What is b-roll?

First off, what is “b-roll” exactly? It’s defined as “supplemental footage inserted as a cutaway to help tell the story.” Back in the days of celluloid, “a-roll” was used to describe the most important, primary roll of film. The “b-roll” therefore was the secondary roll of footage.

Let’s use a real-life example of a UVic video: it starts with a student talking about her co-op placement in which she helped design a ship’s engine. Then the shot cuts away to her discussing some blueprints with her supervisor. This cutaway footage is called “b-roll.”

Say you’ve been asked to shoot some b-roll of some lab work or a field school. There is no professional videographer available and you want to supply some footage to someone who’s putting a video together.

Here are some tips:

  • Get the best quality camera you can place your hands on.
  • Get in close to the action.
  • Shoot horizontal always
  • Shoot in HD (720 or 1080)
  • Keep your hands steady while shooting
  • Do not zoom while you’re recording
  • Do not shoot into a strong light source, unless you have a good knowledge of photography/videography

Some ideas:

If you’re in an interesting or exotic location, here are some ideas for footage:

  • Shoot a steady 180 degree pan of the landscape (use a tripod or brace your body against a solid object)
  • Try to capture some footage of everyday life in your location – markets, cooking, family life
  • If you’re traveling alone, put the camera on a tripod and capture a bit of yourself in action or talking to people. Or set up the camera for someone and ask them to shoot a bit of a scene, or get up close and shoot above your shoulder or from the side to capture you in an activity with people.  And then switch perspectives and ask them to shoot over the other person’s shoulder to catch you in action.
  • Try to capture the students interacting with the locals
  • Get an ‘establishing’ shot of your location, like a building exterior,  landscape, or even footage from the window of a plane.
  • Get creative!

If your location is a lab, office or classroom setting:

  • Hands at work
  • Close-ups of eyes
  • People interacting
  • Supervisors discussing things with students
  • Anything that illustrates the research or other work being done


If you have a decent recorder, think a bit about sound. It holds a lot of emotional content and even a bit of natural sound can enhance the finished video by adding some nice texture and ambience.

You can use your phone’s voice recorder or try a sound recording app like SoundCloud or Hindenberg.

  • Sounds of nature (birds, sea, wind, animals)
  • Sounds of a anthropology dig
  • Native-speakers in conversation
  • Singing
  • City sounds
  • Machinery

Additional articles

You may also wish to read this article by Vimeo, complete with video examples.