Hopefully you’ve already checked out the first half of this filmmaking series: Urban Surfer’s Top 10 Tips on How to Shoot Videos. If so, you should now be hoarding plenty of sick footage. Now it’s time to learn what to do with it, and create that fire edit you’ve always dreamed of!
1. Meticulously organise all your footage
Delete anything you know won’t be useful (out of focus shots, mistakes, and anything you deem boring or unsuitable). Next, organise the remaining shots. I usually name mine by content (e.g. “GoPro Pipeline 1”) to make it easier to find the perfect clip when editing.
A screenshot of my files organised for a recent edit. Check out the naming convention which enables me to sort media alphabetically in the editing software and thus find the perfect clip as easily as possible
2. If you haven’t already, decide on your music and plan out a rough timeline or storyboard
Typically plan to use some of best footage within the first 10-15 seconds. In the modern era where the next clip is just a scroll away, this is more important than ever. Hook your audience from the very beginning (either with a cool shot, or by intriguing them).
Likewise, you don’t have to start from the beginning of the song – find an exciting part such as the hook, especially for shorter edits.
Finally, check the copyright terms on your chosen music. There’s nothing worse than publishing a fire edit only to have it removed due to legal infringements! (Check out no copyright music on YouTube!)
3. Set up a new project, import your media, and understand your software
I use Final Cut Pro X (Mac only) but many people swear by Adobe Premier Pro (Windows or Mac). However, if you’re new to video editing, something like iMovie (Mac only) will be more than enough to get you started – and will help you decide if the pro software is worth shelling out £200+ for!
Regardless, any software you use will orbit around a ‘timeline’. This is a chronological space in which you can arrange video and audio tracks.
When creating a project, try to set the timeline to 4K quality (even if your footage is of inferior quality), as this will upscale your footage and bounce the project in a higher nitrate, leading to sharper images. If you are lucky enough to be working with 4K raw footage, consider using a proxy view to speed up rendering while editing; just remember to switch back to the optimised/original view before exporting!
Every software package will look slightly different, but the timeline (bottom of the screenshot) will always be the most important part of the GUI
4. Start to build your video
Add the desired clips to the timeline and begin ordering and aligning them with the music. You’re going to be re-editing the project plenty of times, so don’t worry about perfection at this stage.
5. Creative license
Once the videos are arranged, the next step is to make the movie flow. Enter: transitions. The best advice for someone starting out is to keep it simple. Too many amateur videos are instantly recognisable by crazy (and unnecessary) titles and animations – analogous to a PowerPoint presentation you made in primary school, compared with a professional business slideshow.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t experiment with different effects. Check out Ryan Nangle for some cool FCPX transition tutorials, but use them sparingly to spare your viewers an epileptic fit!
A simple title can also go along way.
However, sometimes a bit of creative editing is the only way to reach your goals
6. Edit then cut, edit then cut
If you’re a perfectionist like me, it’ll likely take many recuts of your edit before you’re totally happy. Each time you think you’ve finished, rewatch it again with a critical eye and spot any slight timing errors with the music, and ensure every clip has a purpose. If any part of the video seems boring or unnecessary to you, it’ll be even worse to someone who wasn’t even there to experience the excitement the first time around! A little B-roll is okay, but make sure it’s interesting or adds a personal touch that couldn’t be achieved otherwise.
A little B-roll is great to set the scene, but after that make sure everything is both exciting and relevant to your project
7. Colour grading (base correction)
I could write an entire blog on colour grading (leave a comment if you want me to do that next) but here’s the basics:
- Start with a base correction to ensure colours, saturation and exposure are as similar as possible between clips. Some software will let you ‘match’ each clip’s visual properties to the one before it, but this isn’t flawless so always manually adjust after. Don’t worry about style or making it look super beautiful, that comes in the next step.
- ‘Crush’ the blacks by dropping the shadows of midtones until anything black is actually jet black (not grey), then raise the highlights to bring back details in the image. (You can use a luma waveform to help with this – blacks should bottom out at 0, while the brightest highlights should sit around 95).
- Next, drop saturation a little (approximately -5 on both the highlights and shadows) if you want to achieve a cinematic feel after adding the look grade.
- Unless there’s an obvious colour imbalance, it’s typically best to leave individual colour corrections until the next step.
If a clip changes visual properties dramatically during the scene, you can effectively keyframe the colour grade by splitting clip, applying the corrections to each segment as appropriate, then adding a cross dissolve between each part. Alternatively, use a shape or colour mask to adjust individual portions of a frame.
8. Colour grading (look grade)
You may have finished step 7 a little disappointed that your edit isn’t looking like a Hollywood movie yet. Don’t worry! The glamour comes from the look grade.
You can adjust the colours manually to create the mood you want. Typically warmer (more red) tints lead to happier or reminiscing vibes, whereas cooler (more blue) colours are more dramatic. It’s likely your software will allow you to adjust the colour and presences of the shadows, midtones, highlights, and master (or global) parts of the image.
For the typical warm, stylish look that’s very popular on YouTube at the moment, try this:
- Boost teal in the shadows
- Boost orange in the midtones
- Reduce green on the global settings
- Reduce pink in the highlights
You will have to play around with the exact levels to get the perfect look for your edit, but the above is a good starting point.
Alternatively, a LUT (lookup table) can be applied to the whole project. LUTs can be downloaded online (some free, some more expensive) and are typically created for the camera or style of footage you are using. They apply a mathematical algorithm to the clips’ properties to automatically apply a consistent look grade.
A few other things you can try to add a final touch to your video:
- Increase the exposure in the shadows, the drop the midtones to bring back contrast to bring the image together and make it feel more ‘whole’.
- A vignette helps add drama and draws attention to the centre of the image (but the shadowing must never be visible)
- A letterbox effect adds black bars at the top and bottom of the screen to give a more cinematic feel
- Add a little sharpening (especially good with raw GoPro footage) but again, this must never be visible.
The effects of a base and look grade from before (top) to after (bottom)
9. Check audio levels
Any editing software will have the option to bring up an audio meter. Rewatch your entire edit and ensure the loudest sections are peaking below 0db to avoid distortion when sharing. Sometimes it will sound fine in the timeline preview, but changes can occur during the export process (or even when watching with different speakers)! Which leads to the final tip…
10. Check again, export, and upload
Rewatch the entire edit one final time to make sure nothing has changed during the export. You’ll probably notice a few mistakes or imperfections – this is normal! Just go back and adjust them before exporting and rewatching again. Now it’s time to pick your audience (Vimeo for more professional content, Instagram for quick casual videos, or YouTube for pretty much anything!) and share share share!
Check out these sale items from Urban Surfer to help you during your next pre- and post-production session: