b roll

Have you heard of B-roll footage but don’t know exactly what it is?

In the world of video production, B roll footage is essential. It consists of supplementary and cutaway shots that are used to transition between two different scenes or topics in a video or film project.

These clips can be anything – from long pans across majestic landscapes to closeups on details like buttons or hands holding objects – as long as they provide visual context for viewers watching your video.

As an experienced actor and, more recently, a feature film director, I know first-hand the importance of shooting B-roll footage to create dynamic establishing shots, liven or accentuate the story, and bring focus to characters and important items.

When you use b-roll shots strategically, you’ll see higher engagement rates on all of your video content!

In this article, we’ll discuss what B-roll footage is, how it is used in film and videos, and how you can use it to create more professional-looking videos.

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What is B-Roll Footage?

four reel films lying on white table

If you’ve ever watched a movie, documentary, or news segment, you’ve likely seen B-roll footage without realizing it.

B-roll is the secondary footage that plays over the primary footage, or A-roll, to give context, add interest, or cover up cuts.

So what’s the story behind the term “B-roll”? It’s a holdover from the days of film editing when the A-roll was the main footage on the reels and the B-roll was the supplemental material or cutaway footage on another reel.

Nowadays, the B-roll is usually shot separately from the A-roll and can include anything from establishing shots to beauty shots to action sequences.

To give you a better picture, consider a scene in any popular movie you’ve watched recently. Let’s take a simple example from a modern film like Marvel’s ‘Avengers.’

While the A-roll is composed of dialogue between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, the B-roll could be shots of SHIELD agents working at their stations, the cityscape of New York, or close-ups of their super-suits.

These supplemental footage shots don’t move the story forward by themselves, but, in conjunction with the A-roll, they enrich the narrative and improve the cinematic experience for viewers.

Why is B-Roll Important in Video Production?

B-roll is your secret sauce to enhancing storytelling and boosting visual appeal. It’s like having a palette of different colors to paint your story, giving it an extra touch of charm.

While your main footage, the A-roll, does the heavy lifting of telling your story, the B-roll brings that story to life in vivid detail.

B-roll is indispensable in providing context and depth to your central footage. For instance, if you’re filming a documentary about a chef, your A-roll might feature the chef discussing their culinary journey.

But, the B-roll of them chopping vegetables, stirring a simmering pot, or decorating a dish will help the audience connect more deeply with their story, showcasing the chef’s passion and skills in action.

One of the unsung virtues of good b-roll footage is its capacity to cover visual or audio imperfections in the A-roll.

Not every shot can be perfect, and often in post-production, editors find issues with the A-roll that weren’t apparent during shooting.

Maybe there’s an unexpected background noise or an unwanted reflection in a shot. This is where B-roll swoops in to save the day, allowing you to patch over these glitches without losing the flow of your story.

For example, in my film, Spin the Wheel, there were times when we would want to use parts of two different takes of the same scene, and a great way to connect them was with B-roll.

Spin The Wheel

Last but certainly not least, the B-roll is your best friend when you want to create smooth transitions and pacing. It’s a great tool for switching between scenes or ideas in a way that feels natural and seamless. It provides breathing space in your narrative, helping to prevent your audience from feeling rushed.

Types of B-Roll Footage

Scenic and Establishing Shots

panoramic photography of Brooklyn Bridge

These are your big-picture frames that set the stage for your story. Imagine a sweeping shot of a city skyline at sunset before you dive into an interview with a local business owner or a tranquil scene of a forest just before introducing a wildlife expert.

These establishing shots help viewers understand where your story takes place.

Close-ups and Detail Shots

man standing front of plate with vegetable

These B-roll shots are like the magnifying glass of your visual storytelling, allowing you to zero in on specific elements.

With a close-up on expressive eyes in an emotional scene, intricate shots of skilled chefs garnishing dishes, or a focused view of smoke rising from a recently-fired gun, you can bring depth to your story.

Cutaways and Reaction Shots

shallow focus photography of man in white shirt

Cutaways are shots that are usually unrelated to the main action but help to break up the monotony or provide additional context. For instance, while a speaker talks about climate change, a cutaway shot might show a glacier calving.

On the other hand, reaction shots showcase a person or crowd’s response to a particular event or statement.

Slow-Motion and Time-Lapse Footage

focus photo of pink rose flower

These are all about playing with the passage of time to add some serious drama or visual interest to your video. Slow-motion shots can amplify emotional impact or highlight significant details that might otherwise get lost in real-time.

On the flip side, time-lapse footage can show a lot of time passing in just a few seconds – think of a flower blooming or a bustling city transitioning from day to night.

Action Footage

black convertible car on road during daytime

If you’re going to include action scenes, such as a car chase or a choreographed fight scene from different angles, then your main cast might not be involved with the actual stuntwork being filmed that day.

So even though this extra footage is used in the final edited scene, it is shot by unit crews dedicated to the action, not the dialogue or hero shots that make up the primary footage.

Tips for Capturing High-Quality B-Roll

person using professional video camera

1. Plan Ahead and Create a Shot List

Going in with a game plan can save you time and ensure you’re getting the most out of your shoot.

Think about the story you’re trying to tell and jot down a list of shots that can support that story visually.

2. Choose the Right Equipment and Settings

A DSLR or mirrorless video camera is typically a good choice for b-reel, offering flexibility in lens choices and settings. Don’t forget about stabilizers for smooth footage.

And remember, it’s not just about the gear, it’s about knowing how to use it. Learn about frame rates, aperture settings, and ISO – these can significantly impact the look and feel of your extra footage.

3. Think About Natural Light and Composition Techniques

The golden hour – the period shortly after sunrise or before sunset – provides soft, warm lighting that can give your outdoor shots a magical touch.

In terms of composition, use techniques like the rule of thirds, leading lines, or depth of field to create visually compelling shots.

4. Embrace Creativity and Variety in Your Shots

Don’t just stick to one angle or one type of shot. Mix things up! Capture different shots, such as high angles, low angles, wide shots, close-ups, and everything in between. Experiment with movement, like panning, tilting, or tracking.

The more varied your B-roll, the more engaging your video will be.

How to Use B-Roll in Your Videos

clipper, movie, picture

Balance A-roll and B-roll footage

Strive for equilibrium between your A-roll and B-roll. Your A-roll is the meat of the story, while B-roll adds the flavor. Maintain a balance to keep your video engaging without overwhelming your audience.

Layer B-roll to support the narrative

Choose B-roll that compliments and supports your main narrative. Use it to visually illustrate or enhance the points made in your A-roll.

Use B-roll for transitions and pacing

Employ B-roll as a transitional tool to shift between scenes or topics seamlessly. It can serve as a smooth bridge, guiding viewers through your narrative without abrupt interruptions.

Add visual interest with motion graphics and overlays

Use motion graphics and overlays judiciously to spice up your B-roll. Whether it’s a simple lower third or an animated infographic, visual additions can amplify understanding and interest. But, be mindful not to overcomplicate or distract.

Editing B-Roll Footage

b-roll in a movie

Organize and Label Your Clips

Start your editing process by organizing and labeling your B-roll clips. This step makes it easier to locate specific clips, saving you time and frustration during the editing process.

Select the Best Shots for Your Project

Review all your footage and select the best shots that complement your main narrative. Quality trumps quantity, so choose the clips that best support and enhance your principal photography.

Integrate B-roll with A-roll footage using Editing Software

Use your video editing software to weave your B-roll and A-roll footage together skillfully. The goal is to create a seamless visual story where the B-roll enriches the A-roll without distracting from it.

Enhance Your Footage with Color Grading and Effects

Fine-tune your B-roll with color grading and effects for a consistent look and feel. Remember, subtlety is essential – your goal is to enhance, not overpower, the natural quality of your footage.

Common B-Roll Mistakes to Avoid

camera, photography, portrait

1. Overusing B-roll: B-roll enhances your main footage, but too much can distract from the core narrative. It’s all about striking a balance.

2. Ignoring continuity: Your B-roll should seamlessly fit with your main footage. Pay attention to lighting, color, and composition to maintain a consistent look and feel.

3. Neglecting sound design: Good B-roll is both visually and audibly pleasing. Don’t overlook the impact of ambient sounds or a well-chosen soundtrack, and ensure the audio quality is up to par.

4. Not capturing enough B-roll: The more B-roll you have, the more options in post-production. Don’t skimp on shooting plenty of B roll footage during production – having more than you need is always better!

Of course, you can always check out quality stock footage sites such as Artgrid or Shutterstock to give you additional b-roll video options.

The cheap stock footage sites Pexels and Pixabay can also provide you with free b-roll footage for your feature film or video!


Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the significance of B-roll footage in film and video production cannot be overstated. It’s the secret ingredient that takes your videos from average to exceptional!

As we’ve explored, the B-roll serves multiple purposes:

  • It covers imperfections
  • It enables smooth transitions
  • It helps with visual storytelling
  • It amplifies the visual appeal

I encourage you to embrace the power of B roll in your projects! Experiment with different types of shots, play with lighting and composition and don’t forget the importance of sound design and planning.

You’ll be amazed at the difference a well-crafted B-roll can make to your story.

Happy filming!

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