Video editing involves a lot of cuts. While cuts can easily give your video production some extra polish, they can just as easily lead a video astray. Cutting too soon can be jarring, switching to the wrong angle can be confusing, and even the most basic jump cut can feel distracting.
This is where transitions come in. Transitions are short effects between one scene and another, like the instantly recognizable Star Wars wipe or Austin Powers psychedelic montage. But not all transitions are that obvious: they’re really designed to create a seamless flow between multiple shots. You can use transitions to set a tone, jump to a new scene, and guide the audience through the story.
Almost every piece of media we consume has some kind of transition, whether we notice it or not — and not noticing is usually the goal.
Learn the basics
These days, video transitions are not just for the Hollywood pros — you can find transition effects everywhere you look: YouTube, TikTok, even Instagram Stories. Of course, you’re just as likely to encounter video clips on these platforms that use just one static shot. Why bother with the extra polish of a transition?
Well, 400 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Using video transitions well is one of the best ways to make your YouTube channel stand out from the clearly very large crowd. Transitions work best when they elevate viewers’ emotions. Think: cutting multiple times between an approaching train and a person tied to the tracks. The jump cuts get quicker and quicker to elevate the pressure of the situation (until the hero miraculously unties themself and runs to safety, of course). This kind of transition easily enhances the emotions you want your audience to feel.
The best video transitions don’t just add to the overall story; they also add a professional polish to your YouTube videos. You might not be able to afford the best camera, microphone, or lighting setup, but if you can spend some serious time in your video editor, even the lowest-budget video can wow an audience.
Types of transitions
Filmmakers and television editors tend to gravitate towards a few main video transitions. They’re so frequently used that we hardly even register them anymore. Digital video creators, on the other hand, have gotten a lot more creative with the transitions in their content. Here are some of the most common transitions.
A fade is the quintessential video transition, and certainly the most popular. Fades happen when the scene gradually turns to a solid color or blends into the next scene. A scene can fade in or fade out: if it starts with a color and turns to footage it’s a fade in, if it starts with footage and turns to a color it’s a fade out. Choosing the color plays a big part in the story you're telling. Ending a video with a fade to black feels dramatic and unresolved, while using white would instead evoke hope and peace.
You can also fade your video footage into the next scene, a process that’s more commonly known as a cross dissolve. It’s much more seamless than just cutting to the next scene: as one scene fades into the next, the images of the two will briefly overlap.
Zoom transitions have gained a lot of popularity in digital media: it’s hard to go on TikTok and not see a video zoom in on an object and transition to a new shot. A quick, repeated zoom in and zoom out sets a frenetic pace to your cuts, and can also be pretty funny. Adding sound effects is a nice bonus.
The motion of a zoom is also a great way to make a static image more dynamic. It’s a common technique for documentaries, where so much of the video content is made up of photos. Renowned documentarian Ken Burns used a combination of zooms and pans on still photos so often that this technique is now commonly referred to as the zoomypan — or, less commonly, the Ken Burns effect.
If you ever had to put together a presentation, you’re probably familiar with the slide transition. Here, video can come in from any direction: right, left, up, or down, kind of like a slideshow.
Slide transitions work exactly how you think they would: an incoming clip slides over the existing one. The original clip stays where it is on screen, while the new clip eventually covers it completely.
Pro tip: Swipe
A favorite of smartphones everywhere. This transition is like a slide, but more stylized. Think: the animated swipe of going from one Tinder profile to another.
A push is another tried and true transition. It’s similar to a slide, but instead of the existing clip staying where it is on screen, a push transition moves the original clip out of frame as the new one appears.
This is a dynamic transition that’s great for video listicles or product videos.
Wipes work similarly to slides and swipes — a new shot replaces the original one by traveling from one place on screen to another. However, their animation allows for more creativity: wipes can happen in a clock motion, they can move diagonally, or they can come in shapes like stars or keyholes.
Unlike slides or swipes, which usually imply that the scene has ended, wipes tend to indicate the scene remains unresolved.
This one is pretty self-explanatory: the video twists and spins to bring in the next shot. It’s another great way to add dynamic motion and energy to your final product.
Spins are especially successful if you keep everything in the frame identical except for one thing: a person, an object, or a time of day.
A blur transition is where one shot blurs and fades into the next. It’s an extremely effective way to transition in video and can create a sense of calm and relaxation. You can also change the speed of the blur to match the pacing you want to set.
8. Whip pan
A whip pan shot, also known as a swish pan effect, makes your video look like the camera is being whipped back and forth. It creates an almost disorienting motion blur, similar to a wipe but much faster.
Whip pans are the perfect transition if you want to create a fast and energized change in shots.
9. Hand over lens
Another viral editing technique, hand over lens is an easy but effective transition. At the end of their first shot, creators quickly cover their lens with a hand. Then they start their next shot with their hand over the lens and quickly move it away.
When both shots are edited together, it creates a nearly seamless transition.
Applying transitions to your project is, unfortunately, much easier in theory. It’s tempting to go overboard. While there’s no harm in experimenting or playing around with different techniques in post-production, there are a few best practices to remember that will help you avoid looking like a beginner.
Consistency is key
Try to keep your transitions consistent throughout your video. Using too many different transitions in a single project is distracting, confusing, and unnecessary.
Don’t lose focus
If you feel stuck, just focus on subtlety. As I said at the start, most transitions are designed to go unnoticed. If people are paying too much attention to your transitions, that means they’re not paying enough attention to the story you’re trying to tell.
Certain transitions will make us feel a certain way — it’s basically unavoidable. Try to keep these associations in mind, and use transitions with emotional weight — for example, the hopefulness of fading to white or the excitement of a quick zoom — only when it’s appropriate.
When used well, transitions can be the final touch that brings your story to life. They set the pace and the tone. Have fun exploring all the ways you can get from one shot to another. Don’t be afraid to try new things, but above all else, remember to prioritize the story you want to tell.