Wave goodbye to the days of inaccessible, high-priced video editing tools — they’re long gone. Anyone with a smartphone and a free YouTube account can create a video that could reach millions.
And anyone with a camera phone can film. What you may not know is that YouTube has some basic editing tools built into its website.
The YouTube editor is rudimentary, even when compared with simple video editing programs like Movie Maker and iMovie. Let’s not even talk about how it stacks up to Final Cut Pro — it doesn’t.
Even though it’s basic, YouTube editor can still be useful. But while it is relatively simple to figure out, particularly for anyone with previous editing experience, there are some potential pitfalls. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you get the most out of the available tools.
Locate the Editor and Timeline
Many people don’t even realize YouTube has built-in editing capabilities — after all, the editor is not easily found on the site.
One way to access it is by going directly to the URL, which is YouTube.com/editor. Or click on “Video Manager,” which will make the “Video Editor” tab appear directly under the search bar at the top of the page.
Once you get to the editor, you will need to figure out the timeline. Linear video editors like YouTube’s are based around an intuitive and easy-to-use timeline. If you want to add a clip from your pool of videos into the project, simply drag it onto the timeline. You can also include any YouTube videos that were uploaded with a “Creative Commons” license. To do this, click on the tab marked with an encircled “CC,” find a video and drag it in. You can reorder clips once they are on the timeline.
Efficiently Trim Your Clips
The only way to edit the length of your videos is by trimming from the beginning or end. Unlike most video editing programs, YouTube does not let you split and cut parts out from the middle of the video.
If you want to remove anything from the middle of the video, you’ll have to drag the same video into the timeline twice, then trim each down. You end up having two different clips from the same original source on the timeline. Obviously, you can do this more than twice, depending how much you want to chop up the footage.
The photo below shows a single video dragged onto the timeline twice around a text title. The videos are trimmed appropriately, so roughly half the video will play, then the text title will appear for two seconds, followed by the rest of the video:
Also, be aware that the trimming process isn’t always smooth. While you’re adjusting the slider on the timeline to trim a video, the video constantly reloads on the display. The best way to trim a video is to pre-decide the exact startpoint and endpoint, rather than trying to eyeball it while dragging the trim bar.
Go Easy With the Stabilization
Usually we don’t use tripods when shooting smartphone video, which means filming can get pretty shaky. The YouTube editor provides a tool to help stabilize shakiness, to a degree.
If you mouse over a clip on the timeline, three icons will appear. Click on the center one, which resembles a magic wand. That particular clip will pop open in a new window with several editing options.
Before anything else, check the box in the bottom-right corner of the window that reads “Preview effects side-by-side with original video.” Then adjust the “Stabilize video” bar to remove some of the shake. Unfortunately, there is a significant clarity tradeoff involved. The more you stabilize the video, the blurrier it becomes.
Before using the stabilization bar, or any other, it is usually a good idea to try the “I’m feeling lucky” option. Sometimes that makes the slight adjustments your video needs to shine.
Avoid the Temptation to Transition
The YouTube editor allows you to combine multiple video clips, a very useful tool. Simply drag multiple clips onto the timeline and arrange them in whichever order you fancy.
The editor also includes several options to segue between the clips. You can find these beneath the “Video Manager” tab, by clicking on the icon that resembles a bow tie. There are 15 segue options; add them to your project by dragging them onto the timeline. My advice, however, is to avoid nearly all of them. Other than the first two (Crossfade and Crossblur), which are relatively subtle, each of the other transitions will make your video look amateur.
Or select some of the sillier ones, such as Heart and Star, for ironic or comedic purposes — if that’s your goal.
If you really want to break up the clips, use a blank black screen. To do this, click on the text tab, marked with a lowercase “a” and located next to the transition tab. Drag the “Centered Tile” to the proper space in the timeline. When you place it, a popup box will appear. Simply delete the “ABC” from the text box and you’ll have a two-second black screen transition.
Thinking About Adding a Soundtrack? Proceed With Caution
You have the option to add music to your video. To do this, click the tab marked with a music note. A list of songs will appear. These are the only songs you can use; you can’t drag in outside audio files. Even with the option to sort by genre or artist, the list of songs can be tricky and frustrating to navigate.
If you do find an appropriate track, you may choose to either completely replace the audio from your video or engineer a mix between the song and the video’s audio. First, drag the song into the timeline below the video clips. Once that is done, an easy-to-navigate yet often buggy slider will appear on the right side of the screen.
Some of my videos just don’t seem to like mixing with the soundtracks. Usually, I fix the bugs by refreshing the page or taking the video or song out of the timeline, then replacing it. You may have to play around with it for a while to get it right.
Another shortcoming is that you can’t trim the audio clips at all. If a song is longer than your video, the song will simply end awkwardly at the point where the video ends. Also, you can’t strategically line up the song and the video.
Finally, should you choose to use audio, YouTube will automatically add advertisements to the associated video. And using a song from YouTube’s library negates your ability to monetize a video if it goes viral.
The Secret to YouTubular Video Editing
The YouTube editor is great for compiling footage and making minor improvements to the aesthetics of a video. The secret to great YouTube videos, if there is one, is to start out with solid footage. As with anything, post-production techniques generally won’t yield any miracles.
Keep a steady hand when shooting for stable videos. Go for compelling camera angles. Learn how far from your subject you should stand for optimal volume. And always keep in mind that you have millions of YouTube fans waiting for you to entertain them; so keep practicing and try to produce something amazing.
If you’ve got great tips about how to get the most out of the YouTube editor, let us know in the comments section.
Your comments are greatly appreciated. What are your thoughts?