Transitional Effects: Use These 15 Tips to Make Your Videos Flow


It’s been said that the real distinction between video that looks professional and video that’s obviously amateurish comes from the transitions. How you move from scene to scene and clip to clip, makes all the difference.

Choosing the proper transition and successfully executing it can often turn a disaster into a victory. Check out some of the following principles and experiment a bit. These tips should help you make the most of the transitions available in your editing program.

  1. Keep It Simple

Do you remember your first word processing or desktop publishing program? It probably came with an example of a letter created with too many different fonts compared to one done with just two (for example, one for text and one for headlines.) It’s the same with video transitions. Grabbing at a clock wipe here, a Venetian blind effect there, and a rotating box and zoom thrown in for good measure is guaranteed to give your video a jumbled look. Settling on just two or three types of transitions, such as dissolves and slides or fade-outs and fade-ins, plus slides or page turns, will give your presentation a more consistent form and a more pleasant look.

  1. Be Consistent

Use your transitions for specific purposes, and stick to those uses throughout your video. Examples might be using dissolves to denote time passage and slide-ins to denote location changes. Transitions have personalities, and the effects make statements. Try to make the same kind of statements with them from beginning to end.

  1. Experiment with Time and Length

Do some practicing. Take two scenes and dissolve or cross fade between them. Do it several times. Try a one-second dissolve. Then, do one for two seconds. Try a lingering five-second effect, then, maybe a real quickie at less than a second. Notice the feel or personality of the effects. Use them to enhance the look and feel of your final video. Do the same with a number of other effects.

  1. Check out The Variations of Each Effect

Most transitions can be stopped at any point in their cycle. That means a dissolve held half way would result in a superimposition. A circle in or out held still would give you a picture-in-picture. It’s the same with a box or square. Combine that with control of the box’s directional movement and you’ll have an over-the-shoulder box behind your narrator just like those used behind a network news anchor.

  1. Experiment with Abstraction

If you have Manual Focus on your camcorder, shoot some out-of-focus objects of different colors and luminosities. Or, take an existing scene and modify it with a filter effect. Try blending them with different transitions. Slow, lingering dissolves would be good for starters–perhaps multiple layers (see Step 7 below.) Then, place the final results under your titles. Try doing this with still photos or artwork as your source.

  1. Relate the Transition to the Movement of the Scene

Let’s say you have a shot of someone walking away from the camera. Try a transition where the entire frame disappears by receding to the center of the next scene. One panning shot to another in the same direction? Try a slide or a wipe in the same direction. A handheld walking shot following someone? Dissolve it to a shot where the subject is moving toward the camera and it is tracking back. Dissolve from a close-up of someone looking rapidly right or left to a quick whip pan.

  1. Layer and Combine Transitions

Once you feel confident in your use of effects and transitions try experimenting with multiple effects and layering. In a timeline edit program, like Adobe Premiere, you can easily add numerous video tracks, fade them in and out, and adjust their luminosity levels. You might use video tracks 1a and 1 b with one of the transitions from the menu and then fade other shots in and out over it on video tracks 2 and 3 with a superimposed or keyed title on video track 4. OK … This will take some practicing AND careful planning. Don’t be afraid. Get creative and try some variations. This effect could be valuable in a music video, for example.

  1. Use Contrasting Effects

Just as you can play with the rhythm of your video by cutting together a group of short scenes, then contrasting them with long lingering takes, you can do the same with transitions. One section could feature scenes slid in quickly from one direction. Another, with a different feel, might feature a series of shots slowly dissolving from one to the other.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid Of the Obvious

Try using a clock wipe to denote time passage. If you have several wide shots of landscapes in your travel video, try sliding them in from screen left as in a slide show. If you have an archery scene, transition to it with an emerging circle. If your video is about a concert, recital or talent show, don’t be afraid of using an opening curtain effect in going from the main title card or auditorium exterior to the performance. Sports event? Go for that flying football effect.

  1. Work against the Cliché

Purposely choose effects that do NOT obviously relate to the action. Use your instincts. Have fun with this.

  1. Don’t Overdo It

Specialty transitions (like the ones in Step 5) can lose their effectiveness if overused. One very good transition plug-in package that creates infinite variations from gradated wipes is called the Video SpiceRack, from Pixelan ( Think of your novelty transitions as spices. When cooking up your presentation, be careful not to over-spice it. Just a taste here and there will be fine. The same principle applies to transitions, in general. Straight cuts will always be the most commonly used transitions. Never underestimate their value.

  1. Experiment, Experiment And Experiment

Just like all those neat effects buttons and switches on your camcorder, the transition selection menu will frustrate you if you start messing with different variations on the fly as you assemble a video. Set aside some time for practice sessions, and try different ways of solving your problem. Do several variations on the same two-scene combinations. Try being logical. Then, toss reason to the wind and just choose an effect at random and see how it looks.

  1. Use Sound Effects

One of the most obvious (but effective) sound effects you can use is a nice, loud still-camera shutter click cut in each time you insert a still in your video. The same goes for transitions. They can be made more effective through the use of sound effects. If you don’t have any sound effects in your arsenal, go out and buy a compilation sound effects CD (available at most stores that sell music CDs.)


Don’t limit yourself at first with specific volumes (car effects, animals, etc.), but get one that offers a general mix. Then, try different sounds placed under your transitions. Do this in a practice session and see how well this can work when you choose an effective sound effect–and how silly you can make something with another choice. Remember, there’s no right or wrong here. (P.S. This step applies to music, as well. Try underscoring transitions with changes in your background music.)

  1. Study The Pros

Watch your favorite movies, television shows, commercials and music videos. Perhaps, you could tape them off the air for repeated viewing. Notice how they use transitions, cuts and dissolves. Make notes. Try figuring out what your favorite directors and editors are doing. Then, try to do it (or something like it) with your editing program. Do a few examples of your own and compare them to the original.

  1. Have Fun

Once you master a few of the rules, you’ll be ready to break them. And, your videos will be a lot more entertaining than if you had just tossed in bunch of crazy effects at random. Sure, music videos usually call for lots of variations and effect after effect. But, look at the best ones. Tape your favorites and rerun them. You’ll usually find that all of the wild cutting and transitioning has some consistency to it. There was probably some kind of a master plan, but not always.

One approach to your video might be a very formal and conservative presentation with a wild and crazy loose interlude in the middle. On the other hand, you might open with a bold montage and then settle in to a more conventional style of exposition. There’s no limit to the possibilities. There is always a time to go wild and “just do it.” Use your judgment and your instincts and, most importantly, have fun with your project.

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