Sometimes it’s hard to shoot a scene where you really want to shoot it.

For example, it might be difficult to shoot a closeup of a person water skiing behind a boat.

That’s when background plates come in handy. Background plates are a type of compositing, which is the technique of combining foreground and background elements into a single shot.

Over the course of film history, a few different methods have been used to create composite shots. One of the most popular is rear projection, which has been used in films from North by Northwest to Pulp Fiction.

In rear projection, the actors stand in front of a screen while a projector positioned behind the screen casts a reversed image of the background. The image that is projected can be still or moving, but is always called the plate.

Today, as you would guess, it’s all done digitally. We recently shot a video in a hospital. Because of noise and foot traffic, it would have been very difficult to actually film the spoken parts in public spaces. So we set up a greenscreen shot in a quiet conference room.

Then we shot a background plate in the hospital lobby.

To make it convincing, we had to be careful about matching the lighting, focal length and position of the two shots. The finished composite came out like this.

A still of a woman speaking in front of a reception desk. It's an example of a background plate.

And here is the finished video. Everyone you see in it was composited over a background plate.

Have a difficult shot in mind? A background plate might be just the ticket.

Bill Haley

P.S. Have a video topic you’d like to see discussed? Let me know and I’ll try to get to it in a future post.

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