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Introduction to Video Editing With ShotCut

About This Guide

Video cameras, computers with web cams and screen-capture software, and video-capable mobile phones now make it possible for a vastly wider group than ever before to capture raw video footage -- of political events, computer software demonstrations, a concert, a trip to Iceland, your cats, or anything else under the sun conceivably worth preserving and presenting in video.  20 minutes spent on YouTube, or any other social media platform, should convince you of this explosion in videography in the digital era.

However, raw video footage is very often less than useful or effective in its immediately-captured form; it typically needs to be (or could benefit from being) edited. Raw segments can be shortened, excerpted or joined together with appropriate transitions; opening titles and captions can be added; often a voiceover narration or a musical track is appropriate for information or atmosphere.  When available, shots from different perspectives can be intercut, as in classic film and TV production. Video clips from entirely separate sources can be intercut to help make a point or tell a story.  And beyond this there is a galaxy of 'effects' and enhancements that can be applied to video footage, just as we have come to expect in editing digital still photos with tools like Photoshop.  Video or motion-picture editing used to be the domain solely of professionals, a highly labor- and skill-intensive craft that  typically entailed extensive equipment and training; and in its more sophisticated forms video editing is still a high-skill professional occupation.  But the good news is that the basics (and even many advanced aspects) of video editing are now accessible to everyone, thanks to an abundance of digital video editors that are relatively easy to use, and can run on relatively lightweight home computers.  Best of all, many of these editing tools are free and a number are open-source.

In this guide, we will introduce you to the basics of video editing using one particular open-source software tool, Shotcut, which is available for free download at Shotcut.org.  Originally written (like much open-source software) for Linux, Shotcut now runs equally well on Windows and Mac OS.

If you have read this far, you may already have decided that Shotcut is the best video editor for your own needs, or is at least worth checking out.  For our part, we did a fair amount of research into current 'best-free-video-editor' reviews from various established tech-review sites, and concluded that Shotcut was the best way to go.  Among the chief considerations here were:

  • We wanted a free editor.  An expensive tool may be perfectly appropriate for video and film-editing professionals, but the general public needs access to free editing tools to go along with our access to free video-making tools and easy sharing platforms.
  • We wanted an open-source tool.  Open-source software is worth supporting for lots of reasons, and some of them are very practical.  Many ostensibly 'free' authoring and editing tools are really just the free or teaser versions of commercial (paid) software: this would include video-editing tools like Lightworks, DaVinci Resolve, Hitfilm Express, Avid and others.  In every such case, the 'free' version offers some incentive to upgrade to the paid version: typically this means restriction on features that you would like to use (range of exporting options, for example), or the mandatory inclusion of a brand watermark, or other annoyances.  Open-source tools are as full-featured as possible from the start, with no motivation to force an upgrade.
  • In addition, paid software tools are almost invariably much heavier in their system-resource requirements than their open-source counterparts, for many reasons including the open-source movement's deep association with lightweight (and also open-source) operating systems.  Very often, even the 'free' versions of commercial software will have essentially the same heavy CPU and memory needs as the paid versions, because they are essentially the same software, just with some features restricted.  Shotcut and other open-source tools are much lighter in their resource requirements, typically quicker to download/install, much quicker to start up for each session, and can generally be run on far more modest (and thus less expensive) hardware than most commercially-based tools.
  • All of the above considerations still leave a range of good-to-excellent open-source video editing tools, prominently including (but not limited to) VSDC, OpenShot and KDenlive in addition to Shotcut.  Each tool appears to have its particular strengths and weaknesses.  We feel that Shotcut is unusually lightweight as a download/install and a running program, even in comparison with other open-source editors with a comparable feature set.  But each tool has its strong proponents; and indeed there is an excellent Floss Manual for Kdenlive (see flossmanuals.net/kdenlive/), which also serves as a general introduction to videography with a social-action focus.  It may well be worth checking out several such tools before you settle on one, since it's free to do so.
  • Finally, the Floss Manual framework in general is intended to address gaps in existing software documentation, and Shotcut is strikingly under-documented even by open-source standards.  The Shotcut development team is quite small, and has clearly decided to focus their efforts on building and constantly improving their editor, rather than on documention.  It therefore seemed appropriate to use the Floss platform to help promote and facilitate further use of this excellent tool.

With those considerations in mind, this guide will be an introduction to Shotcut in particular as well as the basics of video editing more generally, and all tutorials here will make use of Shotcut software, for the most part running on Windows, in its most recent general release as of this writing (Shotcut 18.01.x, ie the first version released in 2018).  

The focus of this guide, and its wider applications

This manual offers a beginner-to-intermediate guide to using Shotcut for video editing.  We have neither the space, time nor expertise to exhaustively examine all of the more advanced features of this software (which are multiplied by the incredibly wide range of video and audio file formats this tool is capable of importing and exporting).  Our goal is to get you started.  Moreover, while this manual borrows freely from the structure of the Floss Kdenlive manual noted above, where appropriate, we do not intend to offer, even to the extent that they do, a general guide to the wider world of video making as such [Beyond the Kdenlive manual, there is also a separate Floss Manual devoted to video making as such, at en.flossmanuals.net/video-production].  Some of our how-to examples will focus on the specific use case of editing video tutorials, such as tutorials for using other software.  We believe that video tutorials, which can now be found extensively at many software developers' own sites as well as 'in the wild' on YouTube, are one of the more important and useful practical applications of the new digital videography.  Indeed, this manual itself could as easily have been done as a video tutorial series, but we recognize that many users are still more comfortable with a written text-and-screenshot reference, as a jumping-off point in using a new tool like Shotcut.  This guide will also walk through the features of the Shotcut UI in a systematic and referenceable way that is not really possible in video.  But the general editing techniques that can make a how-to video more watchable and useful will also apply to most other uses of video, and we will be sure to include some Iceland-trip and perhaps cat-video examples as well.  We would also add that how-to tutorials themselves need not be restricted to software tools; on YouTube one can find outstanding tutorials on the basics of playing various musical instruments, home and auto repair, making pop-up greeting cards, and really any step-by-step process that can be captured in video and usefully shared with others.  And, of course, many of these same basic video-editing techniques would apply as well to the use of video for any other kind of 'story-telling' as well, including documentary and purely fictional stories.

You will notice in the Table of Contents that this guide is divided into several main sections. The present Introductory section will continue with a chapter offering a brief history of video editing, as a basis for understanding the editing operations explored later.  The next section,  "Getting Started with Shotcut", begins with a guide to installing Shotcut on different operating systems, then offers a systematic tour of the Shotcut user interface, with a walk-through of the principal panels or windows of the UI with their various mouse-based or hot-key controls.  It is probably useful to get this basic orientation to the UI layout of Shotcut to start with, particularly as it differs in some respects from layouts that might be more familar, such as Windows Movie Maker or Adobe authoring products.  We then offer a series of 'How-To' chapters focusing on specific editing operations, step by step with instructions and screenshots.  Some readers may prefer to dive directly into these latter chapters, as a way of figuring out the UI as they need to use it.  This section includes only some very basic operations.  In the next section, "Taking It Further," we will offer how-to chapters on some more advanced operations in video editing.  This overall organization of the manual is designed to allow users to move directly to whatever aspect of Shotcut they need or want to learn about. 

 

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