Video Post-Production for Beginners: Basic Editing
In this tutorial, we transform a collection of vacation clips into a coherent story
As an underwater videographer, you can now do something that would have been unthinkable only five years ago: shoot, edit, and upload a video—with music added—all from your phone. We’re at the point that even our phones can shoot stabilized 4K video and are then powerful enough to do basic post-production—never mind the explosion in popularity of action cameras and drones. We are in the golden age of content creation and you only need to look on YouTube for proof.
With all this video out there, how can you create content that keeps a viewer’s eye and helps you stand out from the crowd? The long answer is that we could write dozens of books on this topic, but we won’t subject you to that. Instead, we will start at the beginning and show you some basic things that you can do on any editing device. We won’t delve into serious production work—yet—but rather focus on things you can go do right now. We will create a video together as we work through our key points. Here, we’re using Adobe Premiere Rush to edit our video together. This software is designed to work on a phone and is simple, easy to use, and powerful. It is also like many other software packages, so you will be able to replicate what we’re doing on any platform. Nothing fancy here, just the basics.
Tell a Story
In still photos, we capture a moment and try to tell a story in a single frame. Video is more demanding. Your viewers have been trained to expect certain things from a lifetime of watching TV and, fair or not, you need to deliver what they expect. What is one thing that every show or movie has in common? They tell a story. Before you even begin to shoot a video, you ought to have a story in your head.
For even the most basic video, you need a plot, but it can be extremely simple. Take opening a door as an example. Here is the plot: A shot of person looking at the door is your introduction, opening the door and stepping through is your action shot, and closing the door is your conclusion. That’s what we mean by a “story”—even if it’s that simple. To illustrate this point, we will start to create our video.
Here are our unedited clips in the order they were shot. They are random and disjointed, as they were shot on multiple dives
I bet you didn’t watch that entire video! It has some cool clips, but it’s pretty much unwatchable as it stands. Now, let’s try and come up with a simple plot and rearrange these clips to create a story. How about this? Diver enters water, sees some cool stuff, gets out of the water excited by what they saw. Not exactly Academy Award winning, but at least it makes sense.
First, rearrange your clips to create a story—no matter how simple it may be
This basic plot will drive how we cut and organize our clips. If you are on a dive trip, try and come up with a few distinct stories and create your videos to reflect these. Don’t just compile all the clips you shot in order and stitch them together. It will be disjointed, and viewers will quickly lose interest.
Keep the Best, Delete the Rest
Don’t you just hate it when your friends go on vacation and then dump all their photos onto Facebook? Nobody wants to see 294 pictures of your family picnic! Just give us five or six of the best ones that tell the story. Video is no different. In fact, it is even more imperative in video to keep only your best clips to keep your final product short and concise. We spend a matter of seconds looking at a still image, but with video you are asking your viewer to invest some of their valuable time. There is a reason most commercials are only 30 seconds long, and why YouTube only makes you watch the first seven seconds of an ad. You need to account for people’s short attention spans.
At this stage, our video has a plot—we went on a fun, amazing dive—and things are organized in a sensical fashion that tells our story, but it’s way, way too long. We need to go in and get rid of all the clips that don’t make the grade. Be harsh and remember we want to keep it short. Use the same judgement you would use with your still photos. Get rid of all the clips of turtle butts, and those with subjects improperly framed. If you have even a shadow of a doubt about a clip, get rid of it.
Remove the clips that are uninteresting, technically flawed, or not working in your story
Keep It Short
Ever shot a video where a shark approaches and slowly cruises by the camera? It sounds amazing, and the experience in the water is one of the best parts about diving. It also makes for boring video! If the shark takes three minutes to complete the action then you have some editing to do; nobody will make it to the money shot where it looks the camera in the eye. Here is a homework assignment for you: Go watch any movie and count how long each clip lasts. Guess what? They all only last a couple of seconds, with long clips used for dramatic effect. Let’s forget about dramatic long clips for now; we don’t have professional actors. Instead, we have nudibranchs, and making them interesting for more than several seconds is almost impossible!
So, we have a story, our clips are organized in a sensical fashion, and we have gotten rid of the poor shots. At this point we are getting closer, but our video is still too long. The final step is to go back through our clips and keep just the essential action. It may help to have a stopwatch going in your head as you watch it. Count along with the clip and when you get over five seconds, start thinking of a cut. Be warned: This can be a frustrating step as you will realize that your 90 minutes of video only has 90 seconds of usable footage!
Next, look at each clip and trim it down to only the essential seconds of action
We are only laying the groundwork for post-production: Only when you have your video organized, cut and edited to a proper length should you go in and begin proper post work. This video was shot in a flat profile (much like a RAW file in photography) and as such, it needs some work. We’ll go over the basic color-correction steps in another tutorial, but to create a finished product for the sake of comparison with where we started, we did some simple adjustments in Adobe Premiere Rush. From our out-of-the-camera footage, we have come a long way and created something that viewers are likely to watch, and more importantly, finish.
Our fine-tuned final product: We’ve reduced our more than 10 minutes of footage to a much more watchable video less than a minute in length
When you’re creating underwater videos, getting YouTube “views” is one thing, but having the viewer finish your video is something else entirely. People have short attention spans, and the longer your video, the more difficult is your task to keep people engaged till the end. Even if you have captured mind-blowing footage, you’ll lose your viewers if you don’t create a coherent story that has been properly edited together.
Whatever software you use, the basic process to create a story—arranging, deleting and trimming clips—is the same. As with photography, your ability to select and reject your clips, and keep each one short and sweet will gradually improve with practice. And, with luck, you’ll notice that the viewers of your finished videos stay engaged all the way through till the final credits.
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