B-Roll recordings – What does it mean?
The term B-roll or B-roll footage comes from the days of film, when people actually worked with multiple rolls of film. On the A-roll were the main shots (e.g. an interview), which contained the action or the narration of the video. On the B-roll were supplementary, underscoring shots for the intercut. Nowadays, of course, almost all video productions are edited digitally and without real film reels. But the term has been retained.
In this article you’ll learn how to film B-roll shots and what stylistic and practical benefits they have.
It looks very unattractive and boring when a video contains too few B-roll shots. The same applies if many of the included scenes are similar. Therefore, the basic rule for filming B-roll is: more is more. The more scenes and different perspectives you have captured, the more possibilities there are in the edit. And so, in the end, the overall work becomes more varied and appealing.
So if you have enough time, battery life and memory available, you should rather shoot one more perspective if in doubt. It is annoying to realize in the edit that an additional shot would have been nicer. However, this does not mean that you should spend hours shooting B-roll for a video with a running time of just a few minutes. It is more important to create a shooting plan or shot list in advance. This way, you can work through the predefined shots in a targeted manner. Afterwards, if necessary, you can capture a few additional, spontaneous B-roll shots to be on the safe side.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
What are B-roll recordings used for?
A video that consists only of A-roll footage would quickly become boring. Often, this would only consistently show a talking person, a certain action or situation. Only the B-roll shots make the video visually exciting. As a rule, the B-roll shows scenes that make details clear. For example, creative camera angles, or atmospheric shots to give the video a specific mood. These shots make the video more understandable, illustrative and emotionally gripping for the viewer.
In addition to its aesthetic role, the B-roll also plays a very practical role in editing. The scenes of the B-roll can be superimposed on the A-roll if something needs to be covered or concealed. If, for example, there is a slip of the tongue, a text dropout, a small cough or something similar in an interview, a B-roll recording can be placed over it. In the soundtrack, the disturbing part is removed. This way, the film continues seamlessly for the viewer. Likewise, B-roll can be used to link two sections of A-roll.
For example, if you only want to use the beginning and end of an interview, you can place one or more B-roll recordings in the interface. In this case, the two A-Roll sections do not usually merge directly into one another in terms of content. Especially, of course, when talking about a completely new topic. The B-roll scenes therefore act as a buffer here, so as not to make the change of topic seem too abrupt. B-roll scenes are usually shot without sound recording because they are superimposed on the sound track of the A-roll and/or accompanied by music or sound effects.
How do you film good B-roll footage?
Of course, there is no patent remedy here, the only rule is: be creative! Since the B-Roll doesn’t include sound, there are almost no limits to the selection of fresh, impressive and unusual perspectives.
Here is a selection of the most common stylistic devices
To be able to play back the filmed material completely smoothly even when slowed down, you have to film at a higher frame rate. The faster the movement to be filmed, the higher the frame rate should be. This is because the higher the frame rate, the more the video material can be slowed down in editing. With a low frame rate, a strong slowdown leads to jerky playback or no longer a smooth image sequence. The beating of a hummingbird’s wings or a blazing flame, however, only looks particularly interesting when slowed down. Here it is recommended to select the frame rate as high as possible, i.e. 120fps or higher (if the camera allows it).
Most human movements (walking, everyday or conversational scenes), on the other hand, usually look rather strange when slowed down too much. Here, 60fps is usually sufficient. A 60fps recording can easily be slowed down by at least half if you want to render the video in 24, 25 or 30 fps.
Some current cameras give the choice between 120fps in Full HD resolution and 60fps in 4k resolution. If the footage is to be extremely slowed down (80% slowdown or more), you should accept the lower resolution at the expense of the higher frame rate. For light slow motion (30, 40, or 50% slowdown), the higher frame rate doesn’t provide too much benefit. It is therefore better to shoot in 4K here.
Stable, wobble-free B-roll recordings
If you film at a high frame rate and slow the footage down, the image will automatically look shakier and more stable. For example, if you film at 120fps and slow it down by 80%, you still have a smooth, elegant 24 frames per second. Of course, reducing the speed by 80% means that rather abrupt movements with the camera don’t look quite so abrupt anymore. It only takes a single second of holding the camera still at 120fps to get a nice, smooth 5 second shot out of it. So if you’re filming in slow motion, you don’t necessarily need a gimbal or other physical image stabilization to create great shots. A little bit of after-the-fact digital image stabilization in the editing program does the trick. In Premier Pro, the Warp Stabilizer is particularly useful for slow-motion shots.
Use Gimbal / Steadycam
Slow motion footage usually looks best when there is a lot of movement. The footage looks best when the camera and the filmed object are moving. They show details that can never be seen as intensely at real speed. Of course, when tracking a moving object, the use of a gimbal or steadycam can be useful. However, if the object is moving very fast, this requires some practice. Especially if you still have to perform fast pans with such a device in order not to lose the object from the picture. Due to the slowing down of the material, especially fast camera movements often look good. In real speed, these would often appear too hectic. On the other hand, if you move the camera very slowly and slow down the footage a lot, this can quickly look a bit very sluggish and boring.
One continuous camera movement
With regard to the camera movements, you should pay attention to a continuous line. This means that an existing movement should always be continued in the same direction in the following scene. Continuing a camera pan to the left with a direct pan to the right not only looks unattractive, but also quickly confuses the viewer. As a cameraman or editor, you direct the viewer’s eye. This means that you should pay attention to where the viewer’s gaze is directed in a scene. This eye movement should not have to change too blatantly in the following scene.
However, videos in the combat or action area are an exception. Here, disorientation is deliberately introduced through abrupt changes of direction and fast cuts. The viewer thus experiences the chaotic dynamics of the action even more intensively.
Position the filmed object correctly
If the viewer has to reorient himself in every scene, it quickly becomes exhausting and irritating. The viewing experience deteriorates significantly as a result. Accordingly, it is also helpful to make sure that the filmed object does not ‘jump’ too much in the picture. One should not let the guidance of the viewer’s line of sight out of one’s hands. If, for example, you see a bird sitting large in the lower left of the frame in one scene, and in the next it can only be glimpsed in the upper right of the frame on a branch, the viewer has to virtually search for it. This should be avoided urgently. The same is the case when a person walks from right to left in one scene and in the opposite direction in the next.
The successive camera settings should match each other in terms of the direction of movement and the placement of the object in the image. This creates seamless transitions and a pleasant ‘flow’ of the video. In this way, the viewer is taken on a cinematic journey and the video unfolds its strongest effect.
For varied B-roll shots: The Five-Shot Method
Michael Rosenblum’s “five-shot method” is also suitable for filming B-roll shots. It says that you should always take 5 different shots of at least 3 seconds in length when filming. This way you always have enough material for editing and can present the action in a comprehensible and varied way. These five scenes should contain the following information:
1. WHERE – Where is the action taking place? A wide-angle shot without too much movement is recommended here. The viewer must be able to orientate himself and assign the location or spatiality.
2. WHAT – a close-up of an action, showing in detail what is being done. A macro lens and shallow depth of field can be used to separate the action from the background. This puts even more focus on the actual action.
3. WHO – Who is at the center of the scene, who is performing the action? A close-up of the person/face brings us closer to the protagonist. As with 2. this works even more forcefully when the background is out of focus and not distracting.
4. this shot also refers to the WHAT, but it also brings together the WHERE, WHAT and WHO. In this scene, the protagonist is filmed over his shoulder. Alternatively, this can be a POV (point of view) shot. This creates closeness with the character you are filming. You see the action from his perspective.
To complete the shots, something extraordinary is missing, something particularly fascinating. That’s why the fifth shot is called a wow shot. This can be a special camera perspective, a shot with a strikingly beautiful incidence of light or a great scenic foreground or background. This shot should make an impression.
B-roll shooting: Handheld or with gimbal?
Some filmmakers film their B-roll shots predominantly handheld. That is, handheld without additional stabilization devices such as gimbals or tripods. One reason for this is that B-roll is often shot in slow motion anyway. As already described, this makes the shots look calmer. On the other hand, handheld shots look more organic and natural than gimbal shots. The camera can react even faster to movements and adapt to movements of the filmed object.
Often, however, it’s purely a matter of style whether you film handheld or with a stabilizer. For certain, particularly action-packed videos, some natural shake looks more real and lively than a completely steady camera glide. For example, if you’re filming a firefighting team at work and want to include sequences that show the hectic preparation for an operation, a handheld camera is recommended. If, on the other hand, you are filming a calm lake in a dreamlike landscape, a smooth gimbal movement is the better stylistic device. Handheld shots look more immediate and closer, as if you were live in the action. Gimbal shots, on the other hand, tend to have something cooler, more distant. However, the gliding movements often make them seem more epic and cinematic. It doesn’t have to be an either/or here, though: A mix of handheld and gimbal shots can also work very well.
The image composition
Successful B-roll shots are, of course, also characterized by a well-considered, coherent image composition. For B-roll shots, you should take time to position the object to be filmed correctly in the picture. If it is a moving object, it is therefore important to find a suitable background. If it is people, you can ask nicely if they can position themselves somewhere else. When filming B-roll, you don’t have to capture everything exactly as it appears in front of you. It’s important to control and direct what’s going on around you as much as you can, if it creates more beautiful images.
The light setting
NBesides the background, the positioning should of course always be according to the best light. The natural light on the spot should be used and supported or supplemented by artificial light. If you blur the background to a shallow depth of field, it adds a lot to the mood of the image. The same applies to the foreground, of course. With a (blurred) foreground and background, you create depth in the image, making it look more vivid and alive. Likewise, this is achieved by shifting the focus and thus the focus of the viewers.
Bringing movement into the image
Moving shots always look more exciting than static ones. Unless you have thought through the composition of the image in such detail that it should not be ‘destroyed’ by movement. A mixture of moving and static B-roll shots is more varied and usually looks very coherent. However, the moving images had better not change the direction of movement. A slight movement in always the same direction creates a flow and takes the viewer on a journey.
If you film in 4k or higher resolution and render the video in full HD, you can still simulate motion in post-production. For example, you can digitally zoom in or out, simulate a camera pan, or use a combination of these two stylistic devices. Some cameras already offer such simulated slider or tripod movements internally, which saves some time in post-production.
Auto focus or manual focus?
If you have a camera that is not at its best when it comes to precise and fast autofocus, it is better to film with manual focus. If you film with manual focus from motion, you should first take your end position, focus on the object, and then make the movement from the respective starting point towards the object to exactly this position. By doing this, you move yourself and the camera into focus, so to speak. Alternatively, you can focus on the object when you are in the final position, then execute the movement away from the object. If you then let the video play backwards in post-production, you get the same effect. Of course, this is usually not possible with human motion, which looks strange when played backwards. When filming a static object, however, this is easily done.
Slider or dolly shots
In addition to a gimbal, a slider or dolly can also be used for smooth, shake-free shots. Compared to the gimbal, the slider has an even smoother movement. This is especially helpful for capturing the smallest details. For example, if you are filming a clockwork or a microchip up close, a slider is the best tool. With slider shots, you can elegantly stage even the smallest details in a moving shot.
Use timelapse or hyperlapse videos as B-roll recordings
Timelapse recordings are actually a series of individual images. These are usually a few seconds or even minutes apart. They are then integrated into a video and played back in a highly accelerated sequence. In this way, events at a location over a longer period of time can be summarized in a very short time.
Hyperlapse shots are timelapse shots where the camera moves over longer distances. Both styles are timelessly popular as B-roll shots. They are particularly suitable for staging landscapes or cities.
Accentuate B-roll footage with music and sound effects
The importance of music and sound effects is absolutely essential for a coherent video. They should always be chosen to emphasize the desired atmosphere. Well-chosen music contributes significantly to the basic mood of the video. In addition, the beat of the music sets the pace of the editing. A suitable music thus fits seamlessly into the overall work. Poorly chosen music, on the other hand, can make the images seem unintentionally comical if it doesn’t fit them.
If you select a music track that starts off a bit quieter and then increases, you can build up a tension curve. If you select the B-roll recordings according to this tension curve, you are already telling a kind of story. In general, music that is too low-key is better than a track that is too intrusive. If you have a speaking voice in the video, you should take care to reduce the volume of the music – while speaking. Only in the speech-free phases can you level it at a higher volume. Noise and sound effects are often omitted from B-roll recordings. The sound effects should then be selected appropriately in post-production and interspersed discreetly. This makes the film experience much more intense and appealing.
Buy B-roll footage on stock platforms
Video footage for the B-roll can also be purchased on various stock footage platforms. This is recommended if you need certain scenes that you can’t film yourself. For example, from a distant location. Likewise, if you want to show an action or situation that would be disproportionately expensive to stage.
However, caution is advised here. Some of the stock footage providers lure customers into expensive subscription traps with inexpensive starter packages. Before you use such a site, you should inform yourself in detail about its reputation and terms and conditions on the Internet. If you choose a reputable provider and find stock footage that matches the film, however, this can enrich a film enormously.