any successful video.

Want to learn about other video production tools and terms? Check out this article.

For more information on how BW Productions shoots its film click HERE.