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Top 10 Rules for Video Editing

  • Video editing is the art of blending different sets of footage together in a seamless, natural way.
  • When in doubt, edit different shots together in a way that reflects how people naturally perceive the world.
  • Work in opposition: static shots with moving shots, zoom ins with zoom outs.

Video content is increasingly popular, whether you’re running a marketing campaign or promoting your personal brand. From how-to videos to documentaries to promo spots, videos are the top-consumed form of content. Meanwhile, the world of video editing is ever more affordable and accessible.

However, just because it’s relatively inexpensive to shoot and edit video doesn’t mean it’s simple. Creating video content is time-consuming and can easily look unprofessional or jarring. 

Many wonder how many types of video editing techniques there are or what the steps for editing a video are. 

Follow these ten rules for editing video to produce the smoothest, most enjoyable video possible for your audience.

Rule 1. Always Collect B-Roll

Whether you are filming an interview, creating a mini-documentary, or simply documenting an event, always get B-roll. It can include establishing shots of the venue, details of people’s clothing or food, wide shots of the room, and so on. Look for visual variety or hyper-focus in these shots, and be sure you use smooth, stable pans and zooms when shooting.

You can never shoot too much B-roll: you’ll need it to cover awkward transitions, give viewers a break from monotonous shots, and cover jump cuts (more on that in a minute). It’s a good idea to have as much footage to choose from as possible.

Rule 2. Play Up Angles

Choose shots that show the subject from a 45-degree angle or in one-third of the frame. Shots that are straight-on or centered look unnatural and should be reserved for artistic effect, as in Wes Anderson’s films. If you’re not an art-house film editor, it’s much better to use the angles that we naturally encounter in the real world.

If you’re working with footage that was shot in disobedience of this rule, you can often cheat angles with creative cropping or using a B-roll with a lot of motion, whether panning or in the subjects. This tactic gives your videos a natural sense of dynamism.

Rule 3. Cover Jump Cuts

A jump cut is a cut between two shots that look exactly the same except for the subject. Again, artsy film editors can use this to comedic effect, but most videos used for marketing and documentary purposes should avoid jump cuts, which can be jarring for the viewer. Use a wipe shot (in which the subject fills the frame) or some B-roll to ease the transition.

Jump cuts also tend to happen in interview shots when you cut out part of the footage. The subject naturally shifts during the take, and a jump cut splices together two similar shots with no transition. To avoid this ugly transition, add a crossfade or B-roll (ideally the latter) for a more natural experience.

Rule 4. Use Motion in Cuts

Cuts from one static subject to another are boring. Mix it up by cutting from a static scene (e.g., an interview shot) to a pan of the room or a scene with lots of moving action. Let moving subjects flow into each other, or follow the direction of your subject’s gaze in the next shot. Anything you can do to build up fluidity and continuity in your video will make it much more enjoyable for the viewer.

You can also cut panning and zooming shots together. Try to do this in opposition. For example, if you pan up in one shot, pan down in the next. If you zoom out in one shot, zoom in on the next. Esteemed documentary film editor Ken Burns did this so effectively with still images that the video editing effect is actually named for him.

Rule 5. Change the Shot Every 8 Seconds.

This rule is a bit controversial, and some editors recommend a range of five to fifteen seconds. Eight hits the sweet spot in the middle. The goal is to prevent the viewer from getting bored while staring at the same subject. Again, editors can lengthen shots for artistic purposes, and some films have held the same shot for several minutes!

As more people are releasing video podcasts, it can be hard to implement this rule. Most people simply talk into the camera with minimal change. However, even those videos can mix in still images to interrupt the static shot. It leads to a more dynamic, enjoyable experience.

Even More Video Editing Suggestions

10 rules for video editing

When you’re working hard to improve your video editing skills, the basic rules of video editing are a great place to start. Here are a few more tips that you can add to your tool belt.

Rule 6.  Use Different Focal Lengths

Cutting between close and wide angles is simple when you have two shots of the same subject. So, when shooting an interview or a longer event like a wedding, it’s a good idea to periodically change up your focal lengths. A wide shot and a medium close-up can be cut together, which means you can edit parts out and modify your shot order without obvious jump cuts.

Rule 7.  Cut on Similar Elements

Switching from a rotating ceiling fan to a helicopter creates a dramatic, creative cut. You can do the same. Cut from a flower in the bride’s bouquet to one in the groom’s boutonnière, or tilt up to the night sky in the first scene and then down from it into the next scene.

Rule 8.  Wipe

During a live event, someone walking in front of the camera, as long as it’s not during the vows or something, can actually be a good thing. When the frame fills with a single element, like someone’s black suit jacket, it makes cutting to a completely different scene easy and less jarring. You can create wipes when filling or take advantage of them naturally occurring.

Rule 9.  Match the Scene

Thanks to editing, you can take footage shots out of order or at separate times and cut them together to create one scene easily. You’ll just want to ensure the shots’ elements match up. For instance, when your subject exits at frame right, have them enter at frame left in the next shot. Or, if your subject is holding something, it can’t magically disappear in the next scene. If you don’t have the right shots to make matched edits, using a B-roll in between can solve the issue.

Rule 10.  Motivate Yourself

Switching from one shot to another or changing up the angle or scene should always be done for a reason. Someone walking in front of the camera or a sloppy shot can be the reason. However, in the best-case scenario, you use the change to advance the story or narrative.

Wrapping Up

Videography takes a combination of practice and artistry, but clever use of these video editing rules can truly change a video from unwatchable to fantastic. 

By following these easy video editing tips, you can create a seamless, natural viewing experience for your audience. 

When in doubt, contrast your footage with what an audience would expect. You don’t want to be jarring or go against people’s natural fields of vision and range of movement. Videos can be a snapshot of other people’s lives and evoke powerful, action-driving emotions.

These editing tips for videos can help you keep your creations feeling natural and enjoyable.

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