Clean Plates: The Axiom Video Cheat Code

Author: Wyatt Augustyniak

June 22, 2023 • 3 minute read

Posted In: Video

clean plate for video instruction

We use clean plates just about every time we shoot an interview. That’s not to say we’re eating on set, at least not any full meals, but rather we’re using a technique called a “clean plate” to fix or enhance aspects of our videos in editing. But don’t worry, it’s still finger-licking good in the digital sense.

A clean plate is a shot of just the background of a scene without any people or video equipment in it. It’s used to cover up any unwanted details later, once we’re editing the video. Here’s how it works… 

After we wrap the discovery interview in a nice tiny bow, we move our interviewee and any video equipment out of the shot. Then, we film the now-empty scene for about 10-15 seconds. That gets us a clean plate, which we can use to hide the equipment we moved earlier.

But why would we intentionally leave equipment in our shots instead of just moving them out of the way to begin with? 

Hiding Lights

Back lights or hair lights can be difficult to fit into a small space, especially when we’re shooting with a wider lens. Not everyone has the corner office in the Chicago high rise. We often end up catching the lights or their stands in the shot. That’s where clean plates come in handy. They allow us to hide these lights beneath the clean plate and maintain that nice background separation we get from back-lighting our interviewee. The “Bob Ross” of video if you will. #happylittletrees

Recording Cleaner Audio

The closer the microphone is to the person speaking, the cleaner the audio, meaning less background noise and higher resolution sound. Clean plates are a great way to ensure the microphone remains close to the speaker regardless of how we frame the shot. We may even be able to hear their thoughts being so close. If there’s a good amount of space between the interviewee’s head and the top of the frame, we don’t have to sacrifice audio quality by moving the microphone out of sight. 

Fixing Bright Windows

We love putting windows in the backgrounds of our interview shots. Unfortunately, windows don’t always love being put in the background of our interview shots.

As it turns out, windows are bright during the day, like really bright. It takes a powerful light blasting onto the interviewee’s face to see anything besides WHITE. Plus, the brighter the interviewee is lit, the darker the background will appear in comparison, which requires us to add even more lights to the scene. #cavescene

By turning down the exposure of our cameras and shooting a low-exposure clean plate of the windows, we can add those outside details to the windows in editing. Abbra clean plate dabra!

Getting Softer Light

Similar to audio, placing a light closer to the interviewee allows for high-quality lighting. We refer to it as “soft” light because it spreads smoothly across a person’s face, appearing elegant and natural. No unflatteringly bright or dark spots to be seen. 

Using a clean plate, we can move our lights closer to the interviewee for high-quality, natural-looking lighting, and later remove the lights from the scene.

Drinking Coffee On Set

Because we can. That’s about it for this one.

There are many more applications for clean plates, some more absurd than others. These are just the most common uses we’ve found for our favorite video cheat code.