Pain Free Video Editing

Digital video editing for the absolute beginner can be frustrating with all the unusual buttons, controls and media types. It’s nearly impossible to get started without calling a support line or your nerdy uncle, although it’s usually a good idea to have these resources available too. Even the best of us run into dilemmas. Hopefully, these getting started tips will make sure your entry to video editing is as smooth as possible.

Project Files

When you launch your video editing application, it will usually prompt you to create a new project file. Project files are the blue-print of a video editing project. The project file tells the application all the critical information about the project settings, related media and your edit decisions. It’s important to realize that project files do not contain your video clips, photos, music or any other media assets. It’s simply a library of information that tells the video editing application where your media is stored and what to do with it so that it’s edited in the way you want. This means that if you ever want to share your project with another video editor, you cannot simply give them a copy of the project file. You’ll need to also include the media files.

You’ll undoubtedly learn more about this “project file to media file relationship” quickly if you move your media files around. The project file knows the path to your media when you import or capture it. But, if you decide to move a media file from the original file path (e.g., from one folder to another), the project file won’t find it. Your video application will send you a warning message and let you know it’s missing the media it needs. You’ll either need to relocate it to where it once was or help the application find it’s new location. You may also experience this if you rename a media file. The general rule of thumb for media management is to keep your media well-organized and in one place while you’re editing. When the project is complete, you can move (or backup) your project to another storage device.

The good news is that if this does happen and you can help the project file find these media assets again, all your edits will be intact. Often time the video application can hunt the files down if you point it in the right direction. So, don’t panic if this happens. It’s kind of like misplacing your keys. Once you find where they are, life is back to normal.

Project Settings Quagmire

Maybe you’ve seen this screen before, where your video editing application wants you to make a decision about the project settings before moving to the actual process of editing video. It’s quite frightening, really. Here you are, just sitting down to edit your first video, and your software trumps you with a set of options that looks like some sort of computer programing language. What setting option should you choose? And if you don’t make the right decision, then what? Don’t worry. Many video editing applications have gotten better at adapting the project settings to what’s needed after you’ve taken your best guess. But going in with the right project settings will save you some time and possibly avoid some confusion between you and your software. Let’s discuss some tips on how to make an educated guess on your project settings.

Choosing the Right Video Standard

At this point, all your video editing software really needs to know is the video resolution (e.g., 1080i/p, 720p, standard definition, etc.), frame rate (e.g., 60i, 30p, 24p, etc.) and video format (e.g., AVCHD, HDV, DV25 etc.). Together, these settings make up a particular video standard, and most video editing applications group them together into presets. And, in most cases, your desired preset is determined by your camcorder. If you have no idea what type of camcorder you have and what kind of video it records, you’ll need to become a detective real quick. Get out your camcorder manual and look at the technical specifications in the back. Typically, you’ll find a section labeled “Video Format.” This will get you into the ballpark, although many cameras have so many different settings that it might not get you the exact settings you need.

Play back some footage from your camcorder and take a look at the LCD screen for clues. Often, your camcorder will display either a “1080” or “720” text overlay on the LCD, denoting the resolution. Note any frame rate information too. If you’re shooting 1080, it’s usually 30 complete interlaced frames per second, or 60 fields (essentially, halves of the picture) per second. This is usually referred to as “30i”. 720p generally operates at 30 frames per second, but it can also be 24, 60 or another variation. When in doubt, dig into the camera’s menu system and find the recording settings. This will tell you everything you need to know. Now match up all these facets with the proper preset in the video editing application. Congratulations! You’ve cleared the first hurdle. It’s a good idea to write down your preset somewhere just in case you need it again.

Importing Problems

Your video editing application is no good without media to edit, so the next task is to get your media assets captured/transferred and/or imported. This can be a bit confusing for the first-time editor. Capturing is the process of reading a real-time video data stream from your camcorder, saving it to your hard drive and then importing (adding) that asset to the project library. Transferring is the process of reading raw video data from a camcorder (usually faster than real-time), converting the data to a format that the application prefers, saving it to the hard drive and then importing that asset to the project library. So, video that’s stored on your camcorder’s media needs to be captured or transferred. Anything else that’s already saved to your hard drive (including video files) can simply be imported. Although, you will only be able to import file types that are supported by your video editing application. File type support varies between different applications.

Music CDs and Video Editing

Another common hiccup is music CDs. Most video editing applications will not allow you to import a music track directly from a music CD. You need to first import a music track from the CD using another application (e.g., iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc.) and save it as a music file type that works with your video editing application. The WAV and MP3 formats are most commonly supported.

My Pictures Are Way Too Big

Pictures can also throw you for a loop. Often times digital photographs are taken at a higher resolution than video. When you import these high resolution images and place them into your timeline, you’ll likely see only a small portion of the picture. This is because the project settings have a resolution that is smaller than the picture. Don’t bother trying to change your project settings. Simply resize the scale of the photograph so that it fits into the smaller resolution of your video project.
You may also consider using project presets in your photo editing and graphic editing applications (e.g., Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator) that match your video project settings. This will resize the photo or graphic software’s canvas to be the exact size of the video project resolution. Your exported photo or graphic will be just the right size when you import it to your video project.

Keep in mind that your video project resolution is typically tied to a resolution standard based on your camcorder. While you edit, everything will be based on this resolution, but it’s not often the final resolution of your finished product. You can export to a myriad of other video resolutions that are a better fit for web video, mobile devices, DVDs, and other deliverables.


Speaking of exporting, when it comes time to share your edited project, you’ll be given a whole bunch of options. If you’re delivering a video to the web (e.g., YouTube, Vimeo, etc.), choose an export preset designed for the Web. Many editors will literally have a “Web” preset and perhaps even a “YouTube” preset. Use these presets and save yourself the headache of trying to define what the video settings are for each unique scenario. The same is true with exporting to a DVD, use the presets as this will help you when you take the exported video to your DVD authoring application (if it’s not a part of your video editing application). It’s also a good idea to name the files in a way the denotes the intended delivery format. For example, “Wedding-DVD” and “Wedding-YouTube” will help you keep from making DVDs of lower quality web video.

Save Yourself from Catastrophes

The last tip is probably the most important one. Many of us have learned this one the hard way. A common practice for video editors that will save you a lot of time and money is to save versions of your project as you go along. Depending on your productivity and the extent of your editing, you may wish to save a new version of your project every two to four hours. Take a second, and choose “Save As” from the File menu. This will save a new version of your project file. Use a naming convention that denotes the version. For example, “Dan-Briana-Wedding-v4” would symbolize the fourth version of this project. This versioning of project files will allow you to take a step back in time if something seriously goes wrong. We’ve seen it all, from corrupt project files, to missing media files and out-of-sync audio. It’s always nice to return to a previous version rather than starting all over from scratch or spending two days trying to undo the “un-Control-Z-able” (Control + Z is the key stroke for File> Undo). The nice thing is that project files are very small, usually just a few KBs in file size. So, having 10-15 versions won’t likely take more than 1 MB. Isn’t that nice?

Contributing columnist Mark Montgomery is a web content specialist and produces instructional videos for a leading web application developer.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.

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