The Beginner’s Guide to Editing Your Camera’s Video Clips

by Barrett

This memory card holds your precious family videos.  Now what?   Make a finished home movie in 8 steps in one day.  Impossible?  I took the challenge.

This memory card holds your precious family videos. Now what? Make a finished home movie in 8 steps in 1 day. Impossible? I took the challenge.

Recently, I attended a party with my wife.
There were balloons. Streamers. Mac and cheese. And lots of juice boxes.
Yes, it was a party for toddlers.

And my son was having a blast.
The only problem was his swift consumption of three juice boxes right before lunch.

When I later commented to a few mothers that he was strangely not hungry during lunch, I let the juice box statistic slip.
They looked knowingly to each other at my obvious parental gaff.
My wife was unable to rescue me, as she was on the other side of the room with our son.
I was on my own.

I immediately redirected the conversation…
One of the mothers was holding a Nikon DSLR camera. I commented on all the pictures she must be taking.
The diversion worked.

She acknowledged the massive volume of pictures that she’d been shooting of her three children. She confessed she’d snapped 1,800 photos the month before.

She sighed and admitted all she could do was to stuff the photos into a basic organizational structure on her computer.
She had not found the time to implement a more advanced plan,
like my photo organization 101 tips.

Then she said, “And I’ve been shooting a lot of videos too.”
I started nodding.
Suddenly I felt like a doctor, doing an initial consult.
(My mother would have been so proud.)

Much like my wife and me, this mom shoots short video clips along with the photos on her Nikon. Today, all digital cameras perform this trick… in HD no less.

I actually don’t own a standalone camcorder.
Since my son was born, the simplicity of shooting short clips with the same camera that handles my photos has been a no brainer.
(My iPhone does the same trick, but the quality isn’t nearly as good.)

So the mom said she’s been shooting dozens of these short video clips for the past three years.

“What am I supposed to do with them?!” she asked.
Her frustration was clear.


For some, the rest of this post may be intuitive.
For the rest of you, keeping reading!

Here are 8 steps to easily create short family movies and then share them-

Step 1
Shoot Your Video Clips in Short 1-3 Minute Segments

Unless you’re recording a longer event, you can usually capture the moment or activity in just a few minutes.
Much like the problem of shooting too many photos, you’ll quickly get overwhelmed with hours of unnecessary footage.

Step 2
Organize Your Clips or Else

The next step, of course, is to get those video clips off your camera’s memory card and downloaded onto your computer, much like your photos.
I prefer to organize the movie files into monthly folders.

But if you wait too long and allow these video clips to pile up unwatched,
you’ll soon realize your videos have an expiration date.

No, they won’t self-destruct.
(as long as you keep them on a working hard drive or use a reliable back up solution)
And sure, they theoretically have an unending archival value for your family or until your grandchildren convert them into holographic copies at CVS or Walgreens in 2043.

But if you have a toddler, and you don’t share his/her videos in a couple months or within the year at the latest, these videos will simply become… outdated.

Your toddler looks different from month to month.
Everyone wants to see your current videos!
What does he look like now?!
What is she doing NOW?!

Not last month, let alone last year.

Step 3
Label Each Video Clip and Rate It

Next, you’ve got to sit down and watch each clip and label it.
I use a three star rating system.

  • 3 stars mean it’s great.
    You’ll definitely want to include them in your final edit.
  • 2 stars say it’s good.
    These files might just cut it.
  • 1 star is just okay.
    They will definitely end up on the cutting room floor.
    (But I can’t bring myself to delete them yet.)
  • And then there are the ‘0’ star clips.
    Delete. Delete. Delete.
    You’re already wasting enough hard drive space.

Step 4
Accept the Inevitable: You’re the Family News Editor

Today, everyone is spoiled with the deluge of instant digital communication and 24/7 news updates from around the world.
Your family and friends expect you to come up with something a little more current than last year’s video clip.
It may still be cute, but it’s yesterday’s news.

Like it or not, if you’re the Family IT Guy, you’re also now expected to manage your own micro family news outlet.

And the eternal news challenge has always been getting the news out on time.
Success relies on a little word called a “deadline.”
With deadlines, things get done.

So it’s time to edit your clips and start sharing!
Here are a few different strategies and self-imposed deadlines you can use to eliminate the log jam.

Step 5
Create Videos on a Schedule

Make One Video a Month
This concept worked pretty well for me during my son’s first year.
I quickly determined a 3-4 minute collage of 15-20 second clips was the longest people could reasonably be expected to watch.

But as he got older and became mobile, I found myself taking lots more video.
One month I tried to cram everything in, and that video ended up at 8 minutes. When I proudly sat down to show it to my wife, even I didn’t have the attention span to stick through it all.
I realized my monthly video distribution schedule would need to be updated with a series of more targeted approaches.

Group Event-Connected Clips
Simply organize your videos based on his activities and events. That’s the ticket!

  • Trip to the beach
  • Playground fun
  • Strawberry picking
  • Halloween trick or treating

Your videos will almost edit themselves!

Sure, you’re going to be creating a lot more videos this way, but in the long run you’ll find it easier working through your clips this way.

This strategy doesn’t cover the quiet but precious à la carte ‘first words’ moment, but it puts the vast majority of your clips into content buckets you can use.

Celebrate One-Clip Wonders
So what do you do with that one amazing 15-second clip that doesn’t fit with anything else?
It’s too short to make for a final video.
Or is it?

If it’s really good, it doesn’t matter how short it is.
People love watching short videos.
(trust me)

Follow the Passage of Time
Everyone tells me how quickly my son will grow up.
(I know. I’m seeing it already!)
This is also a theme that’s made for the movies.
You’ll have fun editing clips together spanning months and years.
(And you’ll probably also shed a few tears as you travel down memory lane.)

Step 6
Remember – Keep it Simple

If you follow any or all of the above strategies, you’ll have a ‘script’ pointing to how your little movies will play out.

But if you try to cover too much content, each opus will never see the light of day.

Shoot for creating 2-4 simple videos per month.
With this schedule, you should be able to move a lot of your clips off your plate.

Now you know how to structure your videos.

Step 7
Put on Your Editor’s Hat and Get to Work

There’s one little detail left to discuss.
Just do it!

So how do you actually make and distribute your finished movies?
There are a few consumer-friendly editing tools out there that can assist you through your gauntlet without forcing you into a filmmaker’s apocalypse.

In the Apple world, the usual suspects are iMovie and Final Cut Pro X.

iMovie ‘11
iMovie ’11 comes bundled with new Macs as part of iLife.
Or you can download iMovie ’11 for $14.99 at Apple’s App Store.
It’s an easy program to learn, and you’re up and running with little or no investment.

Final Cut Pro X
I use Final Cut Pro X, which you can download for $299 in Apple’s App Store.
Yes, it’s expensive. (though it’s a lot less than it used to be)
But it’s more powerful than iMovie, and was the standard for many professional editors for years.
Today, a lot of FCP editors scoff at this newer/consumer friendly/
iMovie ‘On Steroids’ version, which came out last year.

But my experience with FCP X hasn’t been that bad.
So don’t worry. I think you’ll do just fine with it, especially if you’re just looking for a more advanced tool than iMovie.

Adobe Premiere and Avid
Speaking of advanced editing, Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 and Avid are the other major editing platform Apple editors use, but they’re’ even more pricey than FCP X.

That said, there’s also a consumer version called Adobe Premiere Elements 11 for just $99.
As the price suggests, its functionality falls between iMovie and FCP X.

Adobe Premiere is also available on the PC platform.

Step 8
Time to Share

Once you’ve finished editing, it’s time for others to take a look!
There are numerous ways to share your cinema verite, ranging from Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo, to simply emailing out your finished videos.

The only problem with using email is the large size of video files, especially if they’re HD.
Nobody wants to download a 300 MB file.
(You should try to stick to something under 15 MB.)

So you’ll need to compress your final videos into a smaller frame size and frame rate, which will compromise quality.
The good news is most people will be pretty flexible when watching your masterpieces online.
(Remember what other videos on YouTube look like.)

High Standards vs. Output
Many people simply shoot their video clips and quickly upload them, untouched for the world to see.
No fuss. No muss.

I certainly wouldn’t do that, but the advantage to this strategy is the clips quickly see the light of day. And there’s a certain raw freshness to this approach.
You may scoff at sharing something that may not be ready for prime time.
But if a more advanced workflow weighs you down, what good is it?

No one will appreciate your high standards if your slicker-looking videos never get finished.

The goal is to move your content through your production process to your viewers.
Do whatever works for you!

Deadlines Work!
As I mentioned earlier, there’s nothing like a deadline to get you motivated.

I happened to shoot a few video clips this morning of my son while we were having some fun visiting Stepping Stones Museum for Children.
(using my new Canon PowerShot S100 camera)

To validate my 8 steps and take a little bit of my own medicine, I decided to create my own video-editing deadline.

I would create a little video from my father-and-son outing this morning and send it out with this post tonight.


And here it is!

Believe me, I know this quiet 1:15 exercise isn’t going viral any time soon.

But I shot some video.
Edited it.
And distributed it.
All in one day.

And as my son likes to say when he shows me how to use a straw to blow bubbles in his milk,
“Now, that’s how we do it!”

Happy editing…