Neat Blog

How to get into video editing? No film schools

Guest post by Justin Nederkoorn,
travel photographer and videographer

Video editing is a lovely craft to get into. You get to process all the raw footage that was shot in the field into a compelling story, both visual and audible. However, especially with today’s choice of software, it can be daunting to get started with. Today, we’ll help you to start crafting beautiful films by learning from those who inspire you.

Choosing your NLE

An NLE stands for Non-Linear Editing system and basically refers to today’s video editing software. I personally recommend DaVinci Resolve which is used by many industry professionals and is free to use (with the exception of some advanced features). However, Resolve is not the only option. For you, it might be Premiere Pro, Final Cut or whatever you find more convenient or affordable.

DaVinci does have a learning curve, but I believe it’s worth it. Since there are many tutorials already on how to use the NLE, I recommend that you start off with getting a basic understanding of the software before proceeding.

While most traditional articles focus on teaching you the basic technical skills of video editing, I’d like to take a different approach and teach you practical techniques that’ll help you smoothen your learning curve, without getting too much into the technicalities of video editing. While the techniques you’ll learn here will apply to all NLEs, I’ll be using DaVinci Resolve to illustrate examples wherever necessary since I believe it provides the user with the best resources to break down films.

Learn by observing

Every great idea stems from an existing one, and I’m convinced that learning by observing is the most effective way to learn. So today we’re going to help you break down some of your favorite sequences and help you understand what it is that makes them so good. Once you know, it’ll be easier to analyze the techniques they used to achieve that result, which you can then recreate for your own sequence.

Am I suggesting that you should copy editing techniques? Hell yes! Embrace the idea of copying editing techniques from the best filmmakers—it's a shortcut to rapid improvement. Don't worry about originality in the beginning stages; as you absorb knowledge from various sources, your unique style will naturally emerge.

Collecting inspiration
Start building your library of favorite works for future reference. Save screenshots of shots you love from shows and films in a dedicated folder. Create playlists for inspiring short films on YouTube. As you compile these examples, you'll have a valuable resource for editing inspiration. Having some examples handy is helpful for this article, so I recommend starting with a few right away. One of my favourite tools to build this library is It allows you to search for specific movies and provides a wide selection of screenshots from each film.


One of the most important techniques for creating a compelling video is storytelling. The order in which shots play out, combined with building and releasing tension, is crucial to draw in your audience.

The number one tip that helped me out with storytelling, in the beginning, is to break down your story into smaller segments and focus on crafting micro-stories.

An example of a micro-story could be the arrival of someone at a location. The shots that help tell this story could be a wide shot of the location, followed by a narrower shot of a car pulling up, followed by a close-up of our character getting out of the car, followed by a wide shot of our character entering the building. Start thinking in micro stories and you’ll see that your story will start to flow. Make sure to create cuts in the middle of movements to make the whole sequence flow together even better.

Some NLEs have the option to automatically cut a video into individual shots. In DaVinci, Scene Cut Detection does exactly that. I strongly recommend you import one of your favourite short films or videos and simplify it back to individual shots. It’ll help you identify the individual shots that make up the micro-stories, how the pacing of these shots influences the sequence, and ultimately how you’d like to structure your sequence.

Color grading

The grading of your clips is one of the best ways to visualize the mood you’re going for, but it can be tough in the beginning to know how to achieve a certain look.

We’re going to analyze one of my favourite grades in cinematography, which is Dune.

To understand and reproduce a grade, we have to gain an understanding of the luminosity, saturation and colors that make up the image. Let’s start by properly setting up our scopes in DaVinci.

I always work with a parade to see the individual RGB channels, a vectorscope to analyze where the colors live and how much saturation they have, a waveform in Y color mode to see color shifts in light/dark areas and an RGB waveform to support the parade if needed.

Make sure to click on the three dots in the upper right corner of the scopes to enable Display Qualifier Focus so you can hover over the image with your mouse and see where the color sits in your scopes.

Looking at the scopes there are some things I immediately notice:

  1. The general color tint of the entire image is this gentle orange as seen in the Y waveform. Then look at the vectorscope and you can see that it’s mildly saturated and narrow down the exact hue of the color.
  2. The luminosity of the shot doesn’t exceed a brightness of 768, but is generally bright with most values sitting between 384 and 768 (look at how thick the wave appears).
  3. There’s a huge skew in red according to the parade, but it’s mainly in the highlights. The shadows appear more natural with red, green and blue showing less of a difference in the bottom.

Using my qualifier, I can now start to identify individual parts of the image and grow a deeper understanding of potential local adjustments they’ve used.

Qualifier selecting the foreground dune

Picking a color from the dune in the foreground where our characters sit, we can see that this is where the darkest shadows live. They’re between 128 and 256 luminance (Y waveform), and have a muted tint towards orange (vectorscope).


Qualifier selecting our characters

A measure of our characters reveals that they're the darkest part of our image. Nothing goes below 128 luminance, except them, so together with the dune they contrast nicely against the background. We can also use our RGB waveform to see that the red, green and blue waves are almost perfectly aligned, displaying a white color. This means that the characters have little to no color shift, and this is supported by the vectorscope sitting in the center.

Once you’ve broken down a shot like this, it’ll become easier to understand why you like the grade and what the base ingredients for such a grade are. Bear in mind that it’ll be hard to convert a cityscape shot into this palette. But if you have a somewhat similar shot, it’ll now become much easier to reproduce this grade.

Now that I’ve broken down a shot for you, try to do it yourself for one of your favourite grades. Write down your analysis and try to reproduce the grade with your own footage. Make it a habit to practice this regularly and don’t be frustrated if you don’t get it right the first couple of tries. It took me some time to gain a good understanding as well. But at some point, you’ll grow to learn to analyze shots even without the use of scopes.

Music & Sound Design

Music and especially sound design are probably the most underestimated aspect of editing. While a grade makes you see the video in all its glory, the use of sound design is what really makes you feel it.

What immediately sets the tone for your video is music. This can make or break your sequence. I’ve spent days finding the right track before proceeding, so don’t be afraid to spend a little more time here than initially anticipated. Using resources like, or save any good track you come across for future reference. To streamline track selection, I always drop a variety of my shots into a timeline and have both the music platform and my footage open and running. This enables me to instantly gauge their compatibility.

Once you’ve narrowed down your options to a few soundtracks, place them into your timeline and throw in some extra footage. Watch it a couple of times from beginning to end and you'll feel which track will give you the emotion you’re going for.

Sound effects
Music sets the mood, while sound effects support every aspect of your sequence, both in frame and out of frame. Again, learning from the best is essential, but deconstructing video sound design isn't always easy.

What I recommend is to load a video into DaVinci and keep playing it back and forth until you grow tired of it. Use a good headphone if you have one and try to filter out the music. Pay attention to the sound effects which usually consist of foley, impacts, whooshes and transitions. Identify how they build and release tension and how they tell a story of what’s happening on- and off-screen.

Here’s an example of how sound design builds and releases tension through the use of transitions and impacts, paired with foley to support everything you see.

Now that you have a basic idea of how sound design influences a video, return to your sequence and mute the music. I recommend finding sound effects for everything happening in your video. This way we make sure that everything has an audible component. For example, when I have a shot of someone walking near the sea, I want to hear waves crashing in the distance, water flowing onto the beach and footsteps in the sand.

I then focus on off-screen sound elements, tailoring them to match the scene's setting and mood. For instance, a bustling beach near a city may require background chatter and distant traffic sounds, while a solitary nature scene might call for birdsong. Wind intensity also plays a role, with stormy gusts or gentle breezes adding depth.

Even subtle sounds like a quiet breeze can enhance the atmosphere significantly. By toggling individual sounds on and off during playback, I fine-tune their impact, recognizing that it's the combination of these elements that creates immersion.

Once foundational foley sounds are set, I integrate additional effects to enhance transitions or storytelling. For example, using a riser to build tension before a silent moment can signal a shift in perspective.

Understanding the desired emotional tone is crucial for effective sound placement. By aligning sound effects with storytelling objectives, I aim to deepen the narrative impact and create a cohesive sensory experience.

In short, sound design serves as a vital storytelling tool, complementing editing and color-grading efforts. Through thoughtful selection and placement, I aim to enhance the audience's engagement and immersion in the narrative.

Closing thoughts

Getting into video editing is thrilling, and the techniques mentioned here will smooth your learning curve, helping you understand why certain films or shots captivate you. But bear in mind that as with any craft, it takes time and patience to master it. Go easy on yourself and allow yourself plenty of time to experiment. Enjoy the process and practice frequently, and you’ll be reproducing some of your favorite stories in no time.

Once you feel confident in your skills, begin reaching out to potential clients with your portfolio and aim to land your first gig. We’ll go over the best practices in our upcoming article “Landing your first client as a video editor”.