Video Editing Tips

Choose your editing software.

Both Windows (Microsoft Movie Maker) and Apple (iMovie) have simple editing software that’s easy for beginners to use. More advanced editing software, such as Apple’s Final Cut, Sony Vegas or Adobe Premiere have much longer learning curves, but have greater capabilities.

Be organized.

When you download the footage from the camera, mark it in ways that will make it easy to find later with keywords, shot numbers, dates, subjects or whatever is applicable. Being organized is crucial to making the most of your raw material.

Backup your edits and raw footage.

Backup your edits and your raw footage. Make copies in different places so that something fails, you have backups. Digital video is slippery. Backup, and you won’t regret it.

Know what you’re trying to convey with the video.

Have a clear idea of your goal in making the video, then edit in a way that communicates the idea.

Bring in the viewer.

Use an establishing shot to give the viewer a sense of place then bring them into the scene. A long shot of the building or the room helps the viewer understand where the action is taking place.

Establish a pace.

Video is very closely related to music — this is why music is so often used in video. In editing, this is reflected in the pace of the edits — that is, how quickly you move from shot to shot. Establishing a pace for the edit creates the pace and timing of the video. Music helps, but the edit itself should move along with an established and interesting pace.

These are flexible, but there are some basic rules to pacing your edits. Scenes where fast action is important, such as a big play at home plate, will have an editing pace of about 3 seconds per shot. That means every 3 seconds the viewer sees a new shot. Scenes where the pacing is slow, such as a funeral, will have an editing pace of about 5-7 seconds or more. These are general guidelines. You can adjust them if you have a good reason.

Use shot variety to increase interest.

A variety of angles on a single subject helps to maintain interest over time. Move from long shot to medium shot to close-ups. Then get in really close to see the subject's eyes or expression. This way, viewers get more intimate with the subject and can watch a single subject for a longer time without losing interest.

Be aware of creating an emotional arc of the video.

You’ll want some parts to be very dramatic and others to be calm. This creates an arc or story line. Like good music, it’s not the same all the way through. Move to the high point, then ease away, allowing the viewer to take in what they’ve seen.

Keep it simple.

Online video should be short and to the point. While the viewing time for online video is growing longer, it’s always been true that shorter is better. Two to three minutes is ideal for an online video.

Use A/B editing.

Use the primary subject telling the story as A-roll, then use short cuts of what he or she is talking about as B-roll, illustrating the audio as the subject is talking. Use a few shots of illustration, then go back to the subject talking. The subject will be much more interesting when you return.

The trick with these edits is to think critically about what your audience needs to know and then think of many different ways you can support that with visuals. The other trick is making sure that whoever is filming takes plenty of B-roll shots.

Compress time.

The great thing about video is that it can be edited and can tell the story in much less time than real time. You can unfold the story chronologically or skip around in time. You can take an hour-long baseball game and edit it down to a riveting 60 seconds. Manipulating time is critical in producing compelling videos.

Start thinking of a video clip or a shot as a single idea. Put multiple shots together and you can start to put scenes together. Multiple actions in multiple shots can go together quite nicely as one thought.

Example of how time compression works in video: Your sister is having a baby and she wants you to create a video for friends and family. The big day arrives, and you've got 14 hours of footage. Now, while she might watch a 14-hour video of her labor and delivery, most others would not. So, you rely on the objective to focus attention on the most important parts to the video.

  • You have a video clip of the original phone message your sister left as she urgently tried to get hold of you to let you know the baby is coming. That's a good place to start.
  • Next is a short clip of the hospital waiting room where the extended family patiently awaits.
  • After that, a close-up of the clock in the hospital then you dissolve to your next sequence of your sister talking about her childhood and what her expectations are as a new mother. This was an interview you set up weeks ago and you're using B-roll of childhood photos. This sequence goes on for 30 seconds or so.
  • Then you dissolve back to the hospital break room where soon-to-be grandpa is getting a cup of coffee. He looks down at his watch and says bluntly, "It's been five hours."

The big idea here is that you don't have to show things in a linear progression nor do you need to think literally for each action. A phone message can provide enough context to quickly move to the hospital location without confusing the viewer. That saves a lot of time of focusing on less interesting details, like how you actually got there. By compressing time and using each shot to represent an idea, you can make a short but excellent video of the event.

Add credits.

Name the piece and put it in the beginning. Add your name and the names of those who helped on the video to the end credits. Keep your credits simple and clean. It looks professional that way.

Get feedback.

Show your work to others before you post it. People know what they like. Listen to their feedback and use it to make the video better while staying true to the basic concept you used to create the video.