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Top 5 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. To produce the smoothest, most enjoyable video possible for your audience, follow these five rules.

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. This 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 and/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 by using B-roll that has 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 cross fade 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, for artistic purposes, editors can lengthen shots, 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. This leads to a more dynamic, enjoyable experience.

Wrapping Up

Videography takes a combination of practice and artistry, but clever editing can make or break a video. By following these rules, you can provide a more seamless, natural viewing experience for your audience. When in doubt, compare the footage to what people would expect to see. Try not to jar them or go against people’s natural fields of vision and range of movement. People respond to videos because they’re a snapshot of other people’s lives. By keeping a natural, human element to your videos, you can improve their quality immensely.


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