Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Learning To Edit Digital Video

By Simon Woodhouse

With the proliferation of digital cameras, we've all had a go at making our own little movies. These usually involve cheesy shots of granny's 80th birthday party, or your best friend's wedding. But it doesn't have to be like that. With a little bit of effort, what started out as an embarrassing collection of barely watch-able scenes, can be turned into something you'll be happy to share with family and friends.

Editing video is like being given a chance to repaint a picture, or re-plaster a wall. The footage recorded on your digital camera might look terrible when viewed in one, long sequence, but if you chop it up, add some commentary or a bit of music, you'll see a massive improvement.

The first thing you need to do, after transferring your footage onto your PC (your camera will come with instructions on how to do this), is to make sure the format of the file you're using is an editable one. Most are, but if you've got one that isn't (MOV for instance), you'll need to convert it. There is no end of free shareware programs available on the internet that'll do this. Once you've converted your file into a usable format, I recommend AVI, you'll need to open your editing software and import the file. Decent editing software isn't expensive or complicated to use, and can be downloaded from the internet. You'll have to pay for a reasonable package, but probably no more than $50.

Ok, so you've got your footage transferred to your PC, it's in a usable format and you've imported it into the editing software. Before you start editing, it's time to watch it all. This is going to be painful, especially if you have to look at images of yourself or family and friends, trying to be 'funny' in front of the camera. But it's necessary, because as you're watching you'll start to pick out which scenes you want to keep and which scenes you want to lose. After going the whole way through, go back to the beginning again and start editing. In most software packages, this means using the running time of the footage to decide where you want a clip to stop and start. What you'll find, as you begin to work your way through various scenes, is just how many of them are unusable. But don't worry. It's better to end up with a couple of watch-able minutes, rather than half an hour of rubbish.

After you've chopped out all the clips you want to use, it's time to decide what order you want them to go in. Chances are, you'll be happy to have them running in the same order you shot them. But if you want to make your finished footage a bit more swish, how about starting with a set-up shot. An example of this would be an exterior view of the church, if you happen to be working on a wedding video. Most editing packages will allow you to add text over the top of your footage. A set-up shot makes a great place to put the title. So you've got an exterior view of the church, and a caption something like 'Brad and Angelina's Big Day'. You'll more than likely go from this to a shot of Brad standing nervously at the alter, and then to a clip of Angelina arriving in the limo. Your software will probably give you a choice of transformation effects to put in between these scenes. This is where you have the chance to make your mini epic look very amateurish. Fancy transformations might look cool (one scene dissolving into another via a pattern of stars), but they aren't. If you watch regular TV programmes, there are more often than not nice, clean transformations from one scene to the next, and that's what you should aim for as well.

Once all the scenes are arranged in the order you want, and you go from one to the next without any flash transformations, you can start to think about a sound track. Even relatively inexpensive editing software will allow you to add at least one audio track. There might also be the facility to add commentary and music, too. But a word of warning. If you're making a wedding video, you might want to accompany it with Brad and Angelina's favorite sloppy love song. Chances are you won't have written and recorded this yourself, so there's the thorny issue of copyright infringement. If you're only going to show your masterpiece to family and friends, I doubt if any record company big-wigs will get upset. However, if you post the finished article to a website such as YouTube or Myspace, you might be in for a nasty shock. But you won't have any such problems when adding some commentary. Most family get-togethers are pretty amusing affairs, so adding commentary to your video can be very funny.

Having completed your masterpiece, you can record it onto a DVD (most newer computers will let you do this) and start giving it out to family and friends. This will probably be the first chance they'll have to see just how they behaved. If you can, try to organize a group screening, and then you'll really be able to watch people squirm. Better still, you could video it.

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