One of the first things almost all video content creators learn is just how important editing is to the process—and how complex it can be. In many instances, editing your videos can even end up taking more time than actually conceptualizing or recording them, although the more proficient you become at editing, the less often that will happen. And for those looking to up their post-production game and move that part of the process along quicker, there are some tried and true time-saving video editing tips for beginners and pros alike to help make sure that happens.
What are the basics of video editing?
You may already have the basics down when it comes to editing, but double-check this list to make sure you’re getting off to the best start.
1. Choose good editing software.
Editing software is more accessible than ever—you may already have iMovie if you have a Mac, YouTube has a basic built-in editing program, and there are plenty of other free options available on the internet as well.
But the free options generally come with limitations, and for creators who need advanced capabilities or simply edit a high volume of footage, the dollars you save may not be worth the extra time and frustration in the end. Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere (Pro or Elements), and DaVinci Resolve Studio are great options often used by content creators of all kinds. All of these have some audio capabilities, but if your needs go beyond what they offer, you can look into options like Adobe Audition, Audacity, or Pro Tools.
2. Make sure your computer is up to snuff.
You may not need a full desktop and external monitor setup for editing, but you do want to make sure your computer can handle the software and the library of files you’re throwing at it.
The specific requirements you may have will depend on the size of your footage and how complex your edits are, but you’ll want to pay attention to the processor speed, RAM, graphics card, and what ports are available for connecting any external drives or components. How much storage space your computer has will be important if you decide to edit directly from your internal drive, as opposed to editing off an external drive, but make sure there’s at least enough space to run your software and render files.
3. What is the 321 rule in video editing? Always keep backup copies of everything!
To avoid an absolute nightmare scenario down the line, just remember the 321 rule. What this rule means is that you should always have three copies of all your data—your footage, your edits, etc—on two separate devices, with one stored at a different location. Having multiple copies helps protect you in case a file is corrupted, keeping them on two different hard drives provides a backup if one hard drive breaks down, and storing one in a different location guards against theft, fire, or some other location-based disaster.
How can I plan ahead to save time in editing?
A common mistake people make in the content creation process is to assume it’s easier to iron out problems when you get to them. If you record and edit all your own footage, you’ve probably already learned this isn’t true, and that there’s a lot you can do during production, or even in between filming and sitting down to make that assembly cut, to save yourself time later.
4. Get good footage.
This one sounds like a no-brainer, but make sure you’re paying attention to every aspect of your recording. Were the two shots you’re planning to match to one another filmed with different lighting setups? Did the air conditioner interfere with your audio? Is there something in the background of your shot that you would absolutely have to edit out? Taking the time to ensure these details are hammered out during filming is usually a lot more efficient than trying to fix them in post.
5. Make notes as you film.
We’ve all seen movies where the director yells “cut!” and the camera stops rolling, marking the end of a take. If you are recording content for the internet—especially if you’re recording yourself—you may not be starting and stopping your takes so liberally. And this can make it really difficult to find clips you want to use later.
What you can do to make that easier is to leave yourself visual and auditory cues about your footage. A basic example is to clap when you’re starting a take over again, which will allow you to scrub through video footage looking for those breaks, as well as audio footage, looking for the spike in sound. As you progress, don’t shy away from developing other creative ways to clue your future self (or your future editor) into what takes you liked, what mistakes are unsalvageable, and anything else you find helpful.
6. Stay organized.
Figure out your organizational system for footage and figure it out ASAP. Group your footage into accurately labeled folders on a hard drive for each project, keep separate folders for things like sound, music, and graphics, and take the time to label the footage in your project before you start sorting things into the timeline to edit.
Even if the scope of your work is small enough now that this doesn’t seem like a big deal, it’s good to get into the habit of organizing everything first and foremost for each new project. You may have to experiment at first to figure out the most efficient way to structure your file names and folder structure but find a system that works for you and stick to it.
7. Plan your edit beforehand.
Assuming you shot your own footage, or after you’ve gone through everything to label it accordingly, you should be familiar enough with what’s there to assemble a rough cut of sorts in your mind. If you can visualize what you want the final product to look like—in terms of shots, runtime, the type of music, graphics, etc—you can stop yourself from getting off course when you’re in the thick of it just thinking about what comes next rather than the bigger picture.
8. Stay comfortable.
Sitting at a computer for hours working on a project is exhausting. Regularly remind yourself to take breaks, drink some water, stretch your legs, and do something else entirely if you aren’t on a tight deadline. This not only helps your body and mind from tiring out, but can give you the needed space to come back and look at an edit, or a problem, with fresh eyes.
As you spend more time editing, you may also want to invest in products that will make your sessions more comfortable—good over-the-ear headphones, a supportive chair or cushion, a mouse that doesn’t make your hand cramp, or whatever will help alleviate strain before a real problem develops.
How can I make my video editing more efficient?
Now that all the preparations are out of the way, we can discuss some of the best tips and tricks for saving time while actually editing your videos.
9. Edit in stages.
Putting your first clip into the project timeline and immediately going in to correct audio, add music, and figure out graphics is one of the least efficient ways you can approach video editing. Instead, start with the bigger picture and gradually add layers of details. You can even consider following these steps:
- Make an assembly cut. This is simply all the video footage you plan to use, added to your project timeline in order.
- Polish it to a rough cut. Trim down the clips, consider transitions, and add in B-roll footage as necessary.
- Add graphics or text overlays as necessary. This might include an intro or end card, or credits, depending on the type of video.
- Edit audio. Get rid of any background noise, make sure the audio is smooth as you transition between clips, and add in any voice-over.
- Add in sound effects.
- Add music. Don’t forget to mix all your audio together so viewers aren’t missing important moments because one bit is too loud.
- Color correct. Adjust any color or lighting issues with your footage, and do any color grading you want to make it pop.
You don’t have to follow this specific order, but the assembly cut and rough cut should always come first. Remember—focus on the bigger picture so you don’t get lost in the details before it’s time.
10. Cut footage liberally.
Piggybacking off of Tip #7, knowing the bigger picture of your edit can help prevent you from leaving in footage you just don’t need. It’s easy to get attached to funny moments or bits that took a long time to get right, but no matter what you’re creating, you’re going to want to prioritize editing out everything you don’t need. Otherwise, you risk ending up with a bloated video that takes too long to edit and loses viewers’ attention because there’s just too much extraneous info flying at them.
Find the story you want to tell with your video—the beginning, middle, and end, along with all the specific, necessary beats that make those segments up, and if anything veers from that path, there’s a good chance it needs to end up on the cutting room floor.
11. Use B-roll footage.
B-roll footage, which we mentioned above, is footage outside of the main “storyline,” so to speak. This may be footage you record yourself, such as a sweeping shot of your record collection to intercut with video of you talking about it, or it could be stock footage you get online.
In either scenario, B-roll can be used to cut into a shot that would otherwise be continuous, smooth over awkward transitions, or fill in for footage that just didn’t end up working, without having to go back and shoot anything new. There are a number of sites that offer stock footage for a small fee, or even for free with appropriate credit—just make sure you pay attention to the terms.
12. Edit with proxies.
A proxy video is a smaller resolution video created just for your project timeline, that will allow you to see what you’re working with without accessing the larger, original file. This speeds up rendering time, frees up space on the drive you’re using to edit, and adds an extra layer of protection against accidentally corrupting the original file since you aren’t touching it.
Using proxies isn’t always necessary or practical, and the specifics of how it works will vary from software to software. But this can be particularly helpful if you are working with a computer that doesn’t quite have the memory or processing power you need, or if you’re editing high-resolution footage, such as 4K or higher.
13. Set up keyboard shortcuts.
Once you get into the editing groove, you’ll have a better grasp of what tools and actions you use most frequently. Rather than always just using your mouse or trackpad, you should be able to either look at existing keyboard shortcuts or remap certain actions for your preferred keys so that you can use your mouse and keyboard in tandem to move along the tedious parts of the process even faster.
If you aren’t sure where to start, dive into the existing keyboard shortcuts for your specific editing software, look into the specific suggestions made by professionals online, or start with these basic shortcuts:
- J, K, L —> reverse play, pause, play
- I, O —> mark in and out points
- CMD + K/CTRL + K —> add cut
14. Create presets and templates.
If you notice that you’re applying a number of the same, or similar, adjustments to your audio, color correction, or transitions, it can be worth taking the time to create a preset that automatically applies specific changes and offers a better starting point for your specific edit.
Similarly, if you use a lot of similar graphics or text overlays in your video, you can set up templates for these so you can create new ones more quickly.
15. Build a library of royalty-free music, stock footage, and sound effects.
The first few times you’re looking for a certain sound or image on a royalty-free website, you’ll likely notice it can be very, very time-consuming, no matter how searchable the database is. To save time, as you find things you like and might want to use in a future project, you can start setting up your own library of select items to pull from.
16. Regroup before exporting.
Exporting a file can be a lengthy process. Fortunately, it’s one you don’t have to monitor closely, but finding a mistake afterward and having to tell the app to kick the final product out to you again (and again, and again) quickly becomes infuriating. Take the time to check your video thoroughly for errors and annoyances before sending it to export.
Also, make sure you know what export settings are best, based on what you plan to do with the video—YouTube, Instagram, Vimeo, and other platforms will all have different guidelines.
17. Test your video on different devices before uploading.
No matter how much due diligence you’ve done up to this point, you’re going to have to check the final, exported video for errors, too. You may also save yourself some trouble by watching on different devices—different computer screens, a phone, a TV—and using built-in speakers as well as headphones. If you catch any egregious problems that pop up on a certain device at this point, you won’t have to rapidly try to adjust for them after they are pointed out by your viewers.
How can I get better at video editing?
There are still a few more larger-scope things you can do to help speed up your editing techniques.
18. Watch tutorials online.
There are tons of free tutorials from pros all over the internet, covering just about every editing topic, FAQ, or troubleshooting you can think of. You can seek out specific video editing techniques when you get stuck, but if you have free time in between projects, just spending a little bit of time each week browsing assorted tutorials can help prepare you for questions you may have in the future, or provide you with insight on how to better approach the editing process.
19. Learn editing terms.
Similarly, spending time reading about editing—blogs, books, or otherwise—and learning basic terms regularly used in the process will not only expand your editing knowledge but will make seeking out assistance when you get stuck in the future easier, as you will know the terms related to the problem you’re having.
20. Build good habits.
We’ve touched on this a few times throughout these tips and tricks with keeping organized and creating a good workflow, but it can’t be stressed enough how much time you can save as you graduate to larger, more complex projects by simply getting in the hang of doing things right early on. This can also include recording quality footage, getting your keyboard shortcuts down, understanding how long each part of the process generally takes so you don’t get caught scrambling, triple-checking your work, and forcing yourself to take those breaks every so often.