Ah, is there any craft more magical than video editing? There’s no greater joy than turning a bunch of crazy footage into a concise, artistic and beautiful video or film. And truth be told, it’s really not that hard… for those willing to learn the basics. 

Sure, there are plenty of terms and techniques which can make video editing a bit intimidating. But for many aspiring creative content creators, video editing is truly something you can learn on your own.

So, regardless of your current level of video editing expertise, let’s explore all of the basic elements that you’ll need to know to dive into the wonderful world of video editing.

Getting started with video editing 

In the early days of film, cutting was done very much in a literal sense. Film would be strewn out, cut up, spliced and taped together to create the seamless “edits” which we’re used to seeing today. And for the vast majority of film history this is how “editing” was done.

However, with the advent of new digital video technologies, editing has moved to computers. And while the tactile sense of making actual cuts to a filmstrip has been replaced by the clicking of keyboards, many of the same principles from the halcyon days of film editing remain the same.

For instance, many of the video editing terms which we use in the industry have been used for decades. The overall craft of video editing itself has also been segmented throughout the years into the multiple stages of a holistic post-production process which encompasses all the different elements from asset management to color correction to visual effects and animation.

Don’t worry though, to get started we’ll just focus on the basics here as we begin with the first steps for your video editing project.

What are the basics of video editing?

Before you brand out into more complex projects, start with these core elements: adding, moving, trimming and deleting video and audio clips.

Organizing and file maintenance

I always say that the video editing process doesn’t actually start when you sit down in front of your computer. Instead, post-production truly begins the moment video footage is shot or acquired.

A good video editor is really a great asset manager who can review, organize and ultimately manage a wide variety of files, footage and assets. Here are the basic three stages of organizing and file maintenance along with some tips for each: 

  • Reviewing: a good editor will take notes as they review all the footage and assets needed for a project.
  • Deleting: don’t be afraid to delete any unwanted or unneeded assets. The less clutter in your edit the better.
  • Organizing: finally, find an organization method that works for you. Clearly label all footage, files and folders — and keep plenty of backups!

Choosing an editing tool or software 

From there, you’ll want to choose the best editing tool or software for you and your project. As a quick reminder, while there are some video editing softwares which might be more popular than others, it’s really about finding the best program for your specific expertise and needs.

Here are a few factors and options to consider:  

What features do you need?

If you talk to any seasoned video editor, they’re very likely to talk your ear off about the latest and greatest softwares and plugins which they use and love. However, just because someone editing complex motion graphics prefers Adobe After Effects or Cinema 4D, doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

A good video editing program really only needs key features like these:

  • Easy-to-use file upload and import
  • A navigable timeline 
  • Simple shortcut commands for cutting and trimming
  • Basic transitions and effects
  • Helpful audio options
  • Render preview and export controls

What kinds of videos are you editing? 

For those who are truly new to video editing, it can be helpful to ask yourself some of these helpful questions before you pick out which video editing software might be right for you.

  • What camera (or cameras) was your footage shot on?
  • Is audio included with the video or is it separate?
  • Do you have any visual effects that you need to include?
  • Do you want subtitles with your video?
  • Where are your videos going to be posted and shared?

Depending on your answers to the above, you can probably decide if you’re going to need one of the more easy-to-use softwares (which are often free), or one of the more advanced programs (which usually require purchase or a subscription). Let’s quickly take a look at both.

Options for free editing software 

If you are looking for a free video editing software, you’re very much in luck as there are currently plenty of options on the market. Here are some of the best of the bunch:

Since all of these are free too, I’d recommend trying out as many as you’d like until you find one you’re most comfortable with and works right for your needs.

Options for paid editing software 

As far as paid video editing softwares go, there are also plenty of options. However most of the industry uses these big three:  

There’s also a bevy of higher-end softwares like After Effects, Cinema 4D and Blender, but most of those will be much more complex and focus more on motion graphics and animation. 

How do I start learning video editing?

Try everything! Experiment with free, easy-to-use software like Vimeo Create, watch some online tutorials, and start creating.

6 tips every video editor needs when they’re starting out 

To help you get started with your video editing software of choice, we’ve outlined some basic tips and tricks which every video editor needs when they’re first starting out.

Nurture a beginner’s mindset

First and foremost, remember that it’s fun to be a beginner! When you’re first starting out, you’re free of any preconceived biases. 

Embrace the newness of starting fresh as you focus on building your own growth mindset and expertise. As you go along the different tricks you learn along the way will stay with you for a long, long time.

Save often

This really should be rule number one. When working in video editing you really need to be saving as often as possible. I’d even go as far as recommending that you regularly back up your footage and progress quite regularly as well.

Yes, most modern video editing platforms and softwares do come with auto-saving features already enabled, but trust me – there’s no worse feeling in the world than having hours of work completely washed due to a small glitch or crash.

Add rad transitions

When first starting out with video editing, learning the basics of cutting, trimming and splicing together clips should be enough. However, as you start to develop your own skill set, adding in transitions is a great — and easy — way to take your edits to the next level.

Most non-linear editing (NLE) softwares will have plenty of built-in transitions for you to try out including fades, wipes, dissolves or other creative animations, so feel free to experiment and explore.

Audio is crucial

While flashy visuals and beautiful cinematography might be what the majority of people focus on when they watch a video, audio is actually one of the most crucial elements which filmmakers and editors alike often ignore.

The key to audio to good audio comes down to consistency and levels. Most video editing softwares should give you a level reader which will let you monitor audio to make sure it stays consistent throughout.

Don’t be afraid of trimming

Another tip for video editors when you’re first starting out is to not be afraid of trimming things down. The best edits are the ones that move quickly and seamlessly, so much so that you don’t feel like you’re noticing the cuts at all. 

If you are working with an easy-to-use platform like Vimeo Create, trimming clips is very intuitive and easy. All it takes is a few clicks and you can keep your videos feeling fast and fun.

Export and (de)-compress

Finally, the last step of any video edit is to render, compress and export. Depending on your video editing software, the options and controls for exporting can be quite simple or very technical.

Be sure to pick the right export settings so that your video will playback properly when uploaded to websites like Vimeo, Facebook, Instagram, etc…

Can you edit videos on your laptop?

Totally. With digital editing softwares you can edit your videos on computers, laptops, and even your smartphone.

How to edit videos on Vimeo

If you are looking for an innovative and creative-minded video editing software, Vimeo Create is designed for easy, intuitive video editing for those with little to no video editing experience

So, before you dive into a pricey software or subscription investment, try honing some of the essentials like trimming, adding text, and customizing Vimeo Create templates.

What comes next? 

While the best way to learn will always be to just dive in and try things out, there are plenty of other great online resources which can help you level up your skills.

Here are a few articles and links which you should bookmark for your video editing reading list moving forward:

Hopefully you’ve found these video editing basics helpful. Remember, creative craft and exercise is meant to be fun, so enjoy the video editing journey.

Keep learning with Vimeo Video School.

*Originally written by Daniel Hayak in 2010. Updated 2021.