Using Video Transitions to Enhance Your Videos

All good video making is about telling a story. Proper use of video transitions can help your video by:

  • advancing the story from one scene to the next
  • showing a change in the point of view
  • indicating the passage of time
  • indicating a change in location
  • creating a mood (such as adding tension, excitement, suspense or a wide array emotions)

When used sparingly and correctly, transitions are a key tool in post production video editing. They add a professional flair to your video and make for a more entertaining viewing experience for your audience.

Overuse of video transitions, however, will give your video a hodge-podge, distracting feel -- easily overshadowing the story or message you're trying to impart. This is the last thing you want if you're an entrepreneur trying to sell a product or service through your videos or a YouTube channel owner trying to get more views and subscribers.

What Are the Basic Video Transitions and When Should You Use Them?

Following is a list of the common transitions you'll find in video editing software packages. Next to each definition are tips on how and when to use them effectively.

Follow these tips and you'll master the correct usage of video transitions just in time for your next project!

  • Cut: A cut is the most popular video transition, used extensively by the professionals in movies and TV. In a cut, each shot is immediately followed by the next without interruption. Of all video transitions, the cut is the one you'll come to rely on for most of your video editing.

    Well-implemented cuts should keep your video moving at a good pace and feel like a natural progression in your video story. They can also quickly indicate a change in the point of view from one character to another.

    Cuts are easy to implement in your video editing software. Simply load your shot onto your timeline, select the beginning and end points of the portion of the shot you want to keep and remove the rest. 

    TIP: When using cuts as video transitions, be vigilant in reviewing the shots before and after each cut to make sure there are no errors in continuity. Continuity errors occur when something jarring, out of place or incongruous occurs from one scene to the next, thus spoiling the illusion of reality you're trying to create.

    For example, consider how jarring it would be if you're filming a family enjoying a picnic on a sunny day in one shot and immediately the next shot shows a nighttime hurricane. Unless your point was to demonstrate the randomness of life, you might confuse your audience to the point of tuning out. Better put a shot or two in between these shots showing dark clouds rolling in and the sun setting to show the changing weather and passage of time.

    For an example of a video comprised primarily of cuts (along with some very cool scenes of zoo animals), see my video, "Sequoia Park Zoo: A Gem in the Redwoods."

  • Fade: You might be familiar with the terms "fade to black" or "fade from black." "Fade to black" means the scene gradually darkens over a few seconds until you're left with a black screen. These video transitions are used frequently at the end of a movie right before credits roll. You can also use this to indicate there has been a change in time or location in the scene that follows.

    TIP: Instead of fading to black, you can also "fade to white" (or pretty much any color you choose, although black and white are most common).

    You can use fades to add an emotional impact to your videos. For example, I've seen a fade to white used in movies when a character dies and in the next scene they gradually awaken in the afterlife. 

  • Dissolve: When one shot blends or fades into the next shot over a few seconds, this is known as a "dissolve" (also known as a mix or crossfade). Dissolves are good video transitions for showing a passage of time or location change.

    TIP: You can also use dissolves to control the pacing of your video. For example, if you are transitioning from a fast-paced segment of your video into a slower paced section, you can lengthen the dissolve time between shots to show a more meandering pace. You can add additional dissolves between shots to continue the slower pace. 

  • Wipe: A wipe is a transition where the original shot is basically pushed out (or "wiped") from the screen by the next shot. Wipes are often used to show a change in location. If your video has a section of still photos, you can use wipes to transition from one still to the next.

    In your software editing program, you'll have a lot of different options for implementing these kind of video transitions. Some wipes are fairly simple in nature -- the new shot slides down or up over the old shot. Some wipes use geometric patterns or complex shapes for the transition.

    Test out these transitions on your actual shots before finalizing your selection -- some of them definitely have a cheesy or amateurish look you want to avoid.

    TIP: The occasional use of a wipe transition can be effective in adding a humorous or light-hearted touch to your video. However, they can be distracting if overused. Avoid using numerous wipes in the same video and refrain from using back-to-back wipes in consecutive shots unless there is some stylistic reason that warrants it. 

IMPORTANT TIP: Remember that your primary transition should be the cut. Fades, dissolves and wipes can enhance your video only if used judiciously and with thought. Don't use them haphazardly or to compensate for a lack of video content. 

If your quality video content isn't there, no amount of video editing wizardry will solve the problem. Go back and shoot some more footage. Make the effort to shoot quality footage in the first place so that your transitions will be the nice finishing touch to your video.

OK, Now I Know About Transitions -- What Else Should I Learn?

While video transitions are important, there's still a lot more you can do to improve your video -- think music, editing your shots and special effects, for example.

Check out these Groovy Videos articles to get you headed in the right direction:

Now that you've read about video transitions, take a look at our video editing articles for more great tips. Or, return to our Groovy Videos' Home Page for even more useful information.

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