Video editing involves taking raw video and shaping it into something more polished. That might mean anything from slicing a couple of minutes off your holiday video to turning several hundred hours’ worth of reality TV footage into a slick 20-minute episode.
In short, it’s a bit like turning a block of stone into a sculpture: by removing parts of it, you create something that’s ultimately more entertaining and attractive.
When you learn how to edit videos, though, you'll see the art of video editing isn’t just about cutting. It’s also about adding transitions and visual effects, incorporating music, sound effects and captions, enhancing colours and lighting, and more.
Check out the YouTube stars with the biggest followings. You’ll notice that the polished nature of their videos helps them to stand apart from the crowd. And that’s usually down to the significant time and effort they’ve spent on video editing.
So whether you’re making personal videos, social media videos, YouTube videos, business presentations, music videos, TV shows or movies, video editing is the secret sauce that brings everything together. So how do you go about it?
How does video editing work?
Video editing is thankfully a very accessible process, and there are a variety of ways you can edit video these days. One is on your camera or smartphone itself as nowadays most devices have internal software that allow you to tweak your footage in-situ. Also, if you upload your footage to a social platform such as Instagram or TikTok, those sites provide tools to edit your videos too.
However, in both cases, we’re talking about very basic tweaks. And if you want your videos to look better than average, you’re going to have to get your hands on some professional video editing software.
The good news is that there are a lot of very capable free video editing tools available these days. And although they often come with restrictions, such as adding watermarks or limiting the length of your clips, they’re a great way to get started with video editing.
Video editing professionals, in contrast, will normally use paid-for video editing software, which can run into thousands of pounds. However, if you’re a student, you may be able to get a free one-year licence with some providers, so it’s worth checking what’s on offer in our handy guide to the best student discounts and offers currently out there.
When you’re first getting started with video editing – or if you’re just short of time – video editing templates can be hugely useful. These typically allow you to add pre-designed titles, credits, captions, animations and visual effects to your footage, instantly giving it a professional look.
Free and paid-for templates are available for a wide range of video editing software, and really can help to boost your clips from amateur to slick.
What hardware do you need for video editing?
Pretty much any modern computer is capable of editing video to some extent. However, the larger the resolution you’re shooting in, the longer your footage and the faster you need to work, the more powerful a computer you’ll need.
Ideally, you’d want a computer for video editing with one of the newest processors, such as Intel Core i5 or Core i7, at least 4GB of RAM, a decent graphics card, and at least 256G SSD storage. To speed up data transfer speeds, you’d preferably want your device to include USB 3.1, USB-C, and/or Thunderbolt ports, and a fast Wi-Fi connection.
That said, if you’re on a budget, and only have a low-powered computer, or even just a phone or tablet, you may be surprised by how much you can achieve. So it’s worth giving some free video software a try first, as your current device may well be capable enough for your specific needs.
Common video editing terms
Whatever video editing tool you choose, a decent software provider should offer plenty of tutorials and how-to guides on their website to get you started. However, these aren’t always easy to follow if you’re unfamiliar with video editing jargon. So to make things a little easier, here are some terms with the potential to trip you up, and what they mean.
Most video editing tools are based on a timeline, which is a display that represents the whole of your video footage from start to finish. It’s usually laid out from left to right, and lets you scroll back and forth to make changes in an intuitive fashion, such as trimming, adjusting, and rearranging your clips, adding music, and so on.
Compositing involves combining visual elements from separate sources into single frames, to create the illusion that all those elements are parts of the same scene. The most common example is where actors perform in front of green screens, and backgrounds and visual effects are added in later.
Video files can be very large, especially when you’re shooting in HD, 4K or 8K. So compression involves reducing the amount of data in a video file to save space on your hard drive, and to make it easier to move from one device to another, or to the cloud.
Resolution refers to how many pixels appear on your screen. The more pixels, the more detailed your picture will be, and the higher the resolution. Typical resolutions for video footage are SD: 640×480 pixels; 720p HD: 1280×720; Full HD: 1920×1080, 4K: 3840 x 2160, and 8K: 7,680 by 4,320.
Ever noticed how when you watch some movies on TV, there are black bars at the top and bottom of the screen? That’s because when the aspect ratio of the movie – the width and height of the picture – is different to that of the screen.
That’s a compromise audiences are willing to live with, because the content was originally released for the cinema. But for any other type of video they won’t be so forgiving. So it’s vital to know what aspect ratio to edit your video in, especially when uploading to social media. For instance, the standard aspect ratio for YouTube is 16:9 while Instagram recommends an aspect ratio of 4:5 or 9:16 for Stories.
B-Roll is secondary footage that’s shot separately from the main (A-roll) footage, and is usually used to transition from one scene to another. For example, on a TV show when the action switches from London to New York, you’ll usually see a flyover of somewhere like the Empire State Building to set the scene. You could use this technique in your holiday videos, too; for instance, interspersing footage of you sunbathing or partying with a sweeping panoramic shot of waves breaking against the shore.
Why video editing is worth pursuing
Hopefully we’ve made the basic principles and concepts behind video editing clear. But if it’s all starting to seem a little overwhelming, then bear these two things in mind.
Firstly, like a lot of things in life, video editing is a lot easier to do than it is to explain. So once you get up and running with some video editing software, any worries will soon start to melt away.
And secondly, video editing is one of those skills that’s going to be increasingly important in future, so it really is worth pursuing.
The explosion in streaming services means there’ll be more and more jobs in video editing itself. And in other jobs, the ability to edit video for a business presentation or a social media post is certainly going to help too. Plus you’ll be able to have fun editing and sharing your personal videos online, and maybe even earning independent income, by becoming a success on YouTube, TikTok, or whatever platform comes along next.