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3 Tips for Recording B-roll

Here are three tips that will save you a bunch of time and headaches when you start recording B-Roll:

Tip 1

RECORD WIDE, MEDIUM, AND CLOSE UP SHOTS

Think of your B-Roll as a guided tour through your content. It’s easy to hold up your camera and get some video of a lab, or a library, or a park and call it good enough. Your story was all about a lab, so you showed the lab. You got a WIDE SHOT but that’s where the tour ended. No Medium or Close Up shots of anything that was in the lab.

That’s a bummer and a missed opportunity. You just let your audience peek in the door, but you didn’t take them to the cool parts of the lab. 

So here’s a checklist that you can follow for how many Wides, Mediums, and Closeups you should record. And remember, this can change depending on your subject and your A/V script. 

Wide Shot: At least two! 

Get these from different angles. Maybe one up high — or above head height, and one from eye level. This gives you some variety if you want to show the location more than once (ballroom, lab, conference room, plaza, etc.).

Medium: At least four medium shots. 

You can almost never have too many medium shots, but we didn’t want to write “as many as humanly possible”, because that might be a bit anxiety-provoking. Instead, we settled on four. This gives you an opportunity to record your subject in four different ways, doing different things, within the space. That is generally enough to cut with a wide shot and interview footage to tell your story in an interesting way. 

Close Ups: At least eight close ups. 

Close ups can be used to “hint” at something, as well as explain more deeply by providing more detail — it just depends on how you plan to use them. If you have an A/V script, then you’ll have a really good idea of how and when you’ll be using these. If you’re at an event or another location where you don’t have an A/V script (or just not one that is very fleshed out), grabbing at least eight will give you good options in the edit to hint or explain things that your subject is describing. 

Tip 2

AIM TO EXPLAIN EVERYTHING (EVEN WHEN YOU DON’T THINK YOU HAVE TO)

You are an expert (or at least have some knowledge about what you’re making the video about). If you record a bunch of B-Roll without thinking about your audience’s lack of knowledge, you’ll probably shoot all the wrong stuff. So what we recommend is pretending that you’re taking a group of children on a field trip and showing them all the coolest stuff about the subject at hand. By thinking this way, you invite yourself to see the space with a fresh perspective, which can be tough if you’re already really familiar with the subject or the space. 

Remember that your audience doesn’t know anything about what you know! Also, children have short attention spans. So, you need to make sure that you’re showing the highlights — the coolest of the cool that you have to offer — or else they (and your audience) are going to get bored. 

Tip 3

RECORD FOR AT LEAST 10 SECONDS AT A TIME

A major difference between green videographers and top-notch ones is how long they hold a shot. New videographers want to collect everything fast — wide, medium, close, extreme close, back to wide, and then medium — well, you get the idea. 

But when it comes to editing, those short clips are oftentimes almost unusable. The reason is that when you frame up your shot and start recording, the act of starting to record forces you to adjust, so you’ve already lost one to two seconds of usable footage to needing to readjust, then you lose another second or so when you stop recording. 

If you’re shooting for five or six seconds at a time, then you’re left with — at the maximum — two to three seconds of usable footage. And you’ll quickly find that you don’t have what you need to cover your interview shots or your narration in the edit.

Instead, shoot for at least ten seconds between starting and stopping your recording. There’s also no harm in recording for even longer than that — some videographers we know aim for at least thirty seconds per shot! 

Since media storage is cheap and getting cheaper every day, the worst that happens is that you end up with more bits and bytes on the digital cutting room floor. 

And by shooting for longer periods of time, you’ll have more shots to choose from to cover your content and build visual sequences. 

BONUS TIP: MOVE SLOW AND SMOOTH

This might seem to contradict our field trip analogy because children look at things very quickly and move on; however, the kiddos that live in your camera get motion sickness very easily — and your audience can start to feel the same way with shots zipping around at high velocity. So when you do any pans or tilts, make sure to move more slowly than you normally would . And don’t come to a jerky stop. Start and stop your movements gradually. 

It’s a good idea to hold your shot for at least five seconds before you begin a move like a pan or tilt. After the shot stops moving, hold it for another five seconds at the end.  This will help whoever is editing the footage be able to get in and out of the shot cleanly.

And if you’re trying to record a move on an inanimate object — which can sometimes be difficult to land your camera on accurately — one nifty trick you can use is to start your shot on the object and then move the camera away from it. Then when you’re editing, just reverse your clip, and like magic, your shot lands beautifully on the object! 

And those are your three tips for recording B-Roll: 

  1. Pretend like you’re giving a guided tour to a bunch of children that live in your camera
  2. Record for at least ten seconds at a time 
  3. Move slow and smooth

Now I hope that these tips help you get out there and shoot some amazing B-Roll!