How Video Editing Works

Video Standards

If you have a camcorder, then you know that it is easy to create home video. You simply point and shoot. However, if you have ever played back what you shot and looked at it, then you know how hard it is to create good home video with nothing but a camera. Even if you are extremely careful when shooting, you usually end up with a lot of "junk" on the tape. When you play it back, it looks like a "home movie" -- amateurish, disjointed, confusing, lousy sound...

Because most of us watch so much television and see so many movies, we tend to have fairly high standards when we watch anything on video. We now expect the following features in almost everything we watch:


  • A title at the beginning
  • A set of "shots" cut together in a nice way to tell a story 
  • A fairly high number of shots
  • Interesting transitions between the shots. For example, some shots might fade into others, some might spin into others, and some cut very simply from one to another in a quick chain.
  • A decent soundtrack, often involving narration and/or background music
  • Perhaps static shots (like a chart or graph) mixed in with the normal video
  • Titles or legends on some of the shots to identify people, places and things
  • Slow motion or fast motion to change the tempo

A shot is a specific subject filmed from a specific angle. For example, if you are telling the story of your son's birthday party, different shots from the event might include a shot of the cake, presents before they are opened, kids at the party sitting at the table, your son blowing out the candles and unwrapping a present.

If you watch any regular TV show, you will see that it is rare for the camera angle to stay the same for more that 10 or 15 seconds. The director will cut between different angles to keep things interesting or to make different points. For example, the screen might show a man's face while he's talking for five seconds, and then switch to a shot of his hands holding a tissue (while the sound track continues uninterrupted with him talking) to show the emotion.

Even if you are trying to present something as simple as your family trip to the zoo, it is nice to include as many of these features as possible in your rendition of it. The more features you add, the more professional your work looks and the more attractive it is to your audience.

The good news is that, with just a camera, a computer and a piece of video editing software, you can create video masterpieces that include all of these features.

There are a million different ways to do video editing. You can buy a complete solution from a company like Avid at the high end, and at the low end you can use your camera and a VCR to cut things together. The solution that we are going to discuss in this article involves three different parts:

  • A digital camcorder that has a FireWire (IEEE 1394) connection
  • A desktop or laptop computer, also equipped with a FireWire connection
  • A piece of video editing software

Let's look at each of these parts in turn.