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Keyframes? Codecs? What!? Video Editing Basics Explained for Newbies

By David Winter
Jan 10, 2024
10 minute read
An editor celebrating their new found editing knowledge

Video editing can be incredibly confusing when you're just starting out. This blog guides you through the intricate process, from selecting the right equipment and software like Lightworks to mastering editing techniques and enhancing your final video.

What is video editing?

Video editing is like putting together a puzzle to make a complete story. Imagine you have a bunch of short video clips, like scenes from a birthday party or a vacation. Video editing means choosing the best parts of these clips, cutting them into smaller pieces, and then putting them in a particular order to tell a story or show an event.

This way of making videos started in the late 1800s, when physical film reel was literally cut and stuck back together. Luckily, we now use computers to make editing easier. We can quickly find any part of a video and change its order, add cool effects, or improve the picture quality.

Today, professional video editors use sophisticated software like Lightworks to edit video. With Lightworks, you can change the order of your video clips, add fun transitions (like fading from one scene to another), put words on the screen, make the colours look better, and even add special effects! It's powerful enough to work on big movie projects and handle high-quality video, but it is accessible for beginners, too. Especially it’s free version

Video editing is both a skill and an art. It's about knowing how to use the tools and having a good eye for what makes a story exciting or enjoyable. 

What equipment do I need for video editing?

To edit videos, you'll need a few key pieces of equipment:


The most important piece is your computer. Video editing software like Lightworks requires a relatively powerful computer to process all that visual data smoothly. Here are some ideal specs to look for:

  • Processor: Intel Core i5 or i7, or AMD Ryzen 5 or 7
  • RAM: At least 8GB, 16GB preferably
  • Graphics: Dedicated GPU like NVIDIA GeForce or AMD Radeon
  • Storage: SSD or high-speed HDD with at least 256GB of free space

The more powerful your computer, the easier it will be to edit high-resolution footage without lag or freezing. But even an average laptop can handle basic HD editing with Lightworks.


To shoot your videos, you'll need a camera. Any modern smartphone, DSLR, mirrorless, or camcorder will work. Higher resolution 4K cameras can capture more detail, but HD is fine for most projects.


Audio quality matters! An external mic gives much better sound than built-in camera mics. Clip-on (Lavalier) mics are affordable and easy to use, but many different types are available.

Other Gear

Extra gear isn't mandatory, but can make your videos look and sound more professional:

  • Tripod - Stabilizes the camera
  • Lights - Improves lighting
  • External hard drive - Provides extra storage
  • Headphones - Helps monitor audio

The basics, like a computer, camera, and mic, are all you need to start editing great videos with Lightworks!

How do I get video files into my editor?

Getting video files into your video editing software is an essential first step in the editing process. Here are some tips on importing footage into Lightworks:

File formats

Lightworks supports a wide range of video file formats for importing, including MP4, MOV, AVI, MXF, and more. Use high-quality formats like ProRes or DNxHD for best results if your computer can handle it.

Importing footage

To import files into Lightworks, click Import on the File menu. Browse your footage files and select them. You can select multiple files to import at one time. Lightworks will copy the files and convert them if needed.

Transcoding footage

If your footage is in a problematic or incompatible format, you may need to transcode it before editing. This converts it to an optimised editing format. In Lightworks, you can set up Watch Folders to automatically transcode any files placed inside them. Popular transcoding formats include ProRes and DNxHD.

Capturing from tape

Connect your camcorder or deck to your computer if you have footage on tape formats like HDCAM or DV. Then use Lightworks' Capture tool to capture the footage to your computer for editing. Be sure to capture at the same quality as your source tapes.

Organising footage

Once your footage is imported, you can create Folders in your Lightworks Media Pool to organise clips. This keeps things tidy as your project grows. Apply keywords to clips to make searching easier.

Getting your footage correctly imported is a crucial first step in video editing. Lightworks makes it easy to bring in media from various sources and formats. 

What are some basic video editing terms I should know?

When you're new to video editing, it can feel like you need a dictionary to understand all the jargon! Here are explanations of some standard video editing terms:


This stands for "compressor/decompressor". It refers to the format the video file is encoded in, like H.264 or ProRes. The codec determines the quality and file size.


Rendering is the process of creating a video file output from your edited sequence of clips. This can take a while, depending on the length and complexity of your project.


Exporting is similar to rendering, but it specifically refers to creating a final output file to share or view outside of your editing software.

Frame rate

The frame rate determines how many still image frames are displayed per second in the video. Common rates are 24, 25, 30, 60 fps.


The resolution is the number of horizontal and vertical pixels in each video frame. 720p, 1080p, and 4K are common resolutions. Higher means more detail.

Aspect ratio

This refers to the ratio between the width and height of the video frame. Typical ratios are 16:9 for HD video, 9:16 for social media, and 4:3 for older screens.

Colour space

The colour space defines the range of colours that can be represented. RGB and YUV are two common colour spaces used in video editing.


Bitrate measures how much data is in the video file per second. A higher bitrate means higher video quality but bigger file sizes.


These set parameters for effects at specific points in time. The editing software interpolates between keyframes.


Tracks stack video and audio clips on top of each other in layers in the timeline.


A cut is an abrupt transition between two clips, placing them back to back.


A fade gradually transitions a clip in or out to black. Fading to black to end a video is common.


This is when the audio from clip A continues over the video cut to clip B. It helps smooth over jumpy edits. Doing things the opposite way around is called a J-Cut! 

Knowing these basic terms will make navigating any video editing software much easier!

How do I cut video clips together?

Cutting video clips together is one of the most important parts of editing. The easiest way to learn would be to watch our handy quick start video! 

If you want to keep reading for now, however, here's an overview of how to assemble clips on the timeline in Lightworks:

When you first open Lightworks, you'll see the Edit tab, which contains the timeline or sequence as it's called. This is where you'll arrange all your video clips to create your final edited video.

To insert a clip onto the timeline, simply drag it from the media browser on the left into the timeline. You can insert it anywhere, but clips will automatically snap together end-to-end in the order you add them.

Once your clips are on the timeline, you can trim them shorter by dragging the edges inward. You can also slide clips left or right to rearrange them into the desired order. The timeline shows your entire video sequence from start to finish.

Lightworks allows you to work with multiple video and audio tracks stacked vertically. For example, you could have all your main video clips on V1 and lower thirds text on V2 above. Additional audio tracks are also available. This allows you to layer clips and rearrange their vertical order.

The main ways to cut clips together on the Lightworks timeline are inserting, trimming, rearranging, and utilising multiple tracks. You'll get comfortable assembling your footage into a complete, edited sequence with practice. Just remember the timeline represents your full video, so edit clips there in the order you want them to appear.

How do I transition between video clips?

When editing videos together, you'll want to use transitions between clips to go from one clip to the next smoothly. There are many types of video transitions you can use:


An instant transition that goes directly from one clip to the next.


A fade-out transition goes from the clip to a black screen, while a fade-in goes from a black screen to the next clip. Fades help smooth out jarring cuts between very different scenes.


Also called a crossfade, this gradually overlaps the end of one clip with the beginning of the next. Dissolves gently transition between similar scenes.


A wipe involves one clip replacing another clip as a line moves across the screen. For example, a right-to-left wipe pushes the outgoing clip off the screen to the left as the new clip comes in from the right. Wipes add motion and energy during scene changes.


One clip seems to slide off the screen, revealing the next one underneath. Examples are sliding left/right or up/down. This transition works well when the movement matches the content, like sliding to a new location.


Either zooming in or out of one clip into the next. It works well when there's a difference in scale between clips.

In Lightworks, adding transitions is easy. Simply overlap two clips on the timeline, then right-click and select "Add Transition". You'll see options for different transition types and durations. After adding a transition, double-click it on the timeline to open the Transition Properties panel and customise options like transition style, duration, and transition shape.

When using transitions, try not to overdo it. Using too many flashy transitions can be distracting. Simple cuts are usually best, with occasional fades, dissolves and wipes to key scenes that need smoothing over. Watch your transitions closely and tweak their length and style until the flow between clips feels right. The goal is for people to focus on your content, not the transitions.

How do I improve the look of my video?

Improving the look of your video can go a long way in making it more professional and engaging for viewers. Here are some fundamental techniques for enhancing the visuals in your edit:

Color Correction and Grading

Colour correction refers to fixing any colour issues in your footage, like white balance problems that make the clip too warm or cool. Use the colour correction tools in Lightworks to balance out the temperature and tint of your shots so they match.

Colour grading goes beyond correcting inaccuracies and allows you to set an overall colour look or mood for your video. For example, make the footage brighter and more vibrant for a cheerful effect or darker with crushed shadows for a moody look. Use the curves and colour wheels in Lightworks to shift the brightness, saturation and contrast. You can also independently isolate specific colour ranges to alter reds, blues, and greens.

Audio Editing Basics

Editing your audio is just as important as the video! First, ensure consistent volume levels throughout so viewers don't have to adjust their speakers. Use the audio meters in Lightworks to spot any too loud or quiet parts. You can manually adjust the volume on individual clips or use the dynamics filter to compress the dynamic range.

Clean up any background noise using noise reduction filters. Cut out unwanted sections like long pauses or 'ums' and 'ahs' to keep the pacing tight. Add transitions between audio clips so they blend smoothly without pops or jumps. Consider using intro/outro music to set the tone.

Using Video Effects and Filters

Effects and filters can add polish to your footage. Try using speed adjustments like slow motion or fast forward for emphasis. The blur or sharpen filters help hide imperfections or make parts pop. Split screen effects let you show two clips together. Picture-in-picture is useful for overlays. And remember transitions like dissolves, wipes and glitches to blend cuts seamlessly. Just be careful not to go overboard - usually, simpler is better for maintaining a professional look.

You can take your video edits to the next level visually and audibly with some colour correction, audio polishing, and subtle effects. Over time, you'll develop an eye for what enhancements work best. The tools in Lightworks provide all the control you need right at your fingertips.

How do I add text or graphics?

Adding titles, text, images, logos, and other graphics is a great way to enhance your video and make it more professional. Here are some tips for working with graphics in your video editor:

Working with Titles and Text

  • Add titles and credits to introduce sections or people featured in your video. Position them at the bottom or top of the frame.
  • Insert lower thirds with text over your footage to label people, locations, dates, etc.
  • Use text to add quotes, fun facts, statistics, or other information relevant to your video topic.
  • Customise your text's font, size, colour, and style for the desired look. Consider adding outlines, drop shadows or backgrounds to make the text stand out.
  • Animate your text by having it fade in/out, slide across the frame, scale up, etc. This adds motion and energy.

Overlaying Images and Logos

  • Place logos in the corner of your video to brand it or identify your company, product, service, etc.
  • Overlay relevant images and photos over b-roll footage to illustrate your topic and enhance the visuals.
  • Use shapes, lines, arrows, etc., to highlight or point out areas of interest on the footage.
  • Lower the opacity to make images see-through so the video is still visible underneath.

Animating Graphics

  • Make your graphics move by setting keyframes for position, scale, rotation, or opacity changes over time.
  • Create a picture-in-picture effect by scaling and positioning a video clip or image over your main footage. Animate it moving across the frame.
  • Add transitions like fade or slide when bringing graphics in/out of the scene for smooth, professional animations.
  • Pan and zoom images to dynamically reveal parts of a photo or illustration relevant to the narration or on-screen action.

With some creativity, you can use titles, text, shapes, logos, images, and animation to make your video more engaging and dynamic!

How do I export my final video?

Once you've finished editing your video in Lightworks, it's time to export it and share it with the world! Here are some tips for exporting your video:

Export Settings and Formats

  • Lightworks supports exporting videos in various formats like MP4, AVI, MOV, etc. Choose a format based on where you plan to share the video. MP4 is a good bet for posting online.
  • You'll also want to pick the right resolution for your export. 720p or 1080p is recommended for online videos. The higher the resolution, the larger the file size will be.
  • When exporting, Lightworks will give you options for the video codec. H.264 is a good choice that balances quality and file size.
  • Check the audio codec as well. AAC is common. The audio sample rate affects audio quality - 44.1kHz is decent.
  • You can tweak the bitrate higher for better-quality exports. Just keep in mind larger file sizes.

Sharing and Uploading Videos

  • Once exported from Lightworks, your video file can be uploaded anywhere - YouTube, Vimeo, social media sites, etc.
  • YouTube and Vimeo allow uploads of large HD video files. For social media, you may need to re-export your video in a smaller size to meet file size limits.
  • You can also easily share your exported video file through sites like Google Drive and Dropbox. This allows you to send downloads of your video to others.

Rendering Video in Lightworks

  • Lightworks will need to render your project before exporting it. The render takes your edits and compiles the final video file.
  • The time to render depends on the project length, effects, and export settings. It could take a few minutes to hours.
  • You can continue working on other projects while Lightworks renders your video in the background.
  • Lightworks will pick up where it left off if the render is interrupted when you export again. So don't worry if you need to restart the render.

What are some tips for better video editing?

Planning and organisation are key to efficient video editing. Take some time to review all your footage and develop an outline before you start editing. This will help you identify the best shots, transition points, and overall story structure. Organise your media files by scene or subject in folders to keep your project tidy.

Pay close attention to continuity and pacing when arranging clips. Use cutaways and b-roll to smooth jumps between scenes. Keep action seamless by matching movement, direction, and spacing. Cut on action or dramatic moments. Let important scenes breathe, but trim extraneous material. Watch your video multiple times to refine the timing and flow.

Getting outside feedback is invaluable. Show rough cuts to trusted colleagues to identify confusing, dull, or too-long areas. Be receptive to constructive criticism, and be willing to make changes to improve your final video. Iterating based on feedback will make your editing sharper.

Remember that video editing takes patience and practice. Following core techniques and developing your style will increase efficiency and impact over time.

Ready to Edit? 

Begin your editing journey with Lightworks, and walk the path from novice to pro in no time! Whether crafting a short film, a documentary, or a personal vlog, Lightworks gives you the tools to tell your story your way. Download now and embark on your path to becoming a master storyteller.

For deeper dives into editing techniques and Lightworks tutorials, visit Lightworks Resources. Enhance your skills, discover community insights, and bring your creative visions to life.