Shooting B-roll

Andrew Tingley | June 5, 2024

In this post, I’m going to go over the basics of shooting B-roll, and some unconventional tips that you may not find in other articles. To compile this list, I went on a B-roll shoot with a Ferris State senior, who was shooting for a short program segment. From my perspective, after shooting B-roll for many years, it was interesting to see how someone new may approach the challenge. I took notes to compose this article. But first…

What is B-roll?

Simply put, B-roll covers the A-roll. Back when news footage was on tape, the news anchors (the A-roll) would start a segment. Then, visual footage of what they were talking about would literally “roll” in over the top as the operator pushed play on the tape deck, and the TD dissolved to the footage. When the segment was almost over, the TD would dissolve back to the anchors. It’s hard to find this description on the web, but this is how I learned about B-roll in the late 1990s.

So, there you have it, B-roll is the visual footage that supports an interview or main feed for a segment or video. If you’d like another, more cinematic description of the history of B-roll, take a look at this Studio Binder article.

Shooting B-roll with a Ferris student.

Tips on Shooting B-roll

Without further ado, here are my tips for shooting B-roll, starting with arriving on set.

Before Your Shoot

If you are setting up your shoot and you don’t get a response from email, then call. If calling doesn’t work, you may also just go visit them.

Get equipment and pre-set up.

⁃ Insert your fully charged battery.

⁃ Format your memory card so you have plenty of room to shoot footage.

⁃ Go to the settings and make sure things are the way you like it. This can be done before you arrive on set, or the night before.

Know where you are going, including address(es), and buildings.

Have a plan of how much you want to shoot. Create a shot list!

When You Arrive

Know how to set up your tripod quickly and effortlessly, your client or contact will probably be watching. You don’t want this to look like it’s your first time.

Is the lighting all the same? White balance or set presets A and B so you can quickly change between setups.

Get integrated quickly. After you get a quick lay of the land, look around and start shooting. You can’t afford to waste time.

While Shooting

Record pre-roll and post-roll. Make sure to have a good 3-5 seconds after you hit record before you start moving or recording your usable footage. Then, wait another 3-5 seconds before you stop recording. In this day and age, you don’t need to save space or film. (for your editor!!)

A general rule of thumb I’ve adopted (based on my editor’s feedback) is to shoot at least 10-20 seconds for every shoot at a minimum.

Shot Ideas

Shoot for coverage. Get establishing shots, wide shots, medium shots, and close-ups of every scene or scenario.

Shooting B-roll with people will make much more sense than B-roll of empty spaces (in most cases).

Ask for a description or demonstration of something you don’t understand. This will help you to know what to shoot.

Try to catch people’s emotions – you may have to keep rolling just to get a good shot! This is ok, you can trim the clip in post production.

Look for movement! Examples:

⁃ robots that move

⁃ Peoples hands

– create movement with the camera. Rack focus, slide to the right or left, tilt up or down, etc.

Rack focus shots work well to reveal or refocus your audience’s attention.

Don’t forget to reference your shot list.

Camera settings

When shooting handheld, get steady shots

⁃ Turn on steadyshot or EIC.

⁃ When appropriate zoom out all the way (stay wide)

⁃ Use a shoulder mount to give you more points of contact on the camera.

How do you know you are in Focus?

⁃ If it’s a static shot use expanded focus (or image magnification on some cameras)

⁃ If you have a parfocal lens, you may zoom in set your focus, and zoom out to get your shot

⁃ If you have peaking lines and you trust them, and then you can use that for shots where you are focusing live.

At the End of Your Shoot

You may feel like you didn’t get enough good shots. This is normal and you may be surprised how good the shots you did get look. If you don’t think you got enough, keep shooting! Even if you think you are repeating shots. You can select the best one out of the two or three you captured.

Pack up your equipment nicely. Take your time here, you’ll thank yourself later. So will the rental house (or media supply).

Review your footage on set if you are able, just to make sure you got what you thought you got.

Back up your footage as soon as possible with the 3-2-1 backup strategy.

How to Edit Broll

Don’t forget about using still images, stock footage, and full-screen graphics as B-roll. Anything that breaks up the A-roll is considered B-roll. Be creative.

Image by Terrence Phiri from Pixabay


Hopefully, this post helped you to prepare for shooting better B-roll. The best way to learn is just to get out there and start shooting. Then, edit your footage together and start learning from your mistakes. If you are shooting for another editor, then, ask them what you can do to improve next time. 

This article did not really cover types of B-roll, or how to get more cinematic B-roll. For additional resources, keep reading below.


Additional Resources

Mini Bio

Andrew has been producing video for over 20 years, and teaching for 6.

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