How to edit a vlog – the 7 layer system to produce more professional content

If a friend of yours were to bake you a cake, perfectly to the recipe and you took a bite, and it was a taste sensation, would you notice that they hadn’t put a cherry on top of it? Or made a funky pattern? Probably not, you might have done if it was a competition for the best looking cake but the important thing is what it tasted like.

When we think of video editing, we often think of funky effects, bold transitions, titles, animations and all of those fun things.

The thing is, this isn’t really editing, ok it is, but it’s not what makes video work. You need to get the basics right so that your video, like the cake, tastes amazing.

To do this i’d like to introduce you to layers, not a technical term, just a thought process that helped me learn to edit, it does not matter what software you are using, these 7 layers of the editing cake are the same across all platforms. Use them in your vlogs and you’ll make more professional video without even touching flashy effects.


Layer 1 – The narrative

The narrative or “A roll” is the main content of your video. Its the information on an audible level. What you are watching right now is the narrative.

Now, there are some essential elements when it comes to editing narrative.

  1. You need to make sure what’s coming out of someone’s mouth makes sense.
  2. You need to cut out any repetition or waffle
  3. You need to perfect timing
  4. You need to reposition the information.

Let’s look into each of these sections.

Parts one and two. Making sense of it all and cutting repetition and waffle.

Vlogs are shot in different ways, scripted and none scripted.

What you are watching right now is scripted, the benefit of this is, we film in little chunks, never deviate from the script, well almost never and then all you have to do when editing is import the files into your computer.

They will already be in the right order and if its written well, there will be no repetition. You can delete the takes that didn’t work, if there are any and line up the ones that did.

For none scripted, you have your work cut out. You have to import the clip and then decide which pieces of the narrative to keep.

If you or whoever was talking was winging it, you need to keep an eye out for repetition, cut that, tangents, cut them, “ums, ahs” and any behavior which distracts from the narrative, def cut them, and then work on making sure all these cuts piece together in an order which works for the viewer.

Once you have done that, we move on to the third part of editing the narrative, timing.

This is where we introduce your first basic cut to master, the jump cut.


Jump cuts

Jump cuts are when you cut the narrative, maybe delete a little bit of what was filmed and then bring it back in further down the clip. That could be 20 seconds or it could be 1 second.You simply jump though time a little.

Jump cuts, in their simplest form, can be used to hide errors or add energy, you often see this jump style on YouTube videos.

You don’t just cut randomly all over the place though, ideally, you’d do it before a new piece of information or the start of a sentence.

You also want the jump to be pronounced. The idea isn’t to hide your cuts, to nail this style, you want to embrace them.

The second way to do a jump cut is like how we do it on this channel a lot. An actual jump in the frame size.When filming, the jumps are planned. We film a section, cut and then zoom in on the camera and film the next and so on.

For our channel, we tend to use these when we make a mistake presenting and then zoom in on the camera, go back to the natural edit point in the script and start again, that’s the fastest way to shoot a lot of content when you batch produce.

You can create this same effect in the edit by zooming in, but you will lose some quality in the video, so it’s not advised. I’d say never go more than 25% extra in if you are going to do it.

The important thing when cutting is timing, what you don’t want is to get to the end of some narrative and then have a little gap at the start and the finish of each clip you piece together.

In your editing software, you should hopefully see some wobbly lines known as waveforms. You want to cut your clip right at the start of the waveform. Get as tight as you can without cutting off the beginning or the end of the word. That way, you keep the tempo flowing, and your presenter will appear more confident.


Editing secret: When you get used to doing this on scripted videos, because you don’t have to worry about cutting the actual content, you can line up an entire narrative without listening to the thing. In fact, we probably edited the whole of layer one of the above video with the sound off.

That’s why we always advise beginners, small creators or businesses to write scripts, the time savings at this stage are massive.


Information order

And finally when editing the narrative, you want to make sure the order of information works.

Now we mentioned this before in the none scripted version but actually even in a scripted video, this is your last chance to decide what information makes the cut.

Sometimes you might watch it back and think; actually that information is not relevant to the topic or feel that the video is dragging so you can decide to cut an entire section.

A good editor will know when to ditch information, and sometimes although it feels hard to let go, deleting things makes video work so much better, you can always hit edit undo too.

This is more of a journalistic approach to editing but its all part of the same package

Next up we have Broll

Layer 2: Broll

This is the video, or pictures that go on top of the narrative. So on your editing software, you’ll have a timeline, the narrative sits in the first layer and the broll on top. Your viewer will see whatever is on top of the pile.

Mastering the basics of Broll means different things depending on the style of video.

It might mean adding footage that has been specifically shot for the vlog to help tell a story. Or it might mean raiding a bank of stock footage and finding a clip that is relevant to the information being discussed in the narrative.

(If you’re producing a vlog, we’d always recommend filming your own b-roll)

Knowing when and where to use this is important, you want to come back to the person on camera to keep it personal but also cut to Broll to keep the viewer engaged. You might have noticed all we do is talk on plain backgrounds if this video were 10 minutes of me chatting on a plain or even not plain background it would be boring as anything.


Layer 3:  Text

Now if you don’t have any footage or imagery to use as Broll, this is your best option to pull people into your content, and that is by making them engage their brain by reading text.

If you’re educating, text is key to help people take in the content, look, its impossible not to read this.

We’d advise always using the same fonts across your videos to build up a consistent brand look. You can rebrand down the line, but don’t do it every video, this can take a long time, and your viewers will get used to your style and recognise it.

You don’t want to add a massive sentence, but paraphrase the point being made in the narrative in as few words as possible.

You’ll notice we do it at every section, try not to read the text over the next few sections, you should feel its impact.


Layer 4 – Correction and grading

We don’t want you to get caught up on this as a small creator. A lot of what you can do here depends on what cameras you are using. If you shoot on more professional cameras you have to spend the time on this section.

As a small creator or business, spend more time on the other layers we’re talking about and then add to your grading skills over time.

You might need to do a basic correction, which is simple on a lot of cheap or free software.

Just focus on bringing up the exposure if the scenes are a little dark or bring up the saturation if you want your colors to pop a little more.


Layer 5: Sound

You might want to chuck in a few sound effects like this, chop a load.

Or maybe add some ambiance to scenes, its amazing how much of a difference these can make to content.

Just make sure they don’t compete with the narrative.

On more advanced software there’s a lot you can do with sound but also a lot you can not, reducing things like echo and background noise can be a real nightmare so try to shoot somewhere that’s not too noisy and never rely on the edit to save your sound.

For basic vlogging sound editing, you just need to be able to hear the talking, so if it sounds quiet in places, bring the volumes up and try to keep it consistent across the video.


Layer 6: Final checks

Watch your video back, keeping all of these things in mind, and of course, check for any typos.

When you edit the video, you focus on things your viewer will not, that means its easy not to notice spelling mistakes even if you watch it 20 times. We try to check each others work but as editors, you still end up focusing on the edit, not the actual viewer experience, so a none editor is helpful.

Layer 7 – Export

There are a million export settings, for YouTube you want to upload an mp4 file, some software will no export these, we’d recommend downloading Handbrake, its free and it will compress and convert to MP4.

We try to keep videos around 2-4 mins below100mb so the upload isnt too long, and they stream nicely. You dont want to be uploading Gigabites of data, itll take forever.

YouTube will compress your videos too but if youre ok with what you’re watching right now, its technically been compressed three times so dont worry too much.

These 7 layers of editing are what we believe you should do over and over again until they feel like they come naturally. The thought of editing videos is what stops most people from doing it.

It takes ages to start, mainly because people try to be too fancy. They want to use all the effects and transitions but these just over complicate things.

The whole above video has just been edited using this exact template, nothing more.

When you feel comfortable with them, look at upgrading software and adding more effects and colour grading, Just don’t try to add a cherry to a pile of ingredients before you bake the perfect cake.