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Video Editing Made Easy For The Complete Novice

Updated on December 3, 2012
User Interface
User Interface

An outline of steps for editing your videos

If you have never done any type of video editing before then simply contemplating that task can seem a little daunting.

A first glance at your everyday - run of the mill - consumer video editing software can turn that initial self-doubt into a wave of overwhelm!

However the basic principles of video editing are quite simple especially if you are tackling the subject from an amateur viewpoint.

That isn't to say that you must settle for an inferior product but let's be honest here, we are not exactly going for a Hollywood blockbuster!

You of course will be wondering about such things as how do I get the video files to the video editing software, how do I just get the pieces that I want, how do I position them where I want them to go?

The first thing to keep in mind is that your final video should be telling a story. You have possibly heard that before but often people misunderstand what that means in relation to a home movie.

The easiest way to really understand it is with an example.

Let's say you, like most amateur cinematographers, went out somewhere on some occasion and shot all sorts of footage left, right and center.

You get home and want to make a video of the event. Most people interpret "telling the story" as adding all the footage to the timeline of the software, cutting out the rough bits and the shots of the bottom of the carry bag (left the camcorder running...) and this somehow "tells the story!"

This method makes the two biggest mistakes possible when editing video.

The first is the idea that video editing is a process of cutting out things so that what is left will be watchable.

The truth is that editing is a process of ADDING things to create the final video, not taking things away.

The second mistake is that this "process" is actually an attempt to document the event instead of tell the story of the event.

Documenting a two week family vacation would result in a video that ran for slightly under two weeks! Yes, you could save some time by not including the sleeping hours but still... it would run pretty long!

So the entire process of editing videos is the action of adding footage and other things like images and audio to tell the "story" of an event... not to fully document it.

With that concept in mind it gets much easier to begin and you begin by... opening your notepad and picking up a pen!

Yes, I know that sounds pretty low-tech but that's how it is done.

As an example let's take a family outing to the fun-park. You have taken endless footage of everything that happened on the day. So now you write down the "events" of the day like this:

  1. Woke up early got the kids fed, organized and into the car.
  2. Drove to the fun-park and parked the car.
  3. Bought tickets, entered the fun-park.
  4. Kids did the petting zoo first.
  5. Kids went on rides.
  6. Lunch
  7. Etc., etc., etc.

Once you have summarized the events of the day you now have your scene list. Remember, you don't have to use every second of footage you have of each possible scene.

You only need to include enough footage to clearly show what is happening now in the story.

User Interface
User Interface | Source

The nest step is to transfer your video clips to your editing software library. Make sure at this point that all of your files are named in such a way that they show what they are.

Then go through each of the files to see which ones are OK to use and which are not. Discard the unusable ones immediately to cut down the clutter in your library.

At this time it is a good idea to trim any of the usable ones if they need it and constantly refer to your "scene list" to get an idea of which files can be used where.

Once you have all the clips sorted in the library then it is simply a matter of dragging then down one by one on to the software timeline.

The timeline shows the sequence of the clips as they will appear in the final video. From the timeline you can make more exact adjustments to each clip as well as the order of the clips.

Once this is done refer back to your scene list to make sure you have represented each point that you wanted to and change as necessary.

When you are happy with the results you can then add transitions between each clip to give a smoother flow and a more professional look.

Don't go crazy with transitions! They can help tell the story or they can be a distraction to the story.

As a (very general) rule of thumb:

  1. A straight cut (no transition) furthers the existing action.
  2. A cross fade or dissolve creates a mini change of action but still within the same subject area or scene.
  3. A fade to black or fade through black introduces a new scene.

Once you have the individual video clips playing in sequence the way you want you can then move on to audio.

Audio is done last because adding transitions to the clips or further trimming the clips will change the overall length of your video. This can throw your audio out of sync.

Check each clip as to whether it has usable sound or sound that really needs to be included. Then add background music and spend some time getting the volume levels balanced.

Your final step is to create the video as a new file unto itself. Most modern video editing software will make this pretty simple by just asking you to choose what type of distribution method you prefer.

All you have to do is choose DVD, or Upload to YouTube or maybe to be viewed on a portable device. Either way the software will have automatic presets to handle all of these. Just choose a location for the newly created file and let the software do the rest.

Obviously this isn't all there is to know about editing your videos and modern video editing software but I hope at least it can help you get a start.

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