Video Editing Introduction

I recently posted a couple of questions in the Foto-Buzz Tech Lounge around the use of the Adobe Suite and how many of you use your cameras for shooting video. The impressions I were left with were, Premiere (and video editing) was too complicated and time-consuming to learn, and beyond the basic photography plan the Adobe CC suite was too expensive. I set about writing this blog with two goals in mind: –

  1.  Look at alternatives for Adobe Premiere for casual video editing.
  2.  Demystify and simplify the video editing process.

The alternatives to Premiere is the easy one of these to address as there are tons of options, both paid and free, with varying degrees of complexity.

Before we go any further it is worth mentioning that both MacOS and Windows come with video editing software, iMovie and Video Editor. While Video Editor is very, very basic, iMovie is fairly accomplished and for simple videos with a handful of clips, some text and a bit of music it will do just fine. You can even edit on an iPad while watching the TV. For basic editing on a Mac I don’t think you need to look any further than iMovie. However, if you are wanting more than these basic free options or you are running Windows here are some alternatives.

There loads of different options out there, but I’ve just picked the most popular ones as they are popular for a reason, and this brings us back to Premiere. Adobe Premiere is a very good, if sometimes frustrating piece of software, like pretty much every other piece of Adobe software, but once you learn the basics it does work very well. It also integrates very well with the rest of the Adobe CC suite.

Choosing a video editor, sometimes referred to as a non-linear editor, or NLE, can be daunting but essentially, they all do the same thing and the concepts between them are similar.  The video below shows the basic concepts of editing software.  It is intended to be platform agnostic and to just introduce some concepts.

(I don’t currently have a YouTube or Facebook account, so please click on the link for the video)

With the cost question answered, let’s look at the complexity part. As a generic, technology agnostic process, video editing can be broken down into a few steps: –

  1.  Import media onto your computer.
  2.  Review and organise your media.
  3.  Open your editing software and create a new project.
  4.  Import media into your project.
  5.  Edit your video – create the story.
  6.  Correct exposure and colour grading.
  7.  Add music and sound effects.
  8.  Add titles and any graphics.
  9.  Export your video.

Obviously, this is a very simplistic view of the editing process. I’ve added a bit more detail to each of these below, but I’ve tried to keep it fairly light. I’ve also included, not quite a tutorial video, but a talk through of an edit and the final result. This was captured on an iPhone, and together with a bit of stock footage and some sound effects I created a mini horror movie. Why? Why not.

Step 1 – Import Media

Similar to importing photos, we insert the memory card containing our video files into our computer, but instead of clicking an ‘Import’ button in Lightroom, we have to manually find the video files and then copy them to a location on our computer. They will usually be in .mp4 or .mov format, so find these files and copy them to a folder on your computer you want to use for your video project.

Step 2 – Review and Organise Media

This is by far the most important step of editing your video. You need to understand the content you have before you can create a story from it. This is where your edit really begins. Big productions will have a script and video will be shot according to the script and instructions from a director. Editors will be given a list of clips, for each and every take in every scene and they will watch them all and make notes on them to create a list of selections which they will then include in the edited film. However, chances are you won’t have a script at all, and you will just video whatever piques your interest throughout your day. By reviewing your footage, you can get an understanding of what you have, which are the good parts and what story you can create from this. If you only have a short amount of footage, you can probably remember the bits that are of interest for you, but otherwise you may want to make some notes for each clip – where the action starts, where it ends and what it will tell the viewer. You should also rename your clips from the generic names your camera creates to something more meaningful.

Once you have reviewed your footage, you should create a new folder for your video project if you haven’t already done so, and then create separate folders within this for video, audio and any graphics you may want to include. If you do this on your computer, it is easy to drag and drop the entire folder structure into your video editing software and the same structure to be created in there to make it easier to find clips during your edit. Organising footage afterwards in your video editor can be cumbersome.

Steps 3 – Start Your Software and Create a New Project

This is the point where you may be asked about the format of your video, and this will depend on your intended audience. Most of us however will be creating content that will be viewed online on a tablet, phone or computer, so Full HD, or 1080P, will be appropriate.

If you are creating for Instagram, a 1080 x 1080 square may be preferable, or a vertical rectangle if you are young and trendy enough to be uploading to TikTok.

Select your resolution and use whatever frame your video what shot in – usually 25 or 30 frames per second, or a multiple of that if you have any slow-motion content. If you don’t know this, there is a little trick you can use to set it automatically once you have imported your content – just drag a clip to the timeline and it will create a sequence in the same format as your video clip. This works in Premiere, but not sure about other products.

While your camera may support 4K, or even 8K these days, higher resolutions aren’t always best. They take up more space and are difficult for your computer to process while editing. Most modern computers can handle Full HD without issue.  For social media content, considering it’s mostly viewed on phones and tablets, Full HD is fine.

Step 4 – Import Your Content

There will be either an import media option from the file menu, or better still select the folders for video, audio and graphics and drag them to the media pane in your video editing software. This will create a ‘bin’ for each of them. Bins are like folders, but they only exist within your project.

Step 5 – Edit Your Video – Create the Story

This where the bulk of your editing work will happen, but if you organised your content in step one, you should have at least a rough idea in which order your clips will be laid out.

This step starts with placing your clips onto a timeline and placing them in the order needed. You will probably change the length of these clips, change the order, and cut bits out of them to tell your story.

This itself is a massive subject and many books have been written covering the editing process, but essentially you are just creating a sequence in which your video clips will play.

Step 6 – Correct Exposure and Colour Grading

As photographers we are used to editing the exposure and look of our photos and the same can be done with video. Here we aim to match the exposure between our different clips, and there will be differences if they are shot at different times of day, different locations and with different cameras. And like editing photos we can adjust exposure, saturation, shadows, highlights, etc. Typically exposure is adjusted by selecting a clip or group of clips and using sliders on the control panel as needed.

Once we are happy with the exposure, we can then do colour grading, which is a bit like applying a pre-set to give our footage the same style across all clips. These styles are often called LUTs, or Look Up Tables, and are common across most video editing applications.

Step 7 – Add Music and Sound Effects

Audio from both music and sound effects can change the mood our video instantly and it adds as much to the experience as the video images if not more. Look at any YouTube video where editors are describing how they went about editing a particular film and you will see while they may have 3-4 tracks of video, they will have at least double the number of audio tracks. Why? Because so much sound is added in post-production to tell the story. Next time you are watching TV listen, not just to the dialogue but all the background sounds, from the closing of a door to background chatter, a song on the radio and even the ambient noise of a room, park or city. Now if this was shot in a studio, most of these sounds were not there, probably just the voices of the actors and maybe their footsteps. You’ve heard calls of ‘quiet on set’, so you can imagine most of what you are hearing was probably added later to ensure the sound is controlled properly. If you listen carefully next time you watch TV you will notice it, but most of the time our brains are happy to go along with it because well-chosen sounds work well enough to convince us they belong.

Now for a simple video you may want to just add some music and nothing else, but even this requires some thought. Do point having a massive dubstep tune to accompany swans in flight, when classical music would work much better. The same classical tune may however be lost on ducks slipping around on a frozen pond, and here your dubstep might actually work.

Volume matters a lot, as does timing. Many videos are editing to the music and the music is placed on the timeline first. Cuts and transitions in the video are then made in time to the music.

So, you have your swans flying majestically, you have balanced the exposure, created a golden warm look to the images and a graceful classical tune is playing subtly in the background, but it is lacking something. A hint of wings moving through the air, a gentle wind, and the noise of other birds in the background. These little sound effects become subliminal but without them, it’s just not the same. Don’t underestimate the importance of adding a bit of sound to tell your story.

8. Add Titles and Graphics

It’s not always necessary, but you can place text and graphics onto your video. You put them onto one of the video tracks on the timeline. Font, size and colour can be selected as you would expect, but you can also use effects to fade text into your video or change its position and size for effect.

Likewise, you can add graphics, arrows, circles, boxes, etc, to bring the viewers attention to parts of the video, or to introduce elements.

9. Export Your Video

Once you have completed your edit and feel it is ready to show to your audience, you export it. This creates a stand-alone file combining the sections of video you placed on your timeline. There are normally presets available for Youtube, Instagram, etc. Choose one of these and your video will play back correctly on these platforms when you upload it.

Sample Video

Now we have seen the basic steps for editing a video, let’s put this into practice. I have a handful of videos I shot on my phone, and a couple of stock video clips to add to the story. I didn’t have much time to shoot this and in total it took less than 5 minutes to prepare the footage.

I knew I wouldn’t add any music, just sound effects. While I recorded sound with my video, there were only two sections of sound I chose to keep, the rest would be added from a stock library.

The story is as follows:

  •  Sat on the sofa reading a book. Turn the page, then I hear breaking glass in the kitchen.
  •  I instantly look at the living room door (it’s part glass) into the kitchen.
  •  I hear footsteps on glass, a shadowy movement, and click. The kitchen light goes out.
  •  It’s dark
  •  I hear nothing, but the clock ticking (show stock image of clock – ticking backwards for effect)
  •  I hear heavy footsteps getting louder as they come towards me
  •  Living room door opens
  •  Everything then goes black and I hear ……

I decided to go with the theme of a horror movie as I like a good horror flick, and it’s not a subject we cover very often on FotoBuzz. It’s also a bit of a laugh.

Here’s my voice-over video showing a couple of basic concepts with Adobe Premiere, but the same concepts apply to other software.  I also show how I edited my mini horror movie.

And this is the final result.  It’s no Hollywood blockbuster, but it gives you an idea of what can be done with a small amount of video and a bit of imagination.


Take 3-4 clips of video, either on your phone or on your camera. Doesn’t matter which, but try and stick to Full HD just to keep things simple.

Import them into iMovie or something similar and create a short video sequence of around 30 seconds. Add a bit of music, and 2 sound effects. There’s plenty of free music and sound effects online, just ensure they are free to use and you don’t need to credit anyone for using them.

Export the video and share on FotoBuzz via YouTube, etc.

Published in Member Blogs
  1. Shaun, thanks for this, you have given me the nudge I needed …. I looked at Davinci Resolve last year as I went through a personal software review … I was looking for alternatives to Adobe as £45 a month for the whole adobe suit just to gain access to After Effects was just not really viable in the long term …. Resolve now has ( or I have become aware it has) the feature that was costing me what is really silly money for a non pro …. just done the deal with Jigsaw24… for 5 month adobe subscription, I now own the software and some production enabling hardware. Cheers Mucker

  2. Very helpful, quite a few years ago I brought Premiere Elements to edit a load of old family videos that never left the cassettes. Actually never used it and the cassettes still wait to see the light of day. Must get the videos sorted and also probably getting a drone so will need for that therefore very useful and timely blog review needed to what software to learn and use, thanks.
    I find with software it’s not so much the cost, but does have an influence, but the time invested in learning how to use it particularly if it doesn’t do the job and you have to change. I don’t like learning software then finding as I get more competent that it doesn’t have more advance features I discover I would like. I’ve heard good reports about DaVinci Resolve but never looked at it.

    • Duncan, even with a drone, most of your edits will be one or two tracks of video with ‘a bit of sound’ Something basic will probably do the job, but if you feel you want to learn something more substantial then the free version of Davinci would have you covered, and if you need extra features just buy the Pro version and you don’t need to learn another piece of software.

      • I’ve ordered the drone today see will have to get a handle on this video editing lark. Think I’ll be coming back to this blog and your. Ideas a few times, very useful. I’ll download Davinci and compare it to the Premiere Elements I have. I’m not up for Premiere monthly subscription for the amount I’ll use it and I’m sure to advanced for what I need. Again thanks for the time you put into the research, very helpful.

  3. Shaun – thank you! Just what I needed to kick start me… I’ve opted for Filmora having looked at the packages (and it turns out our local University used it for a video I’m presenting next week, so I can get a few more hints along the way if I need them…) Looking forward to playing…

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