From capturing family memories to taking entire businesses online, more people than ever are looking to get started creating videos. And this is undeniably a great time to do it. Most people have a capable camera already in their pocket. Of course, capturing video is only one piece of the process. Learning how to edit video is also important.
There is a wide range of video editing software available to make editing your videos easy. Whether you’re looking for a simple drag and drop editor or a fully fledged, professional grade editing suite, you can get it, and often at a surprisingly affordable price.
Learning how to edit video can become a never ending rabbit hole, with ever more options and approaches to choose from. So for those just starting out, we’ve put together this guide on how to approach editing video and get you started down an exciting new path.
Things to Think About Before Starting Out
Editing video can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. But however complex you want the final product to be, you will find the process far more enjoyable if you take a few moments to prepare from the very beginning, preferably before you even start to record any footage.
What kind of videos are you editing?
Different types of videos have different requirements. Maybe you’re just trying to put together a highlight reel from your family vacation and only need to cut down long recorded segments into your favorite moments and splice them together. Or perhaps you want to create a YouTube vlog combining talking head footage with explanatory B-roll clips. Or maybe you’re putting together a full length documentary with hours of footage to sort through, computer generated graphics that you need to create and special effects to add.
What you want your final product to be will inform what and how you shoot, the video editing software you choose and how you approach the entire process.
What capabilities do you want the software to have?
Every piece of video editing software has some sort of learning curve, and there’s a direct correlation between the number of features the software has and how much you will have to do to learn the software.
Think about whether you only want the basics with a drag-and-drop editing model and a fairly shallow learning curve or if you want to invest time in learning a more complicated (but more feature rich) software.
Can my computer handle video editing?
All of your video editing is going to be done on a computer, so you do need to consider whether or not your computer is capable of handling the editing you want to do. As you might expect, the more complex features you want to add to your video (e.g., computer generated special effects), the more powerful computer hardware you will need.
One thing to note: there has long been debate over what operating system is best for video editing. The current reality is that, with the exception of a relatively small number of programs only available on one OS (like Apple Final Cut Pro X) or the other, there’s no significant difference between choosing a Windows or a Mac for video editing.
Recommended Computer Specs for Video Editing
The best way to find out what computer specs you need is to look at what the software you’re going to use recommends. Less powerful software requires less powerful hardware. As a general rule of thumb, though, the following should give you a decent starting point:
- Processor – A relatively recent Intel Core i5 or Core i7 should work well. For budget builds, newer AMD Ryzen 5 gives good performance at a low price.
- RAM – While some software recommends at least 4GB of RAM, you probably want to make sure you have at least 8GB, though more is better. If you’re doing particularly complex or very high resolution video editing (4K+), you’ll be happier with 16GB or more.
- Graphics Card – Whether or not you need a graphics card depends on your software and what you’re trying to do. For some software, you don’t really need a graphics card. If you’re going to be doing more rendering, or if you’re using DaVinci Resolve (which is specifically made to utilize a GPU) you’ll want at least an RX 570 or GTX 1650.
- Storage – Video, especially 4K video, requires a lot of storage. HDDs (hard disc drives) will work, but SSDs (solid state drives) will be faster and more pleasant to use. Get the most amount of storage space you can afford if you’re going to be doing a lot of video.
- Other computer considerations – Aside from these, there are a few other things to consider. Because of the file sizes for video, you’ll want to have fast ways to get video on and off your computer. USB 3.1, USB-C, and Thunderbolt will give you relatively fast ports for transferring to and from digital storage devices. A fast internet connection will help if you upload videos online. None of these are absolutely necessary, but expect to spend a lot of time waiting for things to transfer if you have to work with a slower option.
Choosing a Video Editing Software
There are a lot of video editing software options out there. Some of them will genuinely be better (if you have certain goals) than others, but there are few, if any, right or wrong answers to which video editing software you should use.
The reality is that the best software is the one you are most comfortable using. Some software you’ll be able to pick up quickly but it may be limited in options. Other software will take time to learn but will give you unlimited opportunities. Figure out where in that spectrum you fit and take the time to learn the ins and outs of whatever software you choose. That time spent will pay off once you’re comfortable with an editor.
There are a few video editors that are popular options:
- Adobe Premiere Pro CC – Adobe Premiere Pro is the industry standard for video editing. It’s a deep program, with a huge amount of features and a correspondingly steep learning curve. As part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud Suite, just about anything you want to do is possible either directly in Premiere Pro or through close integration with other Creative Cloud apps. Because of Premiere’s huge popularity, there is an enormous amount of content available (e.g., YouTube tutorials, blogs, etc) to teach you how to use it.
- Adobe After Effects CC – After Effects isn’t really a program for editing videos (though you could theoretically use it for your full edit, you probably wouldn’t want to), but it’s on this list because of how naturally it pairs with Premiere Pro. Because they’re both part of Adobe CC, you have access to both if you have the full subscription. If you want to create your own graphics or special effects, After Effects is invaluable.
- Apple iMovie – When it was first introduced, Apple iMovie revolutionized the ability for home video creators to combine and edit video by offering an intuitive and easy to use editor. It was one of if not the first to bring the ability to edit movies to the everyday user. Apple has continued to develop iMovie, and while it won’t give you the full feature set of Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro X you get a lot of capability in an incredibly easy to use software that also happens to be free (but does require a Mac).
- Apple Final Cut Pro X – Final Cut Pro X is only available for Apple products and offers an editing solution that tries to find a balance between professional performance and accessibility, straddling the line between professional and prosumer. The most recent version has made a controversial choice of using a nontraditional timeline approach that has turned off some experienced editors, but overall Final Cut Pro X offers powerful features for Mac users.
- Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve – DaVinci Resolve started as a tool for color correction but has grown to become a powerful fully featured video editor, including timeline editing, color correction, effects, and even audio editing tools. It’s become increasingly popular thanks to a free version that offers more than enough features for all but the most demanding users.
- Corel VideoStudio Ultimate – Corel VideoStudio Ultimate is designed for beginners, making it an easy way to get into video editing. It has an easy, intuitive layout that helps beginners jump right into editing but still offers a number of more advanced options as you further your skills.
- CyberLink PowerDirector – CyberLink PowerDirector is similar to VideoStudio Ultimate in that it offers a gentle introduction to editing while still providing a surprisingly deep suite of tools. It aims to bridge the gap between beginner and pro by streamlining the basics, though this comes with a tradeoff of more advanced options getting buried deeper in the program.
- HitFilm Express – HitFilm Express offers an impressive selection of features with a particular focus on high end special effects capabilities wrapped up in an intuitively designed package. The free version offers an impressive toolset, but you also have the option to upgrade through premium add-ons or various pro bundles with even more capabilities.
- Lightworks – Lightworks, like DaVinci Resolve, is another high end, professional grade video suite that offers a generous free license. In Lightworks’s case, you get a huge range of tools in the free version, but with limitations in what it allows you to output, though there are a variety of licenses depending on your need. Like the other pro-grade tools, there will be a bit of a learning curve to get a strong level of comfort with the program.
- Shotcut – Shotcut is a free, open source video editor for people who want to move up from the most basic editors but don’t want or need a fully featured editor. It offers an interface that is friendly for new editors and a rich set of features, though it won’t meet the needs of especially complicated projects.
Tips for a Better Editing Experience
Crafting a video can be a complex task with multiple phases, each containing their own challenges. If you’re not prepared, the editing process can be frustrating, but there are a few things that you can do to make the process easier and more enjoyable.
Plan ahead, and shoot according to plan
Depending on what you’re shooting, this may not be possible. For example, if you’re collecting home movies of events, you’re going to be somewhat limited. But if you can, think about creating at least a general outline of what you want to shoot. What different footage will you need? Try to avoid having to go back and reshoot part of it later because you forgot to do it the first time. Try to keep things efficient so it doesn’t throw off your process later.
Decide on a file management strategy
You’ll likely have a lot of different files to include in your final composition including video clips, graphics and edited effects (like title screens, overlays, etc), audio files and potentially more. Keep everything organized so you can quickly and easily find it when it’s time to use it.
Go easy on the effects
Adding effects are like seasoning food, a lot goes a long way and too much overpowers what you make. More effects means more computing power is required, which can slow everything down.
Carefully consider your music choices
Music can elevate your video, but don’t let it be distracting. And if you’re sharing your videos publicly (YouTube, for example) think about the copyright implications of your music. Royalty free is the safest route to go.
Take regular breaks
Take breaks both for your mental well being and for your eyes. Things can start to look the same after you’ve been staring at a computer for too long.
A Step-By-Step Approach To Editing
The nuts and bolts of the editing process are going to depend on a wide range of factors including the type of video you’re creating, the editor you choose to use, your creative process and more.
Rather than taking an approach like you might see in a recipe with every step precisely described, we’re going to give you a general way to approach editing your video, letting the specifics be determined by your needs. The examples below use Adobe Premiere Pro.
1. Create a Project and Import Footage
When you first open your video editor and start your process, you’ll have to decide on a few things.
Obviously, you’ll need to name the project. Most (if not all) video editors will create a folder with this project name in which all of the files will be held. If you’re only making one or two videos, just pick something descriptive so you can easily tell what it is. If you’re going to be making videos regularly, decide on a way to organize your projects so that you can keep everything straight as more and more projects are created.
In addition, you’ll need to decide what project settings (primarily resolution and frame rate) you want your final video to be in. The easiest approach is to let your editor decide automatically based on the footage you import, but if you have specific needs that don’t match your source files (for example, downsampling 4K footage to 1080p), go ahead and do it now.
Once your project is set up and open, go ahead and import all of your footage and other media files into the editor. For most editing suites you can either choose the import option in the navigation menu or, for many, simply drag and drop the files directly to the program.
2. Organize Your Media
If you only have a few clips and maybe one piece of music, simply dragging all of your media into the editor will suffice. But for more complex projects, it can be invaluable to keep everything well organized.
The editor should allow you to create a folder system (often called Bins) to organize your files in much the same way as your computer does with files on its hard drive. How you organize your bins will be up to you and your project.
For a simple project, you can probably create one bin for video files, one for audio and music files and one for graphics. If it’s a more complex project with different scenes, you might split everything up even more so that each scene has all of its assets in one place.
3. Watch and Mark Footage
Go through all of your footage and select the parts you are going to use. The easiest way to do this is to “mark” the proper clips by placing in and out points on the parts of the clip you want to use. In most programs there will be keyboard shortcuts for adding these marks, typically the “I” and “O” keys.
Make sure you mark every clip that you think you want to use. It’s easy to remove clips you decide later you don’t want, but it can be much more annoying (and time consuming) to have to go through every clip again looking for a moment that you didn’t mark before.
4. Cut and Place Footage
Now comes the part you’ve been waiting for: assembling your video! To do this, you’ll go to the clips you marked earlier with in and out points, and drag them into the timeline. Your timeline is exactly what it sounds like: a long line of all of your clips lined up from start to finish.
Keep in mind that you can always rearrange clips in the timeline, so if you drop one in too early or too late compared to where you want it in the final cut, it’s not a big deal. Just drag the clip to the place you want it.
5. “Clean Up” Your Timeline
Most likely, your first attempt at piecing all of your footage together is not going to be as good as you want it to be. Watch what you’ve assembled and look for ways to make it flow better.
Some common problems to watch out for include timing problems (especially having certain segments go on for too long) and having awkward or jarring transitions between cuts or scenes.
There’s a lot of nuance and personal taste that goes into making your video flow well. Feel free to look to other videos or even listen to music to try to find inspiration for the overall pacing of your video.
6. Add Effects
With the overall video at least mostly assembled, it’s time to put in any effects you need. These can be things like transitions, graphics/overlays and various “filters” to enhance the look of your video. This also includes things like adding your color grading and cleaning up your audio.
Being judicious with your application of effects can make or break your video. A certain amount is required to polish and bring out the best in your project, but it’s easy to go overboard and create something gaudy. Show restraint and operate with a “less is more” mentality.
7. Export And Share
With the video finished, your final step is to export and share. For many people, that will be sharing directly to an online platform such as YouTube or Facebook. Many video editors have settings built in to optimize for those platforms or even directly post for you.
For other uses, such as embedding it on your personal website or sharing with clients or family on flash drives or discs, you’ll want to make sure you choose the best file formats and settings during the export process. The current most common setting is to export as a .mp4 file with H.264 compression (though the more space efficient H.265 will likely soon overtake H.264 as the standard for video).
There’s a lot that goes into creating a video. From capturing great video footage and high quality audio to assembling everything together to finding the right channels to share it on, there are many pieces that you have to put together.
Fortunately for everybody who is looking to start creating videos, there are more tools making it easier than ever to get started.
This post has been updated to reflect recent software recommendations.