Everything you need to know about video editing

When it comes to creating a film or any other kind of video project, much of the magic you see on-screen comes from great editing. It is quite astounding what a video editor can create. They start with a monumental mess of stuff, then cut and trim the pieces together. The final result is a complete story in video format. Video editing truly is where the magic happens, so let us dive into the basics of what you need to know.

What is a video editor?

A video editor’s core function is to cut, trim and sequence separate video clips into a comprehensive narrative structure. This sequence eventually becomes the final release of a film or video. The video editor needs to understand aspects of the pre-production phase — such as the shot lists and storyboarding — and from the production phase — such as continuity and cinematography. 

The video editor spends most, if not all, of their time in post-production. This is where they possess the majority of their skills. It is essential to learn a few key terms in the video, audio and color categories to grasp how to work on a project. Additionally, it is advantageous for the video editor to be familiar with motion graphics and visual effects. There are a number of post-production terms you should be familiar with. Here are a few of the most important ones by each category:

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Video terminology

  • Frame rates – the frame rates are the number of still images or frames taken each second to create motion. If you want your video to look like a film shooting at 24 fps (frames per second) achieves such a look. For slow-motion footage, shooting more than 60 fps achieves a smoother and more precise image. 
  • Video resolution – the video resolution determines the number of details in your video and measures by the number of pixels contained in each frame. Some common video resolutions are 720 (1280 x 720 pixels), 1080 (1920 x 1080 pixels), 2K (2560 x 1440 pixels), 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) and 8K (7680 x 4320 pixels).
  • Aspect Ratio: The aspect ratio is the relation of the width to the height of an image or screen. Some common aspect ratios are 4:3, 16:9, and 2:35:1.
  • Video codecs – in more straightforward terms, video codecs compress a large video file for storage or sending, then decompress for playback or editing. Some standard video codecs are H.264, MPEG, and ProRes.
  • File formats – file formats, or video formats, refers to the container and the codec used to make it. The container is the “wrapper” that holds the audio and video data together in a single file (with extension files like .mov, .avi, or .mp3), while the codec lays out data.
  • Safe Zone – if your video might end up viewing on a consumer television (instead of a computer or mobile), it is best to make sure your titles and actions fit comfortably in the safe areas (title safe and action safe areas).

Audio terminology

  • Mono vs. Stereo – mono is single position audio that emanates from a single source (single-channel recording). The Stereo consists of two discrete channels routed to separate left and right output channels and speakers. 
  • Audio Levels – usually measured in decibels (abbreviated dB). 0 decibels (dB) is the maximum level, and quieter levels measure as negative numbers such as -10 dB.
  • Sample Rates and Bit Depth – will determine the number of audio samples captured per second, the overall resolution, and the dynamic range. A standard sample rate for video is 48 kHz, and 24 bit is standard for production and mixdown environments.

Color terminology

  • White balance – how warm or cool the colors look in your image (basically when white is not white).
  • Color grading – the process of altering the color qualities of an image. It includes contrast, sharpness, blankness depth, white balancing, color overlays, and saturation.
  • Color correction – the process of fixing color issues and making footage look as natural as possible (basically repairing the original color to make it look clean and real).
  • LUTs – ‘Look Up Tables’ preset or creative transformations applied to your footage. LUTs originate within software or are camera-specific.
  • Waveforms and Vectorscopes – waveforms and scopes are tools to accurately display precise color and luminance values. Since you can’t judge the quality of a video by how it appears on a single screen, waveform and vectorscopes monitors will allow you to deliver a consistent, high-quality video product across devices. 

Video editing specific terminology

The terminologies discussed before were technical aspects of what a video editor must know and be familiar with. By understanding those terms, you will be able to dive into the bells and whistles of video editing, such as:

  • Montages – a montage is a sequence of various shots edited together to illustrate an idea. Ideally, the video editor attempts to add more visual information while occupying less screen space and at the same time keeping the flow of information accessible to the audience.
  • Transitions – a video transition is a post-production technique to connect one shot to another. The most used transition is the cut (instantly replacing one shot with the next), followed by dissolve (two clips overlap in time for a period of several frames), and fades (fade-out or fade-in, mainly used to show the passage of time). Video editing software comes with many transitions, but most of the time, you will be using the cut about 95 percent of the time. However, sometimes a carefully placed transition can add a stylistic visual effect to the production, so use them to your advantage. 
  • Visual Effects – visual effects — or VFX — allow complementing a scene by adding missing elements or removing unwanted things to make the scene shine. By integrating live-action footage and generated images, you create realistic environments you can’t capture on film. An example of visual effects would be spaceship flying or CGI explosions.  
  • Motion Graphics – motion graphics are animated visual elements intentionally moved on the screen. A video editor can generate and animate stylized clips, lower third text animations, and complex title sequences, or even 3D compositions. Animations programs such as Adobe After Effects allow the creation of incredible motion graphics animations.

Now that we have covered some of the terminologies let’s picked a video editing software that fits your needs.

Choosing a video editing software

The software your pick for video editing depends on how you work. Whichever one you pick, you will most likely end up using it for years, so this is an important decision. We recommend checking out “Videomaker’s Best Video Editing Software Guide.” This guide informs you on video editing software that covers your skills level, workflow and budget. No matter which software you pick as a video editor, the single most significant skill you need is the ability to organize your project’s assets.

An organized video editor is a requisite

As a video editor, your project will inevitably have a lot of assets. You need to be able to find and organize all the footage and your edit with ease. A simple step-by-step plan that breaks the edit into manageable tasks will go a long way toward moving through the editing process with ease (a shooting script is a helpful tool). Before digging into the timeline, take some time to label and sort clips into bins and folders. Carefully organizing your clips makes it easier to identify and locate each piece of footage. Most importantly, it will save you time and money.

Now that you have your video editing software, understand the terminology, and know how to make a plan, the next step is getting some practice and producing your own.

Preparing yourself to become a video editor

The only way to become a video editor is to edit as many videos as possible. Although the editing process can be daunting, anyone can learn it. Here are three types of productions you can do to get started:

  • Produce a short documentary

Producing a documentary is an excellent way to practice and add to your video reel. Try making a documentary about a family member. Give that one a try. If you need some help producing a more complex documentary, check out “Documentary Storytelling” and “How to make a documentary: everything you need to know.”

  • Make a short film

Without a doubt making a short film is the best way to build your video production chops. It is a lot of fun to do, it is lower cost production, and you will learn much about filming. Check out “Short Filmmaking Course” and make sure you are the film editor of the film to get the experience.

  • Make a green screen video.

Using a green screen and special effects allows you to create realistic scenes that would be impossible otherwise. As a video editor, you will come across a green screen production a few times in your career. It’s important to understand how it works.

A video editor workflow 

With those three production ideas to choose from, you will have enough footage to work with, so the next step as a video editor will be to follow a video editing workflow. You break down the post-production into smaller steps which are:

1) Sorting clips into bins or folders – check out “Organization tips to help any video editor” to encourage you to keep organized.

2) Rough cut – layout the basic structure and sequence of the edit.

3) Fine cut– after the rough cut is completed and approved, the fine cut precisely places and time out each shot and cut within the edit.

4) Picture Lock – the timing of the clips and edits within the sequence don’t change, nor is any footage added or subtracted from the edit.

Exporting your work

Once you finished your product, you make a master file and export it or render it for specific devices. The settings you’ll need, such as codec, resolution, and format, will vary depending on the device. Although the way to export may look different across other video editing software, the result is the same. Look for your software instruction on exporting your videos. 

Publishing and sharing your video

Your video is completed, and it is time to share it with your audience. You have so many options to share it, such as Facebook, Youtube, Vimeo, and even your website. Overall the viewing platform will depend on the video’s end purpose and the client you are producing. 

Editing video on smartphones

In the day and age of smartphones, you can create a production at any time, and the good thing is there are many video editing apps that you can download to edit the videos on the go. For example, Adobe Premiere Rush allows you to edit videos on your smartphone and upload your finished project directly to all your social media. You can also start the Adobe Rush project and later transfer it into Premiere Pro to do the heavy lifting. Although editing video on smartphones has many limitations is still a good skill to add to your video editing arsenal. Go ahead and download an app and give it a try.

What next for the video editor?

The greatest thing about video editing is that you will always be learning something new. You can increase your video editing skills by studying the Kuleshov Effect and taking the time to learn how to use proxies in your next edits. Additionally, if you use professional software like Premiere Pro, there will always be some new and fantastic features to learn that will make your editing workflow even better. Don’t be intimidated by video editing anymore. It is an enjoyable and rewarding process to make the magic happen.

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Luis Maymi Lopez
Luis Maymi is a video producer that enjoys writing and editing video. He an Adobe Certified Professional and, in his spare time, go on exhilarating outdoor adventures like hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking.