5 Tips for Shooting Better B-roll

corporate video video production

When it comes to shooting testimonial videos (or any video for that matter), there are several things you can do to make sure your video comes out sounding and looking great. In our last post, we looked at three tips for shooting better interviews. Here, we'll be looking at another aspect of the interview video: ways to shoot better b-roll. B-roll is often a key element in putting together a video, and it can sometimes make or break your edit. It's important to do b-roll right. B-roll can also be the small touch that takes your video to the next level in terms of its visual quality. This being the case, we're going go take a look at everything you should consider when it comes to using b-roll most effectively in your next video.

First of all, what is b-roll exactly?

What is B-roll?

B-Roll constitutes any footage that is secondary to and compliments the main content, or A-Roll footage, of a video. In an interview testimonial video, the interview itself is the A-Roll while the B-roll is any other shot included in the edit. For example, if you have a CEO being interviewed about his business, the b-roll could be shots of his employees working at their desks, computer screens showing the software in action, or people interacting in the office.

Sometimes every shot in a video might be considered b-roll. This can be the case in event coverage videos where all the shots share equal importance in the edit and there is no one shot that is consistent throughout. As well, you can have videos where all you have is the main content with no b-roll footage to spice up the edit. This can be suitable in the case of a quick talking-head video where someone is talking to the camera at length with no need to cut away to anything else. No matter the case, b-roll will always help to improve an edit.

The Advantages of B-Roll

So, if b-roll is secondary to the primary content of a video, does it follow that it is also of secondary importance? This is arguable; it really depends on what style of video you're going for. Generally b-roll is of secondary importance, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth the effort. In the case of an interview video, the main content is more important because without it, you would have no video. However, oftentimes a video will seem incomplete or dull without any b-roll. For example, if you have an interview that is all about the new renovations that have just been done at a particular location, it might seem quite strange to have no b-roll footage showing the final result of those renovations.

B-roll can be more or less advantageous, depending on the type of video. Overall however, it's safe to say that having b-roll in your video can only work to improve it, as long as the footage is of an acceptable quality.

Let's look at some specific ways b-roll can improve your video.

Show rather than tell

In any situation where you have someone talking about a subject in your video, it will always improve the video immensely to adequately show, in the form of cutaway b-roll shots, what it is that the person is talking about. Sometimes the decision to include b-roll in the edit is quite obvious, and the video would seem incomplete without it.

For example, at BiteSite, we filmed a recruitment video for a company looking to hire. Besides the professionalism, warmth, and enthusiasm shown by the interview subjects, it was also very effective to show what the workplace was like (using b-roll) in order to entice potential employees to apply for a position. You can view that video here.

In other cases where b-roll isn't absolutely necessary, it still does a great job in more fully conveying what a person is communicating. Consider another topic; an entrepreneur talking about their experience over the past several months in a coaching program. Getting shots to illustrate what they are speaking on can help to convey the experience that they had more fully. You might have that person interacting with others, working in the location that the program took place in, or have detail shots of the location that might be relevant to what is being said.

Hold Attention

B-Roll is also very effective in holding a viewer's attention. Constantly cutting away to different shots keeps the video interesting and engaging. Rather than staring at the same shot for a lengthy period of time and perhaps getting tired or bored, the viewer is constantly being shown new and interesting images. To illustrate this point further, you can also imagine a video to be more engaging even when there is only one other shot added to the main a-roll shot. For example having one interview filmed at two different angles (showing two slightly different backgrounds), can help to reduce the potential of viewers becoming bored and clicking away. At least there is one element (the second camera) that can be used to switch up the shot.

Cover Up Edits

B-Roll can also be used to cover up cuts in the editing timeline. This is sometimes just as big a reason to capture b-roll as the reasons listed so far. If you're having an interview subject talking to the camera, and you cut out a long pause or fumble in their speech, you're going to have a "jump" in the video where the person suddenly jumps ahead in time. Sometimes this jump-cut style of editing can actually suit the style of the video. However, when the video isn't meant to have jump-cuts, then you really don't want any at all; they stand out like a sore thumb. If you're planning to cut up the interview in post (rather than having a long-form conversation with no edits), you'll want to shoot b-roll simply as a way to cover up these a-roll edits.

Tips on Shooting B-Roll

Hopefully you now have a solid understanding of what constitutes b-roll and why it can be so beneficial to a video. While having b-roll is great, you also want to have the best possible b-roll you can get. There are some things you can do to make sure the b-roll shots you have are quality and will work well in your edit.

Shoot as much as you can

For unscripted videos, it's not certain how many shots you'll need for the edit or even what type of shots will work best to compliment the A-roll. This being the case, it's good to go by the phrase, "better safe than sorry" when it comes to how much b-roll you shoot. Hopefully you'll have an idea of what the most important b-roll shots are (key people, details, or moments that will be important to the storyline of the video), but after you've captured those shots, shoot more!

Having a lot of variety in the edit room will allow you to be flexible and creative, resulting in a video that is best suited to your vision. As well, variety oftentimes leads to creative and engaging edits that otherwise would not have been possible; you'll find yourself telling small little side stories in your b-roll shots. A quick montage of people laughing as an interview subject talks about the positivity of a certain group of people can be the perfect creative beat for the edit. You'll oftentimes be relieved to have gotten a certain shot rather than not. As well, you never know if a client or colleague might come back asking if you happened to get a shot of this or that... it's always nice to have that shot in your back pocket!

Shoot a Variety of Content

While it's good to have ample b-roll to play with when editing together the video, it's also good to ensure you have variety in what the b-roll is showing. Variety helps to better convey the message of the video and gives a fuller picture of whatever it is that is being shown. For example if you're showing what a company's workplace is like, having only still-life shots wouldn't tell the whole story; you would also want to show the people that work there as well. Additionally, capture the moments when those people are working, interacting, taking breaks, laughing, focusing, etc. Variety can also mean getting both interior and exterior shots. Perhaps having some scenic shots on a bright sunny day would really support the feeling you're after, or showing the hustle and bustle of a downtown location might help to get the viewer in touch with experience of the video's subject.

You can even consider b-roll of the a-roll itself! Having an extra camera to capture a closeup of the interviewees hands or eyes as they speak can compliment the main footage of the interview. You can also set up extra cameras to capture motion shots to inject some more energy into the interview; having a slider moving back and forth can add a more professional feel, or having a handheld camera on the subject to compliment a static tripod shot.

Shoot a Variety of Shots

While variety in subject matter is key, variety in the type of shot will help your b-roll even further. Type of shot refers to the framing of the shot (wide, medium, closeup etc) and any kind of camera motion that might be added as well. Wide shots showing the big picture of a location can help to establish a scene or show the scope of the location. Close-up detail shots can help to focus on key elements in a location that might tell the bigger picture. For example focusing in on an award hanging on the wall can portray the pride the interview subject might feel towards his work. When it comes to people, variety in shot-type helps as well. Closeups of facial expressions, or wider shots of people interacting or performing actions, will all help to fill out the edit nicely.

Adding motion to your shots can be a big help in keeping the video engaging. Depending on the feel and flow, sometimes adding a pan or tilt to the camera will work well in the edit. There are also gimbals that can be used with minimal setup time that can keep the camera moving smoothly as you walk around a location. The angle at which the camera is positioned should always be considered as well. You'll oftentimes want to be "eye-level" with whatever you are shooting, whether that's a person or an inanimate object. Angling your camera to either look down or up at whatever you're shooting should always be motivated. For example, the "hero" shot has the camera looking up at a person in order to portray them in a positive and powerful way. Drone shots looking down at a location are also very effective in establishing a location or simply injecting a professional look into a video.

Hold the Shot For At Least 5 Seconds

When shooting b-roll, it can be tempting to capture what is happening around you at a rapid pace in order to not miss anything. This can lead to very quick shots that don't stay on a subject or object long enough to be of any use to the editor in post-production. If a b-roll shot only lasts a couple of seconds long, and the editor wants it to last 5 seconds, it won't work in edit. Sometimes it's not so obvious during the shoot, and can require some extra patience, but holding every shot for at least five seconds is a safe way to ensure that it will be of use in the editing room. If you're editing your own footage, you'll definitely see the benefit of this discipline. Generally, it's always good to have keep the edit in mind when shooting.

Practice, Practice, Practice

It's also beneficial to shoot a lot of b-roll just for the practice of it. Practice in getting a variety of content and shot types. The more b-roll you shoot, the more creative and effective shots you'll find yourself capturing. Oftentimes there will come a time in your shoot where you feel you've got enough b-roll to stitch together a video. It's here that you have the opportunity to get a bit more daring and creative in your shots. You'll likely see things you hadn't before, and come across spontaneous moments that would have slipped by if the camera weren't recording. Practice shooting more to improve your shooting skills and to broaden your creative horizons.

Your Next Shoot

We hope this informations helps you out on your next shoot! Generally, capturing b-roll should be a fun and stress-free occasion, as it allows you to get creative and there's often ample opportunity to get the shots you need. Just keep in mind the things mentioned above, which is to shoot enough, and shoot well!

Tim Clark
Filmmaker, BiteSite