What are the best video-editing tips for iMovie on Mac?

iMovie for Mac is a powerful video-editing software package, but it can sometimes be a little intimidating for beginners. In this article we gather our best tips to help beginners get started with iMovie for Mac, and some advanced tricks that will benefit experienced users.

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iMovie for Mac tips: Professional keyboard shortcuts

Most users of iMovie will be familiar with pressing the space bar to start and stop playback. In fact iMovie has a host of keyboard shortcuts to make your editing life easier - and many of these are the same for higher-end professional editing systems like Final Cut Pro X.

Next time you're editing, try some of these shortcuts out:

  • Press 1 for Media view; 2 for Projects; 3 for iMovie Theatre.
  • L plays your video forwards; J plays your video backwards; K pauses playback. Holding K and J or L plays your video backwards or forwards slowly, whilst tapping J or L multiple times shuttles through at higher speeds. This works in the Browser or Timeline.
  • I and O Marks a selected range on a clip in the browser.
  • E quickly adds the selected clip to the end of your project.
  • Q adds the selected clip as connected media wherever your playhead is in the timeline.
  • W inserts the selected clip into your project.
  • CMD-B cuts the selected clip on the timeline.

iMovie for Mac tips: Use Ratings

iMovie for Mac tips

When you look back at all your footage there are always going to be the clips you like and the clips you loathe - such as when you forgot to turn the camera off! Using Ratings can help you filter your clips easily.

Whether you are in the Media view or reviewing footage in the Browser in Project view, use the heart and cross below the Viewer to Favourite or Reject the selected clip. Favourites will be highlighted with a green bar; rejected clips with a red bar.

iMovie for Mac tips

You can now use the filter menu at the top of the Browser to choose to hide the rejected clips (so you don't see them) or simply display only your favourites. You can also just view any clips you have rejected in case you want to assemble a blooper reel.

iMovie for Mac tips

Quickly add favourites using your keyboard by pressing F; reject clips by pressing Backspace (don't worry, iMovie won't delete the clip). And if you change your mind later on, you can Unrate a clip by pressing U.

For extra credit, you can add ratings just to portions of a clip by making range selections.

iMovie for Mac tips: Change Settings

iMovie for Mac tips

You can adjust the size of your video clips in the Browser to make them easier to see and work with.

Click the cog icon to access the Browser's thumbnail appearance. Here you can adjust the clip size to make the thumbnails larger or smaller. You can also adjust the zoom size of the filmstrip - the number below the slider represents the approximate duration of each thumbnail in the filmstrip.

Enabling the show waveforms option here is very useful too!

Your Project timeline also has similar settings in the Settings menu at the top right of the timeline window. Here you can adjust the clip size in your timeline, apply themes and enable automatic titles and transitions. You can also apply a Project-wide filter to give your entire video a particular look.

iMovie for Mac tips

iMovie for Mac tips: Variable Speed Changes

iMovie for Mac tips

We've all used the Speed control to slow our video for dramatic effect or speed it up for comedic value. But you can also use it to adjust the speed of sections of your video.

Hold down the R key on your keyboard and drag out a range of the portion of the clip in the timeline you want to adjust - don't worry if it's not 100 percent correct, you can adjust it later.

Now, select the Speed control option and adjust the speed as you like. This will only apply that adjustment to the selected range. Ensuring the Smooth option is checked means you'll get a smooth transition between the different speed segments.

iMovie for Mac tips

If you need to make further adjustments, clicking on the hare or tortoise icon allows you to customise that speed section further. Alternatively, dragging on the circular handle allows you to manually adjust the speed for that section of the clip, whilst dragging on the film frame icon allows you to change the point at which the speed change occurs.

Remember to check the "Preserve Pitch" option if adjusting the speed of audio!

Need your video to pause at a particular frame? Select the clip and press Option-F to create a freeze frame at that point.

iMovie for Mac tips: Colour Matching Shots

iMovie for Mac tips

iMovie has a good number of colour correction tools for adjusting shots either individually or as a selected group, but it can be quite fiddly to try and match one shot to another by eye.

Select the shot you want to match , then click on the colour balance control at the top of the Viewer and choose Match Color.

Now, skim to the shot you want to match the selected shot to, either in your timeline or browser; find an appropriate frame and click. iMovie will try its best to match the brightness and colour values. If you're not happy with the results, try skimming to another frame and clicking again; the change isn't applied until you click the blue tick box.

Sometimes the change might not be immediately obvious. Try toggling the match effect on or off to see the difference.

Remember, you can still make further adjustments using the normal colour correction controls.

iMovie for Mac tips: Audio Mixing

Getting your audio right is so important in video editing.

When adjusting audio levels make sure you don't go into the red on the waveform. This will indicate that your audio is going to be clipped which will sound bad.

iMovie for Mac tips

To make quick audio adjustments, you can use the controls in the Volume options. Try setting the clip level to auto before making further adjustments.

iMovie for Mac tips

If you want to reduce just a portion of the audio - for example: to bring a loud section down, or to dip the music below someone speaking - hold down R whilst dragging out a range, then grab hold of the volume bar and adjust the level of that section of audio by adding keyframes. These keyframes can be individually adjusted later and you can create others by holding the Option key when clicking on the volume bar.

iMovie for Mac tips

Finally, you can apply fades to any audio clip by dragging on the face handles - very useful for quickly fading sound effects and music clips in and out.

iMovie for Mac tips

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