Lesson Eight: Storytelling using B-Roll, and the Role of Light

B-Roll (aka cutaways)

Be sure to not only film identifiable subjects/faces and the main action, but also film clips of faceless details that help tell the story or that are simply beautiful.

Look to nature, beautiful light, landscape, the physical surroundings, a body part doing some kind of movement such as baby hands opening and closing, hands knitting, interesting textures for inspiration, and items that are relevant to the event or lifestyle--such as a stethoscope and cord clamp at a birth, cherished family photos at a home session, or your child’s lovey in a moving portrait type of film.

Use these supplemental (B-roll) clips: 

  1. To help establish the setting and environment of your story with richness

  2. Sprinkled throughout your film to add depth, meaning, and visual variety/interest. Open your eyes to the beauty and only film what makes your heart sing or is essential to your story.

  3. To end your film in a meaningful way even if it does not feature the subjects themselves


This birth film features some lovely examples of B-roll, from the opening autumn at home scene, to items in mom's birth space, to the closing scene with candlelight. Note how these B-roll clips are incorporated very naturally into the story to enrich the film with so much meaning for this family. They were not necessarily filmed in chronological order, but I filmed them with the intention of using them somewhere in my film and didn't determine exactly where until I sat down to edit.


Finding the Light

Always be aware of how you can use light in your film to help tell the story and to add beauty and interest. Consider the mood of light and how/whether it compliments your story.

Look for these types of light and try to appreciate them and incorporate them (but watch your exposure settings while playing with the light):

Dappled light (when you see spots of light along with shadows, the lighting is not uniform)

Sun flare (a burst of strong sun)

Sun burst (rays of light extending out--stop your aperture down to capture this)

Reflected light (off a hard surface or water)

Window light (lovely for portraits when lit from the side; can be abundant or scarce--consider the mood for each when you observe it)

Harsh light and shadow casts (most often observed during midday to early afternoon; good for hinting at a subject or scene without obvious details)

Low light (you should become quite comfortable with this lighting as you will encounter it often)

Soft morning light (the first 1.5 hours after sunrise)

Soft golden light (the last 1-1.5 hours before sunset)


This film shows three different lighting situations: an outdoor maternity session at golden hour, low light at the hospital birth, and typical Washington DC row-house light for their newborn session. Lighting can be challenging, but we should welcome it and not be afraid of it. With practice, you will learn to use it to your advantage and capture moments beautifully in any given light. As you are watching, note where I place myself for filming in relation to the light and how I let it fall on my subjects to add visual interest.