How To Shoot B-Roll

January 29th, 2014 | by Slavik Boyechko
The Transom Online Workshop asked videographer/director Slavik Boyechko, of the PBS series INDIE ALASKA, to walk us — also slide, pan, tilt, and rack focus us — thru the mysteries of making beautiful B-Roll visuals for feature stories. –TOW

What is B-Roll? If your interview footage is your A-Roll, then most everything else is relegated to B-Roll duty. But B-Roll is what makes up the bulk of the visuals in a video, so despite the inferior name, B-Roll is a big deal.

In this video lesson, I met up with Alaskan artist Enzina Marrari. She makes delicate, wearable garments out of unusual materials, such as horsehair, swan feathers, and fresh red roses. We start with a few guidelines on how to shoot B-roll, using the example of Enzina in her Anchorage studio. We end with a complete short video of Enzina telling her story, using the B-Roll we just captured.

The last thing you want is an important moment becoming unusable because you’re moving, zooming, or adjusting exposure or white balance while recording.

Here is a summary of the B-Roll tips demonstrated in the video:

  • Start with your wide lens. When you arrive at your location, before you meet your subject, quickly shoot the exterior with a tilt or pan, or a diagonal combination of a pan and tilt.
  • Shoot entrances & exits. When you shoot your subject walking or moving — e.g., as they walk into your location, let them enter and exit the frame without following them with the camera.
  • Capture comings & goings in one clip. You can get a shot of the subject coming towards you and walking away from you, even with the subject walking in and out of the frame. After they walk past you, quickly pan your camera to a position ahead of the subject; then shoot them entering the frame.
  • Lens changes take up valuable shooting time. So while you still have your wide lens on, shoot all your wide shots, including a pan/tilt establishing the inside of your location, a shot above the shoulder, a low shot looking up at the subject, and a wide slider shot (if you have a slider).
  • Find a foreground. When you change to your zoom lens, take a couple more slider shots. Find a foreground like a doorframe, or any out-of-focus foreground, to slide into a “reveal” shot.
  • Do background checks. Always consider your background when framing a shot. When you focus on an object or your subject, think about how you could move the camera to showcase a better background (even if it’s blurry). Avoid bright windows, and try to shoot your subject with a lot of space behind them, to increase the depth of field.
  • Compose with layers. Similarly, when you can, try to shoot with multiple layers in your frame, including a foreground and background.
  • Make moving pictures. After framing your shot, take a moment to “move into” the image. You can do this with a tilt or pan into your subject, with a tripod, or you can move into your subject from out-of-focus to in-focus. This definitely helps with editing. And when you’re handheld or on a monopod, you can move your body slowly to create slight camera motion.
  • Blur for focus. Just like in your slider shots, shooting with a deliberate blurry foreground helps the viewer focus on the subject, and creates a nice distant perspective of us looking into an intimate moment.
  • Try to avoid conversation with your subject. For B-Roll that will go over an interview audio, it’s easier to use shots of your subject when they’re not moving their mouth talking to you.
  • Add angles. After you think you’ve got your primary shots, look around for interesting shots or angles that can add variety. For example, with a monopod, you can establish really high angle shots, or turn the monopod upside down for low shots, and later flip it in post-production. Make sure to get at least 5 seconds per shot, preferably longer, before moving on.
  • Shoot first (ask questions later). Most importantly, if you spot anything happening that you may not get a chance to shoot again, quickly focus and shoot it for at least 4-5 seconds without adjusting camera exposure or focal length, to make sure you get the shot without considering the ideal aesthetic. Then if you have more time, adjust the camera settings and shoot again. The last thing you want is an important moment becoming unusable because you’re moving, zooming, or adjusting exposure or white balance while recording.
  • Combine the ingredients, mix together, and serve. Once you start laying down B-Roll in your edit, you’ll want to build sequences of your different shots and angles, and go back to the interview shot as a transition between sequences and locations. A typical edit would look like this: wide interior pan, medium shot looking up at subject, over-the-shoulder close-up of hands at work, interview shot, and then new sequence. Whenever your subject is talking about really deep stuff, and you want your viewers to pay attention, use B-Roll without a lot of action, or better yet, close-ups of the subject’s face for that deep, introspective look. Add music, export, share, and then go eat an ice cream cone, you deserve it.

INDIE ALASKA: “I Make Wearable Art”

After putting together this short video tutorial, I went back and captured more shots of Enzina in other locations, to round out a full episode for the PBS series INDIE ALASKA.

Story: Slavik Boyechko
Video: Slavik Boyechko, Travis Gilmour
Object Runway event footage courtesy of: Tara Young, Electric Igloo Creative
Music: “Nadia’s Theme” by Topher Mohr and Alex Elena

About Slavik Boyechko

PBS series: INDIE ALASKASlavik Boyechko is a documentary filmmaker and Digital Media Director at Alaska Public Media, where he develops TV programs and shoots and edits the PBS Digital Studios series INDIE ALASKA (channel at YouTube). He writes tutorials, gear guides, and shares general media-making observations at Alaska Video Shooter.

Thanks to the Knight Prototype Fund for supporting this Transom Online Workshop resource.


15 Comments on “How To Shoot B-Roll”

  • Janne Laiho says:

    Here’s how I typically shoot B-roll: I storyboard all of it (i.e. everything not having to do with the main action, e.g. the interviewee talking in the case of an interview), then improvise at least the same amount (shots and duration) of shots with varying shot sizes. I tend to think according to fiction film structure: establish a surrounding/ ambience, introduce the protagonist, introduce a surprising turn of events…or something along those lines (yes, there are an infinite amount of variations) – resulting in a storyboard of the visuals.

    Everybody’s approach is their own, and that’s good. Anyway, I think that when shooting B-roll for documentaries we should bear in mind that we are subjectively telling a story, rather than recording events as they unfold before us.

  • matt says:

    thanks for these gentle reminders, presented in a very easy flowing manner.. Top job..

  • Really terrific. Just viewed this and immediately passed it on to several friends. More shooters need to know this stuff.

  • Matty Perry says:

    Very help full, thank you. Do you have more videos ?

  • Dan marrin says:

    Hey Slavik, thanks for this — it wasn’t only educational, but the music was very relaxing. Had something similar to “Time After Time”

  • Alexis Ryan says:

    Just watched this video & it was very informative. I shoot with a single camera at Caribbean carnival events, so the action gets crazy. I record for 3 to 4 mins continuously (A-roll) to get the complete sound track for a troupe of paraders, then I go back and get the B-rolls for editing. Is this a good strategy for this kind of event?

  • Jon says:

    This is really nice. Many of the techniques you use (handheld pans, composing shots with out of focus stuff on the foreground) go against the advice traditionally given to video journalists. It’s nice to see these modern approaches explained so clearly.

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