We’ve all seen B-roll in our favorite content, but how does a filmmaker shoot cinematic B-roll footage without a big budget? Our video below will take you through these considerations step-by-step so that you can learn how to shoot B-roll efficiently while also elevating your music video, commercials, and narrative work. Lezgo.
Watch: How to Plan and Shoot B-Roll
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How to Shoot B-roll Video
Plan out your B-roll shots
You already know you need a plan, but how do B-roll shots fit into your already crowded shooting schedule?
Well, shooting good B-roll footage starts with the Five W's.
This is probably the most important aspect, and it should inform every decision you make. As mentioned in the video above, shot specs can change the way we receive and interpret footage with the same subject.
This is why you want to plan out specs on a detailed shot list:
You can use the same piece of B-roll footage cut with jolly music, ominous music, intense music, or inspirational music and each time viewers will get a different feeling about the video on screen.
You can amplify this feeling through visual means when you know the final purpose of your footage, and you can alter your shot specifications to capture B-roll that supports your intended use with greater precision.
Seldom will B-roll footage feature human subjects that aren’t extras, or ‘civilians’ going about their day. But it’s smart to identify beforehand what you may need — like a clip of a festival dancer at Carnivale.
Often B-roll will be of landmarks, exteriors, bodies of water, animals, machinery, or really anything that helps build a more complete picture. Identify what you might need to give your video some extra flavor.
Do you need B-roll video of a sunset? It would probably be unwise to show up to your location at 10:00pm, which is why you need to plan out the most appropriate time to shoot B-roll footage for your projects.
Consider permits and legal ramifications for where you shoot B-roll video. Also, don't record B-roll video of a community basketball court for that manufacturing plant exposé… unless it’s some super slick metaphor.
This is where your “why” comes in to play.
Shooting Good B-Roll
Maximize B-roll shots with techniques
Use cinematic techniques like shallow depth of field, slow motion, and gimbals to maximize your B-roll. These techniques not only give you cinematic looking footage, but make better use of your time.
You can shoot with a shallow depth of field like F1.4 to blur out any distracting elements and to get that cinematic blurry background.
Shoot in slow motion frame rates like 60fps, 120fps, or even higher to turn one second of recording time into three seconds of footage. You can speed up your B-roll video in post if you want it to play in real-time.
Setup your camera on a dolly or gimbal to give each shot some cinematic camera motion, and remember that shots are like stories — they need to have a beginning, a middle, and an end… with some resolution.
B-roll Footage Example
How to shoot B-roll video example
Let’s say you have a script with a line of dialogue that reads:
“I buried her under that tree.”
So, your first inclination is to find a tree, maybe with some grass, and then film the tree and cut your B-roll into your edit right after this line.
Wait… this line can mean a lot of things, right?
Maybe they buried a loved one under their favorite tree.
You can shoot your B-roll at eye-level, in real-time, and on a wide angle lens to catch a little sun flare, and add a subtle dolly movement.
Perhaps this is a serial killer who is confessing something to the police.
You can shoot this b-roll shot at a low angle and dolly in quickly to emphasize the importance of this spot where she’s buried.
Each will require a different approach to make your B-roll footage more effective, because music and context will only take you so far.
Both of these shots are still B-roll, and can be captured with the same equipment and camera, but the angle and movement may be slightly different. With some simple planning and consideration, you can visually communicate different meanings with the same subject.
24 FREE B-roll websites
We've covered some pro-tips on how to shoot B-roll but sometimes that's not enough. When you pinched for time, money or resources, finding stock B-roll footage is the way to go. Don't waste your time scouring the internet for B-roll websites, we've done the research for you. Here are the best websites for free and/or cheap stock footage. So, don't sweat that drone shot you were really hoping to get — chances are it's already shot and just waiting for you to download it.