Before You Begin Video Editing

Choose the right equipment and software for your first movie

Video editing doesn't have to be difficult or complicated, but it does require the right equipment. Get started the right way with this beginner's guide.

Video Editing Computer

Guy editing video on a Mac computer
Lucia Lambriex/ Blake Guthrie/Getty Images 

Video editing doesn't require an expensive computer, especially if you're a beginner. You'll need a decent monitor and video card, both of which come installed on most new computers. If you have an older computer, check it against your video editing software specifications to make sure it will work for video editing. Unfortunately, many older computers simply aren't fast enough for video editing, and you'll need to upgrade your whole system.

When you choose a new video editing computer, buy one with a large hard drive or memory capacity. Choose one that has the necessary connectors for your video camcorder and external hard drive, if you have those.

Also, select a computer that can be upgraded if you decide you need to add memory later on. If you don't already have a preference, a Mac computer is usually considered to be easier for beginners to work with, while a PC is favored for intermediate and professional editing, but either platform is fine for beginners.

Video Editing Software

Choosing video editing software can be daunting. There are many types of video editing software, all at different prices and offering different features. If you're new to video editing, start with free video editing software for your PC or Mac. Video interfaces tend to be complicated, but with a little trial and error time with any of these applications, you will soon be editing your own footage. Take the time to work through a tutorial for your software of choice.

  • VideoPad Video Editor is a free download for Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7, 8 and 10. It is also available for Mac OS X, iOS, and Android mobile devices. With this software, you can edit your movie and add a music track. 
  • VSDC Video Editor is a free download for Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 10. There is also a paid version if you like what you see. Movie export options include formats for PC, iPhone, web, and DVD.
  • Shotcut is free open-source cross-platform software for Linux, Windows and Mac OS X. Shortcut exports video in lots of formats including MP4 files and still images in JPG and PNG formats
  • iMovie ships on all new Mac computers and companion apps can be downloaded on iOS mobile devices. iMovie isn't as user-friendly as most Mac software, but it is full-featured and free. It integrates video, still photos and music seamlessly and you can work on your computer and mobile devices.

Video Editing Accessories

Before beginning a video project, make sure there is enough space on your computer to save all the necessary file footage. For example, one hour of 1080i video like you get from a mini-DV camcorder takes up nearly 42 GB of file storage. If your computer's internal hard drive or flash memory can't store all the footage, the solution is to buy an external drive.

You need several cables, usually Firewire or USB, to connect your computer, external hard drive, and a camera. Different computers and cameras accept different connectors, so check your manuals before buying anything.

Prepare Footage for Video Editing

Before you can begin editing, you need video footage to work with. Most programs accept a variety of formats for video editing, as long as they are digital from camcorders or smartphones. If you shoot your video on any digital device, it is easy to import the footage to your software.

If you want to edit analog video, such as the content on a VHS tape, you'll need to have it converted to a digital format before you can import it for video editing.

Video Editing Tips

No matter what video editing program you use, there are some tips and tricks that will improve your video editing. Having the right computer, software and accessories are essential, but in the end, great video editing comes from practice and patience. 

  • Shoot more footage than you think you'll need. Include footage that enhances the story or sets the scene. You can use it for smooth transitions in your movie.
  • Use a tripod unless you are going for a handheld effect, which can be dizzying for your audience.
  • Confine accompanying music to instrumentals. Lyrics can distract from the movie itself.
  • Don't use every video effect in your software in the same movie. Sometimes, less is more.
  • Medium range and close-up shots are better than wide shots for keeping a viewer's interest.
  • Take a break after your first round of edits. Fresh eyes may reveal something desensitized eyes didn't see.
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