With all the excitement around the recently released M1 Macs and the anticipation of the more powerful iterations to come in 2021, it’s a very tempting consideration to go out and get a new editing computer (even for Windows users!).
However, some of us are not in a space financially to invest in a new video editing computer. Some of us (myself included) are just waiting to see what the more professional machines will offer when they release.
While we wait, there are things we can do to speed up our video editing without buying a new computer. Here are some tips to help you edit video faster and spend less time in front of the screen. I am a final Cut Pro editor but these tips will definitely be useful for other NLE platforms.
Believe it or not, your heard drive makes a difference in the speed of the edit and a slow hard drive can make even the snappiest computers drag along.
Try to use an SSD (Solid State Drive) or RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Discs) as those are the fastest options for storage. RAIDs offer more storage with a much better cost per terabyte, but SSDs are more user friendly and are virtually plug-and-play
If you can’t get your hands on one of those, grab an enterprise grade hard drive with 7200 RPM. These are faster than regular consumer hard drives with a drive speed of 5400 RPM. This faster spinning speed will improve read times so that your editing experience will be smoother.
2. Use the fastest connection possible between your drive and your computer.
The fastest connection available at the time of writing this is Thunderbolt 3. Thunderbolt 4 has just been released and will soon find its way on more devices in the coming months and years.
If you don’t have access to a drive and computer with Thunderbolt controllers, then you’re stuck with USB 3. In such a case, USB 3.2 is the best
3. Keep all your project files in the same folder
Not every project is going to be using only footage from your camera. Sometimes there are multiple cameras with different storage media. There can also be stock footage from online, music, graphics, etc.
In any case, try to get as much of your media you’re going to use (if not, all of it) onto the same fast hard drive you plan to use for editing. This will increase the speed of access to all those files for your editor and, in turn, increase the responsiveness and reduce loading times.
4. Leave a chunk of empty space on your boot drive and editing drive.
There are a lot of varying opinions on the internet on how much this should be. I’ve come across figures ranging from 20% all the way to 50% for the amount of free space you should leave on your drive to improve performance.
Regardless of the ideal amount, you WILL definitely experience noticeable lag in your editing when your hard drive is full. Go ahead – try it and let me know how long you last.
Play with these numbers for your own specific system and workflow; I feel everyone will have different tolerances for this. Personally, I try to have at least 30% free on my editing hard drive and I hover between 30-50% free space on my computer.
Bonus tip: If you finish projects and want to keep your footage “just in case”, you can free up tonnes of space by deleting render files, temporary files, proxy files and optimized media. Keep the XMLs because those will have your project timelines.
Now that we’ve gotten the hardware out of the way, there are some soft skills you can use to maximize your editing efficiency (see what I did there?).
5. Use a consistent workflow that you will use on every project
If you have the best of the best hardware to edit with but you yourself are not organized, you’ll be spinning your wheels… quickly.
Use a workflow for all your projects so that when you open up the editor with all your footage, you have a defined path you will follow no matter how overwhelming or uninspired you are by what you see.
You’ll spend less time, doddling, procrastinating and twiddling your thumbs. Don’t rely on a looming deadline to supercharge your editing process!
I have some more content on editing workflow coming soon
6. Organize all your footage and assets before you edit the timeline.
This can seem like an extra, unnecessary step. For smaller projects, yes, it is. All these tips are tailored to people who do more than just 15- to 60-second TikTok videos and Instagram reels. If you’re doing more substantial projects like events, narrative pieces, documentary work and even personal montages, organization is important.
Organize your footage into groups that make sense. Add keywords so you can find certain groups of clips faster. Choose your favourite segments so you spend less time sifting through when you start building your timeline. Group your assets.
For wedding videographers, for example, this might look like organizing the footage by different key moments like morning prep, ceremony, first look, couple portraits, reception moments, first dance, dance party, speeches, detail shots and establishing shots.
For someone editing a road trip video, this may look like organizing footage from each stop along the route, grouping the footage by day (if it spanned multiple days), grouping scenery, people, action and talking shots.
You spend more time in the front end doing this so that later in the editing when you inevitably lose momentum and get stuck, you have a structure to help you. In addition, if you end up getting to the cutting-down stage and need to replace or add shots, you can find replacements easier (especially if you do client work where revisions are expected).
7. Complete your timeline before you add all your effects
Every time you move a clip with an effect on it, it needs to be rendered again.
Finish putting your clips in the order you need them with music before you deal with colour and visual effects.
Colour corrections, colour grading and visual effect in general are taxing on your system and create tons of rendering time. This can slow you down and be immensely frustrating if you need to still move clips around.
Complete the stage where you move clips around first. Lock your clips in place and make them flow and sound good before you tweak colours and looks.
8. Take breaks
Okay… sure… Listen, we did computer hardware but we also need to do human hardware. Editing is a joint process between a human and a machine. An optimized machine with an inefficient human is inefficient.
You are more efficient when you are rested. But you are also efficient when you take breaks and come back fresh.
Video editing is an intense mental process and, if you’re in the zone for too long, you can start to miss your mistakes, get distracted and miss “obvious” creative choices in the editing vortex.
9. Schedule long renders and exports around your breaks (as much as possible)
Well, since you’re taking breaks now, set up long renders and exports around those breaks. I like to add my noise reduction right before I stop working for a few hours. Similarly, I do long exports and giant back-ups overnight when I’m not actively using the computer.
Doing those tasks mid-edit with kill your flow and can lead to being distracted. If I’m sitting at the computer, I want to be actively doing something and not watching a percentage bar fill up.
10. Set your projects to export to the fastest drive you have available
In the same way you edit from a fast drive, export to a fast drive if you want the best performance. Then again, if you’re following tip 9 and are exporting overnight, then speed may not matter typically… unless you’re editing a feature length movie at 8K resolution… YIKES!
But we can’t always save exports for the end of the day. For example, many times there are deliverables that need to be completed in the day or we need to incorporate a completed video into another.
In these cases, speed will be important. Maximize on the excellent read speeds during editing, then maximize those write speeds during export.
I hope these tips help to give you some insight into making your editing process more efficient without giving into a new purchase.
HOWEVER… if you do end up buying something new, you will definitely be able to maximize your dollars by applying these tips. Happy editing!
Stay strong and courageous, friends!