A Beginner's Guide to Editing Video with Free Software

If you're getting ready to edit a video for the very first time, you'll need to know the basics.

I'm sure many of us can remember the first time we opened up an editing program—immediately breaking out in a cold sweat looking at the complicated buttons and options. If you're a first-time editor who'd rather bypass all of that unpleasantness, good news! Simon Cade of DSLRguide gives you a step-by-step beginner's tutorial on how to use free NLE programs like Windows Movie Maker and Apple's iMovie to edit video projects. Check it out below:

First off, let's just say—hey newbies, you're in a good place! Those of us who are grizzled old fools with years of editing experience under our belt have been there before, so we know the frustration and confusion of trying to navigate an extensive program that does powerful things with video—we don't even know it does many of those things until years later. Besides, we're all here for the same reason: to learn stuff.

Okay, now that that's out of the way—let's talk NLEs, or "non-linear editing" systems. There are a lot of great ones out there, like Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, DaVinci Resolve, and AVID, but these tend to cost a pretty penny with either an outright purchase or a monthly subscription. If you're just wanting to learn the ins and outs of basic editing and aren't ready for the investment, you might want to look into using free or inexpensive programs, like VEGAS Movie Studio, formerly Sony Vegas ($50), Movie Maker, or iMovie, both of which can come standard on your Windows PC or Mac.

Lightworks is also a great program, one that pro editors use (Thelma Schoonmaker used it on The Wolf of Wall Street). The Pro license costs $25/mo, $175/year, or $438 outright, which is a lot less expensive than other NLEs with a lot of the same powerful features. You can also license Lightworks for free, but with limited functionality: you can't import 4K video files, there's no Blackmagic and AJA camera support, and there's limited exporting options. But again, if you're just looking to practice a little, this, as well as the others are great options.


Establishing an efficient and effective workflow is a top priority as well. There are as many different workflows as there are editors, and some may swear by theirs, but the key here is to find one that works for you and stick with it. Changing it too often can actually make things worse and more complicated for you, especially when you're just starting out.

After that, it's just a lot of practicing. Trial and error is a fantastic teacher, so the more you try and fail, the more you learn. (You can peruse our articles on editing to expand your knowledge a little, too.)

For all of you experienced editors, what advice do you have for the beginners reading this article? Which tools/concepts gave you the most trouble when you started out and how did you learn to master them?     

Your Comment


Considering you can get a free version of Resolve, I can't see the point of using any of these other programs. Resolve may not be the greatest editor, but you're still aead of any of these.

December 4, 2016 at 6:59PM


I agree that Resolve is great program for grading, and it has pretty decent editor built into it, but It's quirks like poor h.264 performance and lack of support for "newbie" formats like mp3 is not what beginners are looking for... However I think that DR is a good choice for someone a little bit more experienced, but on thight budget (but again, to run it smoothly you need powerful and pricey PC)

December 5, 2016 at 2:29AM, Edited December 5, 2:34AM


Selecting video editing software can be overwhelming. There are several kinds of video editing software, all at dissimilar prices and contribution different structures. One of my friend is using digital video editing software, who are providing nursing essay writing at http://www.essaywriter.org.uk/nursing-essay/. If you're different to video editing, I mention preliminary with allowed video editing software, any Movie Maker or iMovie, which originate pre-installed on fresh Computers and Macs.

December 23, 2016 at 4:48AM, Edited December 23, 4:48AM


I've been using DaVinci Resolve for a while now. While free to download it does take a commitment of time and computational resources. I found it to have a pretty steep learning curve. One thing that really helped is a book "Learning Davinci Resolve 12.5" by Dion Scoppettuolo on Kindle. It really enlightened me.

My favorite feature in Resolve is that by capturing a "colorchecker card" image when you set up your shot, Resolve can use it to automate the color matching process. It's as simple as dragging and dropping. That alone makes it worthwhile to learn and use.

Some years ago I put together a PC clone using an Intel 6-core i7 Gulftown processor 6GB of RAM and mechanical drives. Even with a Solid State Drive it would choke playing a 4K timeline on the Edit page. I had to update this system to 24GB RAM, a 420GB SSD with the faster SATA-3 interface and a NVIDIA 980 4GB RAM video card to get it to run Resolve well. In all I probably spent around $4K on it.

It will render a MPEG4 or H.264 Quick Time 4K movie at about 10-1/2 frames per second while HD will render at up to around 30 frames per second. If you work in HD only a Quad-Core, 16G RAM, 2GB video card and a fast SATA-3 SSD would probably work well. Google "davinci resolve configuration guide" for their take on the hardware requirements.

So no, I wouldn't say Resolve is free. But in my next breath I'd tell someone to go ahead, download it and check it out. You may find yourself upgrading your system. I did mine a little bit at a time.

December 9, 2016 at 6:15PM

Dave Palmer
Retired Electrical Engineer

December 5, 2016 at 3:34AM

Henrik Prinz

1, Hitfilm Express is free
2, You have to make decision which take (version of that scene) you keep, that's the most difficult (for me)
3, you need to know your material
4, organize your project's folders (you may use audio files, images too)
5, save (back up) your project files

December 5, 2016 at 7:40AM

N. Peter
Community / Filmmaker Website leader

"If you're just wanting to learn the ins and outs of basic editing and aren't ready for the investment, you might want to look into using free or inexpensive programs, like Sony Movie Studio, formerly Sony Vegas ($50)."

Do you EVEN KNOW what you're talking about?!?! It sure as hell seems like you DON'T.

December 5, 2016 at 2:12PM, Edited December 5, 2:12PM

Cosmin Gurau

I use Kdenlive for all my work, and it is FANTASTIC!!!

December 6, 2016 at 11:59AM

You voted '+1'.
Micah Pendleton

Like pretty much like anything in life; you get what you pay for. So it's probably not a great idea to spend less on a tool than you would expect from any other occupation.

So $250 or $400 to buy/access an editor is not expensive.

But if you want to get your feet wet it might be really important to learn terminology: Which even as overly complicated Avid likes to make things, they do a great job naming the types of cuts and actions that the user does to manipulate clips and the time line.

Which would be more important to learn as you will be able to communicate and understand what you want to do. That will make it possible for you to learn any software fast and customize any software to your needs.

So either buy a used out of date version of the media composer handbook and just learn terminology or go to the internet an search for:

Types of film edits
Frame 0 actually is Frame 1

That should help you a lot more than using free software that might limit you just because it's free.

December 6, 2016 at 4:55PM, Edited December 6, 4:55PM

Kyle Dockum
Videographer and Editor

I just wanted to note that your link to Windows Movie Maker points to a known scam (http://naich.net/wordpress/?p=963) and is NOT the genuine installation page for this software. My understanding is that the installation files remain available at winmoviemaker.com.

Hopefully you will be able to update your link ASAP to prevent any readers from inadvertently installing malware on their systems.

July 26, 2017 at 6:21PM


One of the Best Video Editor Softwares which I know are
1. Cyberlink Power Director
2. VSDC (Free)
3. Camtasia
4. Kdenlive
5. Adobe Premiere Pro CC
source:- http://merabheja.com/video-editing-software/

September 25, 2017 at 2:40AM, Edited September 25, 2:40AM


Hey there - your Windows Movie Maker link points to a scam! Read about it here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/leemathews/2017/11/13/windows-movie-maker-s...

November 14, 2017 at 9:01PM, Edited November 14, 9:01PM


You are right, the link went to topwin-movie-maker.com instead. Is https://www.winmoviemaker.com legit?

March 13, 2018 at 9:32AM


for video editing personally, I use Filmora software you're also sharing useful tools too for video editing ...thanks for .it working for me...

Joys writer at: https://www.buzzcnn.com/

February 11, 2019 at 4:56AM