Make no mistake, editing DSLR video is an exciting adventure. The chance to polish and perfect your HDSLR movie is as creative, challenging and rewarding as capturing the footage in the first place.
Among the many reasons for this is that editing offers so many opportunities. If you don’t like the length of a scene you can trim it, if you don’t like the way the story is developing you can alter it, and with myriad audio options (narration, sound effects, music) to choose from, you can dictate the atmosphere of your DSLR video. And if it doesn’t work? Just change it again.
Contrary to popular belief, editing DSLR video doesn’t have to be an expensive habit, either. There are dozens of PC and Mac video-editing programs available, ranging in price from free or a few pounds to several hundred pounds for the pro stuff, so if you do get the bug there are always more sophisticated options to investigate.
Before you get started, though, here are 10 tips for editing video shot with your HDSLR that are the pillars upon which most proficient productions are created. These aren’t just arbitrary DSLR video tips – they’ve been tried and tested, and have become part of the grammar of HDSLR filmmakers everywhere.
HDSLR: 10 essential tips for editing DSLR video
HDSLR Tip 1: Know your footage
The reality of shooting movies is that, even for short productions, the amount of footage you capture can be extensive. Recording a band performance for a music video can involve numerous takes and several hours of footage for a three-minute song. It makes sense to get to know your material. Review each of the takes (or all of your footage) and note down the shots you like, the ones that work particularly well or any that don’t look usable. If possible, note the timings of these shots too – it will make them easier to find later.
You now have the pieces of your jigsawpuzzle, so start prioritising the main chunks: the shots you know you want to use and where you’d like them to be in your movie.
HDSLR Tip 2: Think in visual stories
Editing provides the chance to direct the viewer’s attention. Just as a photo with a shallow depth of field will point the audience to where you want them to look, editing puts you in charge. Consider the story you want to tell and construct short sequences that will carry the message effectively. Ask yourself if a clip advances the story or not. If not – sometimes even if it’s a beautiful image – it’s time to chop it out.
HDSLR Tip 3: Use closeups for emphasis
There are many different shot sizes you can use when shooting a DSLR video. An Extreme Long Shot, for instance, is useful for establishing location, and for showing the whole scene. Midshots – with people cropped from the waist up – are the bread-and-butter shot of moviemaking – and are ideal for people when talking.
However, when editing you need to punctuate these wider shots with at least the occasional close-up. Close-up shots are essential for showing detail that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to make out on a TV or PC screen. These tightly cropped shots also provide intimacy.
HDSLR Tip 4: Take care with captions
All decent video software comes with built-in titling facilities. Don’t get carried away with this, as it’s easy for your credits to become longer than the movie itself. Make sure that titles are kept well away from the edges of the screen, as some screens crop off more of the image than others, and leave any text on screen long enough for you to read it through out loud twice – slowly!
HDSLR Tip 5: Insert editing
One way of disguising the join between shots is to make the cuts in the soundtrack at different points to the cuts in your DSLR video. For instance, you may have a long-length shot of a the best man’s speech at a wedding that needs cutting to size. You could edit out some of the speech in such a way that the soundtrack appears to be continuous, but you can’t do the same for video, which will jump where these cuts are made.
Instead, insert other cutaway images into the timeline to disguise these cuts in the soundtrack. In a similar vein, although the speech may be highly entertaining, 20 minutes of video of a guy stood up delivering it may not make for the most thrilling on-screen action. The solution is to run the soundtrack continuously but match it up with shots of the guests enjoying the spectacle, or perhaps archive footage or stills refl ecting the content of the speech, showing the groom in suitably embarrassing moments or what really went on after too much absinthe on the stag do in Prague…
HDSLR Tip 6: Don’t cross the line
Although using varying camera angles of the same subject will help keep things interesting, it’s important that you don’t go too far around – or someone that was on the right-hand side of screen in one shot will suddenly appear on the left, facing the opposite direction. This is horribly disorientating and confusing for the viewer, for obvious reasons.
Cameramen talk about not ‘crossing the line’, and this is also known as the ‘180 degree rule’: you can move from in front of your subject to behind them, but you must not cross their path. It’s one of those cardinal rules we mentioned before.
HDSLR Tip 7: Avoid jump cuts
Don’t get carried away with all the wipes, fades and other transitions. A simple ‘hard cut’ is usually the best option. The difficulty is that one shot can be too similar to the last, resulting in the picture jumping on screen at the cut point. To avoid this, ensure that the camera angle and shot size changes between shots.
One way to avoid jump cuts is to insert a completely different shot between two similar ones – such as the reaction of an onlooker. These are known as cutaways.
HDSLR Tip 8: Continuity
Continuity helps HDSLR filmmakers and editors avoid small but often diverting mistakes. Consider everything in each of your clips: is a character smoking a full cigarette in one shot but in the next it’s down to the butt? Perhaps in the following scene it’s back to being a full cigarette once again. A small error, perhaps, but confusing for an audience. It’s very easy to do – as you will be cutting things out of chronological order – and different shots edited together may have been actually shot on different days.
The internet is littered with classic movie mistakes. Watch and learn – try to keep track of what’s what, even while you’re filming, so you can minimise the potential for errors later on.
HDSLR Tip 9: Music, maestro, please
Music is the glue that holds your HDSLR movie together, so it should be used with care. All editing software allows you to include – and edit – audio, while serving up some useful sound effects, which you can use to add an extra element to your film (applause, bird song, comedy noises).
Copyright- and royalty-free music can be purchased (usually for a one-off fee) and adds a professional touch to soundtracks without being overly expensive or creating tricky legal issues. If you do want to use a song by a favourite band or artist, you need to consider any public broadcast/performance of your movie, as you would need to obtain the copyright holder’s permission to use the music. The Performing Rights Society (www.prsformusic.com) can help with this.
Music can be added as a separate track in the movie-editing timeline – with the ambient noise (recorded with your DSLR video) being faded in and out as required. This is a great trick for smoothing out your edit points, so they are less noticeable when played on the screen.
HDSLR Tip 10: Decide output options
Choosing the correct output option for your production is important, as the decision is about quality. If you want to maintain as much of the HD quality as possible, you should look to burn the movie to DVD or, better still, Blu-ray discs.
However, if you want the movie to be viewed online then it will need to compressed by your editing program into a file that can more easily be uploaded to the internet. Of course, with DSLR video you can always output to several different formats as necessary.