In film and television, “B roll” refers to the extra or illustrative footage used to supplement the main shots. For example, pictures of foliage, scenic sites, and people walking.
B roll essentially means the “extra” shots that add color and perspective to the film.
I also use the term for photographs I take in various places with the intention of using them to illustrate blog entries I haven’t planned. For bloggers, “shooting B roll” means assembling a library of useful (and sometimes quirky) images to accompany future posts.
When teaching classes on publishing law and business, I’m often asked about the legality of photographs in blogging. Without going into the larger issues–it’s copyright infringement to use pictures that don’t belong to you unless you have the owner’s permission. That’s true on blogs as well as in other places. For that reason, pulling photographs off the Internet can be risky–and costly–as well as time-consuming. Using the first good picture you find may well create legal problems, but finding a copyright-released image can take more time than an author or blogger wants to spend.
If you have a smartphone, you can shoot B roll–and if you’re an author who blogs or uses social media, you should do it. Any time you find an interesting or useful image, take the photograph. Aggregate them in files, if you’re organized, or simply keep them on your computer to search in case of need.
The larger your image library, the greater your chances of having the content you need when you need to use it.
B roll can, and should, include everything from food:
to flowers and inspirational scenery:
to things that defy categorization:
If you like it, capture it–even if you don’t quite know at the moment how you’ll use it.
A lovely thing about shooting your own “b-roll” is that all of the photographs you take belong to you, and you can use them without worrying about copyright infringement.
Vibrant images improve blog posts, social media feeds, and websites–people love to see the things we talk about online. Creating a go-to file not only reduces the search time, but the photos themselves may even provide inspiration for posts and articles (like this one).
A caveat: try not to shoot photos that contain identifiable people–and if you can’t avoid it, be sure to crop or photoshop them out unless you have permission to use their images. Friends and family members are an exception to this, in many cases, because they won’t object to you using them in photos you post online. In many places, posting photos of identifiable strangers may violate the subject’s rights of privacy, creating legal liability for the use.
Also, don’t take photographs of settings or events where photography is forbidden. The image isn’t worth breaking the law or offending your hosts.
Many writers forget about collecting images until there’s an unfulfilled need for a blog or article; get in the habit of watching for interesting things and recording them for later use on your blog, website, or social media feeds. The more widely you shoot, the more interesting and extensive your personal image library will become.
Are you in the habit of shooting B-roll when you’re out and about?