Take 5: Five Tips for In-Camera Transitions

Hey, you! Yes, you: with the fancy editing system. You know who you are. Put down the mouse, get your hands in the air and step away from the keyboard. We need to talk about transition effects for a minute. You may not have realized it, but you've been using way too many of them in your videos. Sure, page-peels, flips, wipes and tumbles are great if you produce commercials for used car dealers, but they lack a certain amount of well, class. These days anyone who can click a mouse can add a checkerboard wipe. But just because you can, doesn't mean you should. Cookie-cutter transition effects like these are simply inappropriate for most types of video. How much is too much? Around 99.5% of your transitions should be cuts and dissolves. Fancy pre-fab transition effects should be used sparingly and only when they serve a useful purpose.
In the old days – before anyone could add star wipes, heart shaped twirls and drippy paint transitions with the click of a mouse – producers had to be more creative. The good news is that with some forethought and these five tips, you can create transitions that will impress any audience. If you want your videos to look more like movies or TV, take those 5,000 effects in your transitions bin and toss them! These five visual effects will make your videos a cut above the rest.

Cut on common shapes.

Connect two scenes by cutting between objects that are similar in shape. You might cut from a round pizza to a round tire on a car or from a shot of a spinning basketball to a shot of a spinning globe. Frame them so that they are the same size on the screen and bridge the two shots with a cut or quick dissolve. The size and shape of the objects will connect the two scenes in a way that is creative, unique and interesting.


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Cut on common colors.

Color is a fantastic way to connect two otherwise unrelated scenes. Show a person leaving her home in the suburbs, tilt up into the blue sky then tilt down to show her entering an upscale office in the city. The cut is masked by the uniform color of the sky. This effect is often used with black. The camera moves behind a large tree, which fills the frame with black. The camera continues to move past the tree, revealing a whole new scene. A cut is made in the black when the tree fills the frame.

Cut from front to back.

A great way to transport a subject to a new location is with the front/back transition. A car drives straight towards the camera as it speeds through the countryside, the car approaches the camera until the grill of the car fills the frame. Cut instantly to a similar closeup of the back of the same car. As the vehicle pulls away from the camera we see that the car is now in the city. The change of location is masked by the cut from front to back.

Match motion.

Repetitive motion presents yet another opportunity for creative cutting. A boy shoots pool on a small table in his basement. Show a wide shot of the boy sliding his pool cue across his hand as he lines up a shot. Cut to a closeup of the pool stick sliding rhythmically on his hand. Cut to a similar shot of the cue stick moving in the same direction, then pull back to reveal that the boy is now competing in an important billiards tournament.

Use cutaways as transition elements.

Cutaways are shots that are related to the principle action, but do not contain any elements of the preceding shot. As a man works busily at his computer, he turns his head and glances upward. A cutaway shows a clock on the wall, with hands reading 4:00. The camera zooms from the clock to a wide shot revealing that the clock is actually on the wall of a classroom where his daughter is waiting for her father to pick her up.


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