If you’re new to video making, the thought of learning how to edit videos from scratch can be a little overwhelming. Filming is the easy part, the hard part is what comes after that—the post-production process.
Editing is a broad discipline; there’s so much to learn that figuring it all out really is a mammoth task, and you’re not going to become a pro overnight. But don’t worry, you can get the basics down pretty quickly, and that’s all you really need to start off with.
In this article, I’m going to be walking you through the whole editing process. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll realize that becoming reasonably proficient at video editing is achievable in days, not weeks, and you should be ready to start putting your first YouTube video together.
The Basics of Video Editing
Before we get started, I think it’ll be helpful to define exactly what we mean by ‘video editing’ and what it involves.
Video editing is a very broad discipline with a lot of separate skills involved, but at its most basic, it’s simply taking all your separate video clips and knitting them together into one finished, integrated movie.
At a minimum, this involves:
- Importing all of your separate video clips and media files onto your video editing software
- ‘Trimming’ each of your video clips to remove the parts you don’t want
- Stringing those trimmed clips together in your chosen order so that it looks like one cohesive video in your video editing software
- ‘Rendering’ the finished video editing project file back into a video file that you can upload to YouTube, share, or do whatever else you want with.
Of course, there’s a little more to it than that.
If you just did the bare minimum, you’d end up with kind of a boring video at the end of it. To make a really great video, you’ll probably want to add a few extra touches to spruce it up during the editing process. This might mean adding video effects, background music, transitions, and sound effects.
Focus On The Essentials
In addition to the above, it’s actually possible to do some really cool and complex stuff during the editing process, like advanced color correction, masking, compositing, motion graphics, VR editing, animation, and more.
However, those kinds of skills take years to master. There’s no way I could fit everything there is to know about all the different skills involved in video editing in just one article—and I wouldn’t even try. That would be far too overwhelming for you.
Instead, for the purposes of this article, we’re just going to be focusing on the essentials. By the end of this article, you’ll be able to take your camera footage and put it all together, make it look good, and render it into one complete, YouTube-ready video, which is 80% of the battle.
You’ll learn the more advanced techniques and video editing methods over time as you practice, improve, and experiment.
How to Edit Videos Step-By-Step
Now that’s covered, we can start learning how to edit videos.
Just one last quick note before we jump into it: Every video editor’s workflow is a little different. Don’t feel the need to stick to the exact processes below if you find something that works better for you.
Alright, now let’s get started with step one.
1. Choosing Your Video Editing Software
Editing was very different a few decades ago. Back then, people would use scissors to manually cut up film reels and trim away unnecessary footage. Then, they’d string them together with tape.
Thankfully, those days are long behind us. Now, we can do all that and so much more digitally using video editing software tools.
Therefore, the first step in editing your videos is choosing which video editing software you want to use. There are dozens of different editing tools out there. The right one for you will depend on factors like:
- What you’re looking for
- How experienced/inexperienced you are
- The hardware you’re working with
- The kind of features you need
For example, if you plan on recording in front of a green screen in order to add custom backgrounds to your shots, you’ll need to choose video editing software that allows for chroma key compositing.
If you’re not trying to do anything too fancy, you might be able to work with much simpler programs that only offer the most basic features, like a timeline and the ability to cut/trim footage. In fact, you might be better off choosing a basic program as they tend to be more beginner-friendly.
However, my personal opinion is that you should start how you mean to carry on and use professional video editing tools right from the get-go.
You’ll outgrow the basic/simple video editing software tools very quickly so, rather than waste your time learning the interface of a tool that you won’t be using for long, it’s better to just jump straight into the more advanced software.
Best Video Editing Software for Beginners
If, despite the above, you still want to start off with a beginner-friendly basic video editing tool, here’s what I’d recommend:
- Windows users – Windows Movie Maker
- Mac users – iMovie
Both of these software tools are free and usually come bundled with your OS. As far as basic editing software goes, they’re pretty great. If you just want a basic editing tool, there’s no point wasting cash on paid tools when these have everything you need.
Best Mid-range Editing Software
If you’re looking for something a little more advanced, but not too difficult to master, go for Adobe Premiere Elements. This is Adobe’s ‘easy’ video editor. It’s a step-down from Premiere Pro in terms of features and functionality, but I can’t deny that it makes the editing process a lot easier.
Their intelligent editing options and auto-generated videos streamline the process dramatically to take a lot of the work off of you. However, it’s also more restrictive than advanced tools that give you more creative control. It isn’t suitable for professional/advanced editing techniques.
Best Professional Video Editing Suites
For professional video editing software, I’d recommend either Adobe Premiere Pro or Sony Vegas Pro.
Adobe Premiere Pro is widely recognized as the gold standard when it comes to video editing. It’s the industry-standard software and is used in professional video editing studios across the world. It has some features you’ll struggle to find elsewhere, like VR editing and integration with other Adobe products for more efficient workflows.
Sony Vegas Pro is similarly advanced with most of the features and functions that professional video editors need.
Both of the above offer free trials, so try them both out and see which one you prefer. Personally, I prefer Sony Vegas as I find the interface a little more intuitive, but that’s just me.
Whichever you choose, the editing process should be similar; the interface will just look a little different. For the rest of this guide, I’ll be giving editing instructions for Sony Vegas specifically as this is the tool I use, but you should still be able to follow along if you’re using different software.
2. Organizing Your Footage
The next step is to organize all the footage you plan on editing and using in the final video. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it’ll save you a ton of time and streamline the whole process.
Move your video files from your camera and into a dedicated folder on your hard drive, then back up this folder to the cloud or a separate, external hard-drive, just in case.
If you’re putting together a video from lots of different clips, you may have recorded a bunch of clips/outtakes that you don’t even want to use, so you’ll want to ditch those clips and move them out of the folder to keep things clean and tidy.
I’d recommend archiving any clips you don’t plan on using, rather than deleting them outright, as there’s always the chance you’ll change your mind later on.
You might also want to categorize your clips if you think it will help you during the editing process. For example, I like to separate my A-roll (primary video) and my B-roll (supplementary video) into two different folders when I’m making travel vlogs as I use them very differently.
After your footage is neat and tidy in organized folders, move onto step 3.
3. Choosing the Correct Project Settings
Go ahead and open up your video editing software—it’s time to set your project settings. This is where we define the dimensions, aspect ratio, frame rate, and other relevant settings that we’re going to be working with within the video editor.
On Vegas Pro, you set the project settings as soon as you open a new project (click ‘File’ then ‘New’ in the toolbar). The basic rule here is to match your project settings to both your media video settings and to your final render settings.
For example, if your camera is set to record footage in 1920×1080 at 30fps (frames per second), this should be the same in your project settings. If you’re not sure what camera settings you’re working with, you can find out by right-clicking one of your video files and checking the properties.
On Sony Vegas, you also have the much simpler option of just importing one of your media files, right-clicking it, and clicking ‘Match Project Video Settings’.
4. Importing Your Footage
The next thing we need to do is import our media files into the editor. The correct way to do this will depend on which editing software you’re using, but it should be fairly straightforward.
There are actually several different ways we can go about this on Sony Vegas:
- Click ‘File’, ‘Import’, and ‘Media’, select all of the different media files you’re going to be using, then hit ‘Open’.
- Click the ‘Explorer’ tab, navigate to the folder where you’ve stored your media files, select all your media files, right-click them and click ‘Add to Project Media List’
- Select all of your media files at once in the folder you’ve stored them in, then drag them onto your video editing software.
The files you import are stored in your ‘Project Media’ folder on Sony Vegas, which you should be able to see listed in the tabs on your screen. If you like, you can sort these imported clips into different folders to make it easier for you to find what you’re looking for and reduce the amount of time you have to spend browsing files.
5. Cutting, Trimming, and Using the Timeline
Ok, now we’re getting into the juicy part. It’s time to start cutting and stringing together those imported clips so that your video begins to take shape.
The editing process happens on the ‘timeline’, which should be somewhere at the bottom of your video editing screen. You can drag clips from your project media folder onto the timeline and move them around to place them chronologically.
If a clip starts at the 15-second mark, it will appear 15 seconds into the final rendered video. If you want to move a clip later on or rearrange the order of them, just drag them to the correct section of the timeline. Simple, right?
You can press the play button to preview your project video in real-time. You can also hit pause to stop the video at a specific point on the timeline.
The timeline is also where we ‘cut’ and ‘trim’ our clips.
Let’s imagine that you want to use a clip of you talking into the camera. When you were recording it, there was a little ‘dead air’ between the time you hit the record button and when you actually started speaking. You also messed up your lines a few times and had to repeat a few sentences.
You almost certainly don’t want that dead air or those messed-up lines to appear in the final video, right? So we need to cut those parts out.
Let’s start by getting rid of the dead air at the start by ‘trimming’ the clip. This is really easy, all we have to do is drag the start of the clip on the timeline to the right to make it shorter until the useless part is gone. You can trim the end of the clip off in a similar way, by dragging it to the left.
Now let’s ‘cut’ out those messed up lines. On Sony Vegas, preview your clip on the timeline and pause it right before the first bit that you want to cut out, then hit ‘S’ on your keyboard. This should split the clip into two.
Hit play again to continue to preview the clip. This time, hit pause right after the end of first messed up line, then hit ‘S’ again. Your clip should now be split into three separate clips that you can move independently on the timeline. Delete the middle one and move the others back together and voilà—you’ve just cut out the first mistake.
You can use these two techniques to trim/cut out all your unwanted footage.
If you want to cut/trim/edit the audio from one of your camera clips independently of the video, you need to detach it from the video clip first. To do so on Sony Vegas, click the audio of the clip and hit ‘U’ on your keyboard. You can now cut/trim the audio and video separately.
You might have noticed that your timeline has several ‘tracks’. Tracks allow you to insert more than one audio/video clip at the same point on your timeline so that they play at the same time
We use tracks when we want to ‘layer’ different audio/visual elements on top of each other. For example, if you want to insert background music or sound effects, you can add them on a different track and they’ll play at the same time as your camera footage audio. You can adjust the levels to make one track louder than the other.
If you have more than one video track, the track at the top appears in the foreground. This means that, if both of the video clips on each track are the same size/dimensions, you’ll only be able to see the one in the foreground—the one at the top of the timeline. The other will be hidden underneath.
If the clip on the top track is smaller than the other, it’ll appear on top of it. You can use this to create a picture-within-a-picture, add subtitles on top of your video clips, and more. It might sound complicated, but it’ll make a lot more sense when you actually do it.
However, it’s probably best to cross that bridge when you come to it, as it’s not something you’ll need to do often, if at all, as a beginner.
6. Adding Video Effects
Once you’ve finished removing all the unwanted parts and putting your video clips together, you can add some finishing touches by adding effects and overlays to your clips.
Most video editing software systems come with a huge number of preset video effects that you can add to your clips to change the way they look. On Sony Vegas, you can view these effects by clicking the ‘Video FX’ tab, and apply them to your clips by simply dragging them onto the clip within the timeline.
There are hundreds of effects to choose from, so I won’t be able to explain them all and when to use them here, but I’d recommend spending some time checking them out yourself and experimenting with them so that you get a better understanding of what they do.
Three effects worth mentioning briefly are:
- Black and White—this can be applied to make a clip black and white for when you want that old-school, vintage look.
- Chroma Keyer—this effect removes all instances of one block color from your clip. It’s used with greenscreens to create a transparent background, which allows you to add your own on a separate video track.
- Color Corrector—this allows you to fine-tune the colors of your clip, for example, to make them appear more vivid.
You can also add ‘Track FX’ to an entire track on the timeline, add overlays to your clips, change the transparency, use the ‘Media Generators’ function to add your own animated opening titles, subtitles, or end credits to your video, and a lot more.
However, as I said earlier, we can’t cover everything right now, so let’s move on.
7. Rendering Your Videos
After you’re done adding effects and putting the finishing touches, it’s time to ‘export’ it as a video file.
Don’t do this step until you’re absolutely sure that you’re finished with your project. Make sure you’ve previewed the whole thing first to be sure that you’re happy with it. Exporting can take a long time, and you don’t want to have to do it twice.
In Sony Vegas, the way we export/render our videos is by clicking ‘File’ in the toolbar, and then ‘Render’. On the next page, you’ll see a bunch of video file format options to choose from.
You can choose from one of the preset options or customize it to your liking. You can pick an encoder, select a bit rate, frame rate, resolution, and more. All these factors play a big part in the quality of the final video file.
I won’t get into a discussion about the best render settings for YouTube videos here, as there’s too much to talk about, and too many different variables to consider. Personally, I like to record, edit, and render my own video projects in .mp4 file formats, in 1080p at 29.97 fps.
You’ll probably want to pick the same settings/format that you used in your camera and project settings. For example, if you’ve recorded and edited your video in 25 fps up until now, make sure you render it in 25 fps again.
It’s also worth mentioning here that video rendering is a very demanding task for your computer. It eats up a lot of processing power and can take a very long time to complete. You might be waiting hours, depending on your render settings and the length of your video. Generally speaking, the more powerful your CPU, the faster the video rendering time will be.
Advanced Video Editing Techniques
While we’ve now (hopefully) covered the basics, we’ve really only just scratched the surface. What we’ve talked about so far is just the tip of the iceberg, there’s a whole lot more to learn if you want to fully master video editing.
But while I’m not going to get into the more complex stuff in this guide, I do want to briefly mention some advanced video editing features that Sony Vegas has to offer to point you in the right direction, in case you want to learn more. Here they are:
- Keyframing—this is an advanced editing technique that allows you to animate different elements of your video editing project, such as video effects. You can learn more on this page.
- Event Pan/Crop—this tool allows you to zoom in or pan across your video clips. You can use keyframes in conjunction with panning/cropping to create custom zooms or panning effects. Learn more here.
- Masking—the mask tool on Sony Vegas lets you manually ‘cut out’ shapes in your video clips by ‘drawing’ around them. This video provides a pretty good tutorial.
Video Editing Tips
Before we wrap up, I wanted to leave you with some small video editing tips that will make a big difference to the quality of your videos.
Overlap Your Audio (slightly)
When you cut from one clip to a sequential clip, the sudden change in audio can be a little abrupt. If you’ve gone from a quiet room to a busy street, for example, the sudden noise can be jarring for your audience.
To make that transition a little smoother and less noticeable, I’d recommend overlapping the audio (not the video) from your two clips. This will allow the audio to fade in gradually.
You can do this by trimming the start of one of the video clips by a second or two, but not the matching audio. Then, pull both the video and matching audio clip back over together on the timeline, so that the sequential video clips sit flush to each other but the audio is overlapped by a couple of seconds.
Use an Intro and Outro
Intros and outros add a little production value to your YouTube videos and make them look more professional. Try creating your own short intro and outro and including them in all of your video edits.
Learn the Shortcut Keys
Video editing can be incredibly time-consuming. To speed things up, learn all the shortcut keys on your editing software—it’s quicker to hit a key than to move a mouse! You should be able to find a list of the shortcut keys for your specific editing software online.
Have the Right Hardware
The performance of your computer can severely limit your editing ability. If you plan on using a professional video editing suite, you’ll need to make sure your computer meets its technical requirements first. Aim for a decent CPU (at least an Intel i5 processor or better), at least 8gb RAM, and a good graphics card.
Don’t Overdo It
It’s easy to get carried away when video editing. You might be tempted to indulge your creativity and go wild with effects and transitions, but that’s a bad idea. Too many effects stand out like a sore thumb, so use them in moderation. Good edits are invisible; they aren’t full of fancy, out-of-place, over-the-top transitions and effects.
One of the biggest mistakes amateur editors make is to over-edit their videos, which ends up making them look amateur and distracts your viewer from the actual content of your videos. I like to think that, if an audience notices the editing, you’re doing it wrong.
Think About Post-Production While Filming
Editing starts on set. Delete accidental/unusable shots from your camera as soon as you record them so you don’t have to watch through them later, and take several shots of the same scene. This will help you to save time and give you more options when editing.
Watch Your Footage Back First
You really need to know the footage you’re working with inside-and-out before you start editing so that you can pick out the shots you want to use. Always watch all your footage back before you begin editing, even if it takes a while.
That concludes this complete beginner’s guide on how to edit videos. From here on out, it’s all about practice, practice, practice.
Remember, you’re not going to be a pro video editor overnight. Think of your first few editing attempts as trial runs; don’t give up if the final products aren’t quite as good as you’d hoped.
Once you’ve got the hang of the basics, dive into some advanced video editing classes to up your game, or watch some YouTube tutorials about techniques you’re interested in, then try them out. It’s a journey, and you’ll only get better by playing around and trying new things.
Good luck, and have fun!