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In Video Editing, what are Transitions?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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Transitions are authoring tools a video editor can insert between two video clips or still images to create an artistic, professional effect. There are a multitude of transitional effects available, the two most common being the crossfade and dissolve.

Although video editing used to be reserved for professionals, digital cameras and camcorders created a market for nonprofessionals. Drag-and-drop video authoring programs like Apple™ iPhoto™ and Microsoft™ Movie Maker™ have brought video editing to the masses, making it possible to combine vacation videos or still images into movies or slide shows. In creating projects, one of the first things that becomes clear is that transitions make a project look professional.

A slide show without transitions is just a series of photos flashing on and off the screen, much like the old slide projectors that cranked a carousel of slides through a projector light. Using transitions, special effects are inserted between photos to artfully move from one shot to the next, eliminating the “on/off flashing” between images.

While transitions of nearly any kind look better than no transitions, a good editor will choose the right effects that enhance the overall theme and content of the project. Many new video authors will happily insert a different transition between each digital photograph, using all of the transitional effects that are available in the editing program without thought to the kind of effect they create.

For example, one type of transitional effect “tumbles” the new picture into frame, or “tumbles” the old picture away. The tumbling transition is commonly seen on television commercials where, for example, products are sold from an 800 number. Text might tumble in and out of frame to alert the view that there are additional savings or free gifts with the purchase. This doesn’t preclude the tumble from working in a home slide show, but it is not be the best transitional effect to use between wedding pictures, for example. It might work fine for transitioning between two sports shots, however, such as taken at the local high school football or soccer game.

Working with transitions effectively will greatly enhance the quality of your home videos or slide shows. If a transition takes away from the content, mood, pace or meaning of the events or pictures it is joining, try something different bearing in mind that using too many different transitions can be distracting. Somber, romantic, loving, altruistic or beautiful graphic images such as shots of nature are almost always enhanced by crossfades or dissolves, though other transitions can work. Action shots and fun-loving events work with crossfades or dissolves to create poignancy, such as in a tribute or memorandum video, while transitions that involve motion will enhance the feeling of the content for a more uplifting effect.

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Discussion Comments
By nony — On May 23, 2011

@hamje32 - Sometimes the more extreme transitions can be used for comic effect, like you see in the old sitcom, “Home Improvement.” Some editing programs will let you composite your own graphics onto the transitions so that you can really make them match the theme of your video.

By hamje32 — On May 22, 2011

I recently bought a video editing program that boasts hundreds of Hollywood style transitions. After seeing the different transitions, I say less is more. I still stay with the tried-and-true dissolves and fades that suggest a subtle mood.

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