Editing and Post Production (usually just called ‘Post’) is what turns your raw footage into the awesome, drop-dead gorgeous video that you post online for everyone to see. This is where all the work is done and it’s worth approaching it properly to make it as simple and effective as possible.

Post includes, getting the footage out of your drone and into your computer or device, the actual editing bit (arranging the clips into the order you want them to appear and trimming them as you like), adding and mixing audio (speech, effects, music etc), colour correction and grading (making the video look just right), visual effects, titling and finally, outputting. You can make the process as long or as short as you want, but if you do a bit of everything you are likely to find that you have a much more pleasing video at the end of it all.

I’ve looked at computer systems and basic editing software in other posts and this is just going to be an introduction to post production, as each of the various elements is worth many posts, so I can’t get into a load of detail in this one. Hopefully, this will give you an idea of the possibilities and opportunities you can find in post production and how your videos can benefit.

I’m going to assume (foolish, I know) that you have a Non-Linear Editor (NLE) software package and it’s ready to run on your computer or device. I’m also going to assume that you know how to get the video files off your particular drone and get them into your computer. If you don’t know how to do that, do ask and I’m sure I can help you somehow!

Editing

This is the most important part of post production, because without an edited video there isn’t anything else to do. You can post completely uncut footage online and it will work (it may be rubbish – not always! – but it will work), but you can’t post nothing!

  • When you open your NLE, it will ask you to set up a project and to import some footage. All NLEs work slightly differently in how that is done, but they all need footage and a project. Usually, you can easily see how to get footage into the software (certainly that is the case with all the NLEs I have looked at in my previous post on editing software), so point the NLE in the right direction and you are on your way.
Adobe Premiere Pro CC
Adobe Premiere Pro CC main editing workspace. The workspace can be fully customised and can work across multiple monitors too. Click for full sized image.
  • With your footage in the NLE, you now need to start the actual edit. NLEs use a timeline (even those which claim not to, like FCPX, do use a timeline) onto which you drop your clips. Once on the timeline, you can order, cut and stack clips to change your story. The timeline will have certain settings by default, but don’t worry too much about resolutions and frame rates at this stage, as just about every NLE will automatically switch to using the same resolution and framerate as your clips. If there happens to be a mismatch, it will ask you what you want to do. If you are at all uncertain as to what your settings should be, then click the option that makes the timeline settings match the clip.
Final Cut Pro X
Apple Final Cut Pro X main workspace. Note the timeline does not have such a rigid structure as Premiere and there is only one default viewing window. Both have similar capabilities, just very different interfaces. Click for larger image.
  • Now there is a clip in the timeline – you will see it displayed in one of the viewers, normally situated above the timeline. This is where you can view your video as you edit it. Often there is another viewer, which displays any clip you may have selected from your imported media. Not every NLE has this, especially the beginner NLEs, like iMovie or Windows Movie Maker.
iMovie editing view. Very similar to FCPX, but with a limited set of tools and capabilities. Click for larger image.
  • Cutting the clip is usually done using one of several tools, which will be available in your toolbar. Most common is a tool which looks a bit like a razor blade, though it does change from software to software sometimes. It’s as simple as finding the point you want to cut and clicking there. Click at either end of the clip you want then switch back to the selection tool (usually a normal arrow cursor), select the sections you want to get rid of and press ‘delete’. NB – iMovie does NOT have tools in the same way as other NLEs. In iMovie you right click and select ‘split clip’ or else hover your cursor over the point you want to cut and press Command+B (which is the same keystroke to select the razor blade in FCPX).
Razor Blade tool FCPX
Razor Blade tool in FCPX. Keystroke Command +B selects this tool.
  • Drag in a new clip, place it where you want it to join the existing clips and cut again. Eventually you will have your basic video assembled as you like – that’s your first edit done!

Editing is a fairly simple process, but the creativity that goes into making an edit work well is a whole other matter entirely. Really good editing in a Hollywood movie is invisible, you just like the way a movie flows. If you notice the cuts, then something is wrong. There is no difference here, but it takes practice to get to see how certain cuts work. When you eventually add music, it changes the dynamic again, as does dialogue or visual and audio effects. The best way to learn what techniques work for you is to watch the sort of videos you want to make and get in as much practice as possible.

Post beyond the edit

Your initial edit is almost always just that – initial. In any professional workflow there are bound to be many edits as the various people involved want to try different shots or narrative strands (this even happens in the most dull, corporate interviews, let alone creative pieces). But it’s not just the picture sequence that changes, it’s also all the other elements which really bring a video to life: the audio, titles, music, effects and colour (always in various different orders, depending on the project). There are different applications available which are dedicated to all these different elements and as you get more experience and more ambitious in your edits, you may want to explore what’s out there, but for the moment I’m really only going to look at what can be done in almost every NLE, without having to switch to other apps.

As you would expect, some apps are more fully-featured than others, but they all have a basic level of capability to do all of these important tasks.

Audio

It’s often said that ‘the picture is only there to keep the sound in sync’. Whilst it may not seem so important to someone who has just shot a load of video on a camera which doesn’t even record sound (ie a drone), you will have noticed that all the best videos of drone footage have some sort of sound in them. Usually it’s a music track and frequently it’ll be a music track which underlays a spoken commentary. Either way, there’s sound and it makes the final video a whole lot better.

In NLE software, the audio track usually sits below the video track and often contains a visual representation of the sound itself (a waveform). Once you become familiar with waveforms, you can easily discern where certain sounds start and stop, which makes editing the audio less tricky and sometimes very easy. If the sound is of something that is seen in the video, then it may be necessary t align both the sound and the picture to synchronise the audio. Do check if that’s going to be necessary prior to shooting, as you might need to film and record a synchronisation point (usually the clap of a clapperboard, in movies).

PPCC Timeline
Adobe Premiere Pro timeline, showing audio waveform. Click for full size image.

Bringing audio into an NLE is exactly the same as bringing in video. You just import the file you want and it will show up along with the video files. Audio is usually in .WAV, .AIFF, .M4A or .MP3 format. There are other formats, but these are the most common. WAV and AIFF are identical in quality and are the best to use, if they are available, as they are uncompressed. Both M4A and MP3 are highly compressed, but still provide a reasonable quality sound for most internet videos.

Audio, like video, can be easily set down in layers in the NLE. Overlapping sounds will need to be adjusted in volume, so that the most important ones are prominent, like dialogue over music. This process is called mixing and it is usually accompanied by the use of subtle effects which bring out the right frequencies.

Eventually, you will be happy with your audio edit and you may want to go back to the picture to tweak things to make them fit better with the sound!

Graphics

I’m not talking about CGI creatures or even other whizz-bang effects here; I’m talking about the possibly dull but very important text elements that are so important in introducing or explaining elements of a video.

As with the audio, all NLEs have tools to create titles and other on-screen graphics. They vary in what they can achieve, but all give you a reasonable set of tools with which to work. It’s usually as simple as selecting the appropriate tool and typing away as you see fit, wherever it may be that you want the text to appear.

The option to colour the text, change fonts and weights will match whatever is available in your existing computer system, and you are likely to able to add backing or other simple effects to the text to make it stand out.

Effects & Transitions

Visual effects are not always necessary, so don’t feel you must use them on every video! All NLEs come with a number of effects bundled and it’s always possible to get more from third party suppliers. Have a look through what yours offers and you will probably realise that you don’t need half of them, but others may well enhance your video. Usually, you just have to drag an effect onto a clip and it’s applied and ready to be adjusted to work as you need. A subset of effects are transitions, which perform some sort of animation that plays as one clip switches to another.

With effects, but especially with transitions, less is more! There are loads of questions on the forums and Facebook, asking about which software provides the most transitions and effects, but they are not necessarily necessary. If you look at mainstream movies or TV shows, they hardly use any transition effects other than a hard cut or a simple dissolve (when the next scene fades into the current scene, as it fades out in turn). Wipes are the preserve of ‘Star Wars’ movies and almost any other type of transition is used only as a joke. It’s worth letting that sink in, as very little makes a video look amateurish more than a selection of extravagant transitions. Try and avoid all but the simplest transitions and then keep consistent throughout the video, once you have decided on a particular look. Sometimes a transition is exactly what is needed to keep the flow and mood of a video as it switches from one clip to another, especially when it is aligned with music. Just use discretion!

Colour Correction & Grading

Here is where the video making process comes close to being magic. This is the bit that turns an average-looking video into a work of art. Colour correction is the key to raising your video to another level. All NLEs have the tools to adjust your video’s colour in all manner of ways and really bring the subjects out, to make them ‘pop’.

Colour correction is the process by which you make all your shots match in terms of colour and tone. You may find that shots taken at different times have a colour tint to them and they just look different. Colour correction attempts to smooth out those differences and, ideally, make them all look like they were shot at the same time, with the same camera. Different cameras always look different too, but here it should be ok to try and deal with scenarios where there is only one camera and it’s attached to your drone!

PPCC Colour workspace
Basic Premiere Pro CC colour correction tools. The viewer on the right shows how different a scene can look when you work on the colours.

Once a video is colour corrected, there is a second layer of colouring, known as ‘grading’, which you can do if you want. This is where you give your whole video a distinctive ‘look’ and most NLEs offer a selection of looks built in, which you can adjust and play with until you have exactly the images you want.

The different levels of NLE have different tools to achieve this and, unsurprisingly, the professional level apps give you way more features and thus creative possibilities. However, apps like iMovie and Filmora offer some really good tools and you can certainly get close to the results you might get from a higher end app (when it comes to colouring, DaVinci Resolve is unquestionably the winner, as it started life as a dedicated colour correction and grading app, where it was seen as the industry standard for years before it expanded to be an NLE).

iMovie colouring
iMovie colour correction tools in action.

The most important tools in colour correction are:

White Balance/Colour Temperaturethis is the setting that adjusts the colour of light in the image. To a camera, daylight appears blue (cold) and artificial light tends to range from purple to orange (warm). This needs to be compensated for, or else the colours look odd. That’s what white balance does. It’s often referred to as Colour Temperature too and is measured in numbers on the Kelvin temperature scale. In a NLE there is usually a simple slider for white balance and you will quickly see how it affects your picture.

Exposure – this isn’t always available as a standalone option, but you may have other options which do a similar job. They might be called ‘lightness’ or ‘luma’ or even ‘gamma’. None of those are actually ‘exposure’ but they can result in lightening your image. As with any added effects, you should be careful how much you add or take away, as it’s very easy to make a big old mess of the image (luckily, usually undoable, though)!

Brightness & Contrast – this determines what the ratio of dark to light (and vice ) is in the video. There are various tools you can use to adjust it, but often it is just a slider. A bit of extra contrast thrown into an image will really bring out your subject, but it’s easy to overdo and you should try small increments at a time.

Having completed your colour correction, the real fun starts – grading. Many movies have a very noticeable look to them, which in itself tells the audience what kind of film it is. A really obvious example is ‘Saving Private Ryan’, which almost single-handedly kick-started a whole ‘film look’ industry. The film development process used on that movie was done with chemicals on actual celluloid film (it’s called ‘bleach bypass’ and it deliberately creates that muted tone that has become a war film identifier), but it was so effective that everyone making videos wanted to be able to do it too. So it was recreated digitally and is available at a simple click in most NLEs. There are now multiple ‘looks’ available, ranging from emulations of specific film stock, to whatever the latest Marvel movie look is. It’s all about your creativity and can completely change the feel of a video, so give them a whirl!

'Camo' look, iMovie
iMovie ‘clips filter’ tool applies a look to your video. This one is the ‘Saving Private Ryan’ inspired look called ‘camo’.

Of course, there are individual tools and settings that you can change to create your own looks too and with some practice, you will discover those you keep coming back too.

As you get more experienced, you may find you want more tools and to be able to do finer adjustments. Upgrading your NLE may well help there, but it’s also worth looking at what plugins may be available for your existing setup, as that is often a much cheaper way of getting new tools and they may be tools that work on different systems too, which may make a later transition easier.

Output

The final part of post production is outputting the video. Most NLEs will offer a simple selection and a more advanced selection, which will allow you to tweak all sorts of settings. At this stage, it’s best to go with the standard presets, as most videos will be destined for an online life and the major platforms are almost always available with a single click. The standard term for outputting a video (and what you might find in your menus) is ‘export’, but some NLEs use ‘share’ (iMovie just uses a ‘share’ icon in the top right corner). Either way, the result is to render your edit into a single video file for you to use.

Almost all videos online now use the H.264 codec, which provides really good picture quality with relatively small file sizes. Youtube and Vimeo do their own encoding, but if you can feed them the best possible quality video to encode, you will have the best results.

This may seem like quite a long post, but given the subject, I’ve actually been really brief and left out masses. Hopefully I have managed to cover the key points to help get a beginner started and I’ll be focussing more on particular areas in later posts.

Please do let me know what you think and share your experiences in the comments!