I’ve run many, many workshops and one-on-one sessions for photographers who want to move into the world of video. Wherever I am and however experienced the photographers are, one of the biggest questions they all have is about editing. For many of the photographers that I deal with, they don’t plan on editing their own videos. Rather, they plan on shooting the videos and then getting someone else to edit it for them.
So, of course, those photographers who don’t plan on editing their own footage don’t need to learn how to edit, right? WRONG! And here’s why.
Think of a video edit like a cake. You need to make sure you have all the right ingredients and put them together just in the right way to come out with the result you want. Imagine someone shopping for the ingredients with a very basic shopping list. A list that didn’t include quantities on it. Then the baker probably wouldn’t be able to make the cake, or at the very least, the cake would be a disaster. The same applies to an edit.
In my courses, I illustrate this point by asking the photographers to film someone walking through a door. Simple, right? Now, most photographers are used to capturing the “story” of their image in a single frame, which is not what you do in a video. So, they will generally pick up the camera, hit record and follow that person walking through the door.
This is fine, but when we are working with video, we are able – or rather, I would suggest, we are obliged – to use more angles and images to tell the story in a more dynamic and visual way. As an editor, if I got footage of someone walking through a door and I just had one shot and one angle of it, there would be some choice words being said to the shooter. It gives you very few options to work with. In fact, it gives you nothing.
If I was shooting someone walking through a door for the edit, here is how I would do it:
- I’d start with a wide shot in profile and have my character walk into from the side.
- Then I’d cut to a medium over the shoulder shot following them as they walked towards the door.
- As they reach for the door handle, I’d cut to a close-up profile shot of their hand grabbing the handle.
- Now, cut to a close-up of the handle on the other side of the door turning and over to a wide/medium shot front on of the door as our character opens and walks through.
- Finish with a wide behind the character, shot from the room they’ve left, showing them walk away.
And those are just the ones I would use. I’d want even more in case I wanted to tell a different story. Not such a simple task now, is it?
Each one of those angles and decisions is telling a different part of the story. Each of those angles creates their own impression on the audience.
The starting wide profile shot shows how our character is alone as they approach the door. The over-the-shoulder shot tells us how they are moving towards the door. Are they confident, are they apprehensive? Are they running from someone or eager to see whoever might be behind the door?
The speed at which they turn the door handle conveys even more about their state of mind and finally, the wide shot from the other side of the door makes our character look small and maybe isolated as they walked away and become smaller in our frame. Or perhaps it shows what they’re walking into – a big room, a small room, a room filled with secrets – it’s all there for the telling. But it’s not there if you don’t give us the shots to start with.
A lot of these techniques of composition are things that photographers know and use already. But most photographers are used to telling their entire story in a single composed frame. A lot goes into that one frame and it can be incredible what stories photographs can tell, With video, you can use as many compositions and angles as you please, within reason of course, and tell a wider and more complex story.
But how many takes and angles are too many and how many are too few? These are the things you learn from the experience of editing. The first few times you go out and shoot something and then come back to edit it, you’ll notice as you start to put the edit together, that there are some shots you probably forgot to get. You’ll find yourself saying to yourself “I should have gotten a wide; that would work best here” and things like that. Editing your own work teaches you how complex simple shots can be and how many options you can – and should – provide the editor in order to tell your story.
As a basic number one rule, I’d say you always want to get at least three wide shots of the area that the story is taking place. This is so you can establish the the story within the scene.
Then you want a selection medium shots, close-ups and generally as much variety as possible. Something I always say about shooting for an edit is that I would much rather have the shot and not need it, instead of needing it and not having it.
The more you edit, the more you’ll realize what types of shots are required for the edit. You don’t have to become a full-time editor, because it’s a lot of work and time to do that. You can absolutely give your footage over to a full-time editor to edit things for you, so you can go out and do the thing you love, which is to shoot. But if you just spend a bit of time learning about what it is that editors need, the end product will always be much better. Piece of cake, right? (Don’t get me started on shooting a baking show though…)
At the top is a short example of what you can do, using multiple angles to tell a story in your edit.