Skip to main content

A-Z video editing guide for beginners

video editing guide
(Image credit: Jackie Dove)

If you’re getting into video editing software for the first time, there’s a good chance that you’ve already run into a confusing piece of video editing jargon. Learning the meaning behind the niche words and phrases that professional video editors throw around can make your life a lot simpler. And knowing how to use specialist editing terms will enable you to follow video editing guides and discuss your work with other editors.

To help you become a more confident video editor, we’ve put together an A–Z list of the most important video editing terminology. Sometimes filmmakers make life extra confusing by referring to the same editing techniques in multiple ways. That’s why, where appropriate, we’ve included commonly used alternative phrases, too.

If you’ve found a bit of video editing lingo you don’t understand, simply look it up in the comprehensive list below.

Video editing terminology

Academy Leader
The short clip with numbers counting down that plays before a film. Also often called a film or countdown leader.

Aspect ratio
The ratio of the width to the height of an image. Traditional square-looking TV programs use an aspect ratio of 4:3. Other common standards include 1.85:1 and 16:9.

Bit rate
Also referred to as the data rate, this is the amount of information required to store a second of video or audio. Normally, it is measured in kbps (kilobits per second). Bit rate is influenced by factors such as footage resolution.

Chroma keying 
A technique used in post-production to layer multiple videos on top of one another by making a particular color in one of the layers transparent.

Color correction
The stage of post-production in which an editor adjusts the color balance of footage to set the mood or produce an output with a consistent tone.

Continuity editing
Editing to remove inconsistencies between multiple shots that could contradict the apparent progression of a final sequence.

Cut 
An abrupt transition from one sequence to another. The name derives from when analog film reels had to be physically cut up and re-joined to get rid of unwanted footage.

Cutaway 
A shot inserted into a continuous sequence, often showing something which is not central to the main action of that sequence.

Establishing shot
A shot that gives context to a sequence by showing where it will take place. Used commonly as an opening in older films.

Fade
Fades are a widely used type of transition that involves the gradual darkening and lightening of a shot or the dissolving of one shot into another. 

Frame rate
This is a number that expresses how many still images are combined to make a single second of footage. Feature films traditionally use a frame rate of 24 frames per second (fps). For slow-motion shots, the raw footage is often shot at a high frame rate that is reduced during post-production.

Handles 
Handles, or clip handles, are extra pieces of footage that begin before a clip’s transition in-point and continue after its out-point. In post-processing, clip handles are often preserved so that sequences can be extended later if needed.

J cut
A cut in which the sound of the following scene begins before the video changes.

L cut
A cut where the video changes, but the sound of the previous scene continues.

Non-linear video editing
Non-linear editing (NLE) is where footage and content are not directly modified during the editing process. Most video editing software today is non-linear.

Letterboxing
Letterboxing is the process of adding black bars above and below an image. This can be used to produce an artificially wide aspect ratio or display wide footage on narrow screens.

Montage
A series of shots displayed in quick succession. Montages are often set to music and intended to give the impression of progress over an extended period of time.

Three-two pull-down
A three-two (3:2) pull-down is the process used to transfer footage between film and video frame rates. More specifically, this means converting from 29.97 to 24 frames per second (fps).

Timecode
A video timecode is a set of numbers that count up as a sequence progresses. These represent a synchronized time system and enable editors and editing applications to make frame-by-frame modifications.

Timelapse
A timelapse is basically a sped-up shot. Timelapses are usually made by compressing real-world time so that seconds, minutes, or hours are each represented by single frames.

Temperature
Temperature, or color temperature, is measured in Kelvin and refers to how warm the colors of an image are. Warmer images appear to have a red tint, and cooler images have a blue tint.

Transcoding
Transcoding means taking an audio-visual file and converting it to another format, usually compressing the file in the process to reduce the amount of space used.

Rendering
This is the process of applying edits to footage to create video and audio render files. These are normally made by video editing software so that you can preview your project in real-time.

Ripple editor
A ripple editor is a tool, available on most video editing platforms, that enables you to edit a single clip without modifying any following edits.

Rough cut
A draft project stage in which footage is assembled in order but without finalized edits. In rough cuts, placeholder transitions, music, and graphics are commonly used.

Rule of thirds
The rule of thirds is a widely used compositional technique that involves dividing an image into a grid of nine squares, with important objects placed at the points where gridlines meet.

Scrubbing
Scrubbing is the action of dragging your cursor along a timeline manually in order to preview your footage at a different playback speed.

Shot/reverse shot
A way to organize a conversation scene. In a shot/reverse shot sequence, two characters are filmed separately, and the editor cuts back and forth between two perspectives that approximately show the viewpoint of the out-of-shot character.

Storyboard
A storyboard is a plan containing illustrations, sketches, or drawings of each shot in a film project.

White balance
White balance determines how different colors appear in a given image. Typically, color is balanced to give white or gray objects the appearance of neutrality under a certain lighting condition.

Wipe
A type of video transition in which one clip replaces another by traveling across the visual frame. Various types of transition wipe are possible. One example is the barn door wipe, where the new clip enters from two opposing edges of the screen simultaneously.

Conclusion

No matter what video editing software you use, internalizing the meaning of these phrases will improve the results of any editing project you work on. Understanding video editing terminology is a lot like having a new toolkit that you can use to be more precise about your work and communicate ideas to the other creatives you collaborate with.

Remember, you can begin to apply this knowledge immediately, even if you’re on a tight budget, thanks to the huge range of free video editing software  out there.