Learning how to edit videos is a good skill to develop these days, and it's one that can be very rewarding. Video is more important than ever for all kinds of uses, including to showcase work, to promote products or services and for general social media use.
Editing video is an essential part of filmmaking, and it can define the pace and feel of a piece as much as the filming itself. There's no 'right' or 'wrong' way to edit video, and all 'rules' can be broken, but certain concepts and pointers can help you learn how to edit video more quickly, reducing the amount of trial and error. You might want to make sure you have the best video editing software and one of the best laptops for video editing to get started, but if you're ready to go, read on for our essential tips.
Whatever type of video you want to create, be it a documentary, commercial, comedy reel or a YouTube interview, these beginners' video editing tips should help set you on the right track towards producing great videos whatever your skill level. For perfect audio, see our pick of the best headphones for video editing, and if you're creating specifically for social media, you might also want to see our guide to how to edit videos on TikTok.
How to edit videos
01. Set realistic expectations
Before you even start filming, consider what tools you'll use, and what you’re ultimately trying to achieve. For example, shooting in 4K should create amazing quality footage, but that might be at the expense of frame rate, and the resolution will put massive demands on your editing hardware, which could make the process much more frustrating if your computer isn't up to the job (see the best prices on our best computers for video editing if you feel you need to upgrade).
On the flip side, if this is for work, many clients today will not be satisfied with a 1080p end product, and blowing up lower-resolution footage should be avoided. So weigh up the strength of your hardware and software and set specific requirements for the end product before recording a single frame.
02. Keep your files organised
This isn’t so much an editing tip as advice for how to remain sane: if you’re stitching together a video made of lots of short clips, digging through a bucket full of randomly named files is going to drive you up the wall. Before you even think about editing, go through your footage and label the files properly to reflect the scene and take, then pop them in folders separated by theme, and organise them in such a way that you can find them quickly, as you need them.
Another handy tip is to make folders for your sounds, music and images too, and put your project file in the root of a main folder encapsulating everything. It may be against many creatives' instincts, but we advise that you don’t send anything to the trash either. You never know when that seemingly botched take might come in handy.
03. Obey the 321 rule
On the same note, no matter what the medium, we’ve probably all felt the pain of not hitting 'save' and losing a huge amount of work. Saving your project often (and versioning it, so you can roll back on overzealous editing errors) is a given, but what happens if your hard drive gives up the ghost and your raw footage is lost forever? That’s potentially much more catastrophic.
Backup experts swear by the 321 rule – three copies, in at least two different places, one of which is off-site – but as long as your raw footage is on at least two physical drives, and you regularly send your project off to your backup location, you’ll be adequately covered. An online service like Google Drive could be a good target for an online backup, though you'll likely need to spend a little more than average given the size of most video.
04. Don't be scared to try things
Orson Wells once said: 'The notion of directing a film is the invention of critics - the whole eloquence of cinema is achieved in the editing room.' While this still holds true, modern editing isn’t like the old days of splicing and literally cutting film. Today, it’s non-destructive, which means that no matter how crazy you get with editing, your original footage stays entirely as it was. You can import whatever you like into your editing software, and adjust your cuts to your heart’s content without losing a thing.
If a transition between shots doesn’t feel right, have a play and change it until it does. If a clip feels too roomy, tighten it up until the pace of your video quickens. There’s a reason good editors are so highly prized: there are artists and there's no direct formula which makes for a good video. It’s all down to feel.
05. Think about colour
Some would argue that the best editing is unnoticeable, and it's certainly true that it can be jarring when there are clear differences in camera colour. The editor’s job isn't just about establishing order and pace – it’s essential to get the colour right too (although if you're working on a professional project, there may be a dedicated colourist on board).
It can be time-consuming, but colour correcting each clip for consistency and then colour grading the final footage will often give your video a much more professional look. You don’t need to make everything Matrix-green, but a grade (even something which uses a simple LUT for a filmic wash) can make all the difference to the end product and turn a simple edit into something much more classy.
06. Simplicity is your friend
Effects and transitions are exciting, right? Well, kind of. Before you get star wipe happy, think about your viewer, and what kind of film you’re trying to present. If you’re jumping between clips, there is usually no need for a transition at all, not even a basic dissolve. A simple cut will usually do and will avoid distracting the viewer.
But, as we've said before, you shouldn't let that stop you from experimenting with the tools your software has to offer – that’s a vital part of learning to edit. But do save the effects for the moments where they really make sense. A wipe might signify the passage of time or a change of location, while a fade to black (or even white) is a good way to definitively end a scene as long as it’s not overused. Keep the same thought in mind if you’re adding text to your video: make it clean and easy on the eye.
07. Use B-roll
Depending on what you’re trying to put together, B-roll footage can be essential. You’ll likely have noticed those moments in on-camera interviews where a camera trained on the subject suddenly switches to one on the interviewer, nodding thoughtfully – this footage is often recorded after the interview and is used to subtly edit out speech stutters or gaps without a noticeable jump in the footage.
We’re not suggesting you follow the over-excited formula many modern editors employ, with a cut every two seconds or so, but switching to a second camera can help turn momentarily poor footage into a perfectly useable shot.
08. Learn the keyboard shortcuts for your software
You’ve likely seen Avid keyboards, or well-worn Macbooks covered in pastel stickers, used by pro editors. These only exist because keyboard shortcuts are so incredibly important to the editing process; if you’re fumbling around and only clicking a mouse, your edit is going to take so much longer than it will if you know what to hit to perform crucial functions.
You don’t necessarily have to deface your equipment, but learning the basic controls, and perhaps picking up a gaming mouse with extra buttons, which can be mapped to quick actions, will make your life as an editor much easier. See our list of best mice or best keyboards if you're looking to see what's out there.