Editing is the skill of crafting a story using video, images, and sound. The best editing is often unnoticed by the viewer, earning it the title of invisible art.
A well-edited video draws the audience into the story; the actual cuts should not be noticeable unless there’s a purpose, like showcasing a digital effect.
Even with careful planning in video shooting, surprises and adjustments happen during editing. An initially brilliant idea might not work in the final video, while unexpected moments of greatness can enhance your footage.
The success of your video often hinges on good editing. This article guides you on navigating this crucial process. We’ll use Apple iMovie as an example, but other editing software functions similarly.
Table of Contents
Step 1: Log your footage
When you come back from filming, follow these simple steps to organize your footage for editing:
Download the footage: If you’re using a modern camera, it’s quick—just copy the video files. If you shot on tape, it takes more time. Check your camera manual for details.
Import footage into your editing program: You might have done this already if you used your editing software to download. Otherwise, do it manually.
Organize your clips: Arrange clips by scenes or related content. Use folders, bins, labels, or tags provided by your editing program to keep things tidy.
Watch your footage: Review all clips to understand what you have. It’s time-consuming, but necessary if you have a lot of footage.
Remove unwanted material: If you have unusable clips, store them in a folder labeled “Unusable” instead of deleting. Sometimes seemingly unusable clips can be useful later.
Take notes: Note the content and quality of each clip. Most editing programs allow you to add notes directly in line with the clip.
Mark the best clips: If you have multiple takes, mark the best one. Use features like “Favorites” or simply make a note. Also, mark good B-roll footage and note the best sound bites in interview clips.
Logging your footage may seem tedious, but it’s worth the effort. It saves time during editing, preventing you from searching endlessly for a clip you vaguely remember.
Step 2: Trim video clips
Clips often tend to be too long. If you want to use a one-take video, you can simply trim off unwanted pieces at the beginning and the end. Fortunately, trimming a clip on your computer is fairly easy. The best tool depends on the platform you use:
On the Mac
Mac users already have QuickTime, a preinstalled media player that has basic editing features.
If you want to trim a clip, open the video file in QuickTime, and then choose the Edit➪Trim command.
A timeline showing the entire clip appears. Drag the yellow handles to mark the start and end of the clip, and then click the Trim button. The resulting clip can be saved or exported for use on YouTube or on your website. Figure 8-1 shows how to use the trim function in QuickTime.
On the PC
PC users can select from a variety of video processing tools that provide the trimming function.
An easy way is to use Windows Movie Maker. This simple editing application is free, and it works well if you want to trim only a few clips.
In some editing programs you will need to save the trimmed video as a new clip, or else you lose the rest of your footage.
Some simple video programs even let you assemble multiple clips into a longer clip. For example, QuickTime lets you add a clip to the end of the current clip by choosing the Edit➪Add Clip to End command.
On a PC, use Windows Movie Maker and simply drag and drop the clips to the storyboard. This method works for assembling two or three clips, but don’t expect it to replace an editing program. As soon as you want to move beyond the simplest trimming level (and save time in the end), invest in quality editing software.
Step 3: Make a rough cut
To start planning your video, you need to create a rough cut. This means putting together all your good footage to see what works. The rough cut is longer than the final video and doesn’t have titles or visual effects yet.
Here’s how to make a rough cut:
Log Your Footage: Watch all your footage and note the good takes.
Review Your Storyline: Go through your story scene by scene.
Choose Best Takes: Pick the best takes for each scene.
Set In and Out Points: Decide where each clip should start and end.
- In Point: Where the clip begins.
- Out Point: Where the clip ends.
Don’t worry about timing yet; you can adjust it later in your timeline.
Insert Clips in Timeline: Place the clips in your editing program’s timeline in any order.
Repeat for All Scenes: Go through each scene, following the same process.
When you watch your rough cut, it might look a bit bumpy and long. The goal is to see how well everything works together. If your editing program allows, make a safety copy of your rough cut. This can be useful later when you need a fresh perspective in the editing process or if you have a lot of footage and want to find raw clips quickly.
Step 4: Switch it around
Modern editing software allows you to play around with your clips and sequences to discover the best combination. But be cautious not to get lost in experimentation. Before making changes, think about why you want to change something, and only do it if you have a good reason.
Here are some easy-to-follow suggestions:
Try Different Takes: If a take that looks good on its own doesn’t fit well with the rest, try using a different take of the same shot. See if it improves the overall scene.
Remove Unnecessary Clips or Scenes: Shorter is usually better in editing. If a clip or an entire scene doesn’t add much value, consider dropping it. If you don’t miss it, your audience probably won’t either.
Change Scene Order: In documentaries or educational videos, scenes may not have a fixed order. You can rearrange them for a dramatic effect. For instance, if you’re showcasing lawnmowers, start with the perfect lawn result before demonstrating how your product achieved it.
Remember, editing is storytelling, and stories don’t always have to follow a straight line. Inform your audience early that you have something interesting to share. Take a cue from the pros, like James Bond movies, which kick off with an exciting action scene instead of a dull explanation of the villain’s plot, grabbing the audience’s attention right away.
Step 5: Create cuts
Editing a video is like telling a story, just with visuals. Think of the rough cut as the first draft of your video, similar to an outline in a written document. But editing involves more than just putting clips together. It’s like refining a written text for style and language but with videos, you refine it with better timing, transitions, additional material, and polished cuts.
The style aspect of video editing is crucial. It’s what makes the difference between a video that’s barely watchable and one that excites viewers.
In film editing, a cut connects two shots. The transition between shots is called a cut, although today, in digital editing, there’s no actual cutting involved.
There are different types of cuts, each serving a specific purpose:
Hard Cut: The most basic type. One shot ends, and the next begins immediately. Both the picture and the soundtrack are cut simultaneously.
Transition: This involves a visual effect as one shot flows into the next. The fade is a simple form of transition, gently moving from one picture to the next. Be cautious with elaborate transitions; they should enhance, not distract.
Cross Fade: A softer alternative to hard cuts, useful for achieving a flowing pace, especially with slow music.
Jump Cut: Cutting between two shots of the same subject with slight differences. Generally, it’s best to avoid, but it can be used for dramatic effect or in interviews to add variety.
While a rough cut often uses plain hard cuts, refining your video may involve using other cut types to enhance the story and viewer experience.
Many beginners overuse fancy transitions provided by editing programs. Remember, viewers are more impressed by good storytelling than excessive special effects. A good guideline is that 95 percent of your cuts should be plain hard cuts. Overusing fades or elaborate transitions can detract from the viewing experience.
Step 6: Fill the gaps with B-roll
B-roll is extra footage that helps explain things better or fills gaps in the main story. Having lots of good B-roll is smart because it helps the editor.
Here are some common times to use B-roll in your video:
Explain what someone is talking about: If a speaker or interviewee is explaining something, show it in the video.
Make a scene look better: Add interesting shots to make a long or boring scene more exciting.
Give a break between scenes: In scripted videos, use B-roll to create a pause between scenes. TV shows often show shots of the city between scenes.
Hide cuts in interviews or continuous scenes: If you need to cut an interview or scene, use B-roll while the person is still talking to hide the cut. This makes it look smoother.
Cover up mistakes: If something goes wrong with the footage, like shaky camera or out-of-focus moments, use B-roll to hide it.
But don’t only use B-roll to cover mistakes. Use it often to make your video interesting and varied. However, don’t use B-roll that doesn’t connect to the topic or add value.
Step 7: Polish Your Video
After you refine your rough cut into a well-timed, well-trimmed video, it’s time to apply the final layer of polish. A bit of further fine-tuning makes the difference between an acceptable video and one that looks truly professional.
1. Fine-tune your edit
Videos can get better by doing a few simple things that viewers might not even notice directly:
Adjust Timing: Make sure your cuts flow smoothly. Even small changes in timing can make a big difference.
Add Music: Finalize your audio by picking the right tracks. Good audio is as important as good visuals.
Clean Up Audio: Check and fix audio levels to keep them consistent. Sudden volume changes can be annoying. Some tools can help adjust audio levels automatically.
Color Correction: Keep the colors consistent between different shots. This makes the video look more polished and can create a specific mood or vibe for your audience. For example, different lighting can set the tone for different types of scenes, like cool tones for crime scenes or warm tones for romantic settings.
2. Add bells and whistles
To make your video more engaging, consider adding the following elements:
Titles: Create a catchy title sequence using templates provided by your editing program. Keep it short and easy to read, as online viewers have less patience than those in a movie theater.
Sound Effects: Thoughtfully include background tracks or sounds that complement what’s happening on screen. Avoid overused effects like explosions or alien sounds. You can replace original sounds with canned ones if needed, using libraries provided by some editing programs or available online.
Visual Effects: Use effect filters sparingly to transform the look of your footage. While these can enhance your video, apply them judiciously to avoid overwhelming your audience.
Experiment with these elements during the early stages of editing, but save the detailed application for the end. Applying them too soon can be time-consuming, and changes to your edit might require unnecessary adjustments.
Step 8: Add Voiceover and Sound Effects
Many marketing videos use voiceover narration, where a narrator not shown on screen describes the company’s products or services. If you’re making your own videos, most editing programs have a voice-over recording feature. To do this, consider getting a decent external microphone for less than $100. This investment will significantly improve the quality of your voice-over tracks.
Just like with narration, you can enhance your videos by adding sound effects. Unlike Hollywood movies where many sounds are added in post-production, trying to capture sounds on location can be challenging and might not yield the best results.
During the editing process, sound effects play a crucial role. Here are the main types of sound effects you can use:
Background or Ambient: These are continuous background noises that indicate the setting of the video scene. For instance, a city scene benefits from vehicle sounds, footsteps, and occasional sirens, while a beach scene needs wind and water sounds. Capturing a few minutes of ambient sound on your video set can help establish the audio atmosphere of the location.
Hard: This type of sound effect accompanies visible events on screen, like slamming doors or passing vehicles. Applying hard sound effects is a bit more challenging because they need to sync precisely with the picture. However, most editing programs make this process relatively easy.
Many advanced video-editing programs come with a basic library of sound effects. To use them, simply add an audio track, drag in the desired sound recording, and adjust the track to fit the scene.
If you need more options, you can find additional sound effects online from stock sound libraries like Shockwave-Sound.com (www.shockwave-sound.com) and Soundsnap (www.soundsnap.com). These libraries often provide specific descriptions for each sound, making it easier for you to find something suitable, such as “Cars passing by at 25 mph on a somewhat busy street.
Step 9: Export the Final Version
When you’re done editing, you save the video from your editing software for future use.
It’s a good idea to save different versions of the video because you might need the final video in different ways:
Save a top-quality master copy with the best possible quality your editing software can make. You can always make the quality lower, but not higher (which also changes the file size). That’s why it’s smart to keep a high-quality copy in case you need to make other versions later on.
If you’re making a video for YouTube, keep a special copy just for that. The settings for uploading videos on YouTube can change, so always check the best settings on your YouTube channel upload page.
Usually, the settings look like this:
- File type: mp4
- Audio quality: AAC-LC
- Video quality: H.264
- Common frame rates: 24, 25, 30, 48, 50, 60 frames per second
- Screen shape: 16:9 (YouTube players are like this, and a common resolution is 720p: 1280×720)
Most editing programs allow you to directly upload videos to YouTube, but if you make a mistake, fixing it can be a hassle. It’s often better to first save the video on your computer, check it, and then manually upload it to have more control over the process.