Video editing tips

By Dave Carlson
Houses start in the forest. Steel, ore. Plastics, oil. Glass, sand. Boots, a cow.
On and on.
In the cosmic high-definition world of TV, images in and of themselves are meaningless if not linked.
Linkage is editing. And editing begins in the field.
Plans and themes guide the gathering of images, whether photography or videography. A basic videography principle: you can’t use it if you don’t have it!
Shoot spontaneously! Shoot prolifically. Get a feel for what your producer and host wants. And how they begin to use your stuff. You’ll learn what to shoot by process of elimination and inventiveness. In the end, shooting plenty of the good stuff makes everybody’s job easier, especially the job of the editor.
Look for the pearls. Those are the pretty treasures – sound or video, or both – that become pegs for good storytelling. Shake them out the way a creek miner pans gold.
As you photograph for the editing bay, think wide, tight and tighter. Think cutaways: faces, objects, signs, passersby – those “thank God I got that” extra shots bridging your unedited chains of video. Try to keep the scenes that attract a viewer, who then gets the full story with details in the narrator’s or the subject’s words.
Other suggestions:

  • Don’t break the 180-degree rule. Stay within that plane with people, objects and landscapes. Breaking time is a no-no, too!
  • Sparingly replace natural sounds with music of any persuasion.
  • Experiment with varying speeds when panning, zooming and slowing motion.
  • Don’t interrupt a series of dissolves with a clean cut.
  • Glitzy edits can substitute for solid journalistic storytelling for only so long.
  • Eliminate camera jarring often found at the end of a scene because the videographer has moved before shutting down the equipment.
  • Use longer (several seconds) sound pauses more often than not. This gives viewers a chance to absorb what’s said and anticipate what’s spoken next. Clip those disturbing ticks and other audio glitches. Trash the cliches!
  • Maintain extensive B-roll files. Search out alternative video sources, usually governmental. Usually free.
  • Make sure to credit sources and people used or appearing in the product.
  • Ask subjects on field tape to spell and pronounce their names and titles.

Lastly, develop a style. The most successful shows are those that look different and sound different.
That’s usually because they are. ◊
Dave Carlson is a writer, producer and host for “Northland Adventures” and a field editor for Wisconsin Outdoor Journal. A member since 1988, Carlson resides in Eau Claire, Wis. Contact him at

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