Don’t get us wrong. It’s an asset to know how to use different cinematography techniques and equipment, and do it well.
But when we only rely on the techniques that are most familiar to us, we can enter into a cycle that is creatively stifling and monotonous. We like our old tricks, so we overuse them. And then two things inevitably happen:
- We find ourselves in a creative rut, seeking out new inspiration in the same places.
- Our audience takes notice, and not always in a good way.
Think about how the bulk of American filmmakers in the 90’s and early 2000’s obsessed over the Dutch angle to the point where the effect started to lose its power. What once invoked a feeling of tension and unease started to come across as more satirical and try-hard to viewers.
Well, a similar thing has happened with transitions, and specifically with transition effects like fade in, fade out, cross dissolve, etc.
There are times when creators in the past, and even now, have gotten so caught up in the thrill of pulling off an interesting transition style that they overdo it. (It’s as if a robotic impulse takes over that has more to do with habit than actual creative purpose.)
Overusing or misusing transitions can make your YouTube videos seem amateurish or distracting to your viewers. So it makes sense that many creators are hesitant to use transitions in the first place.
But here’s the thing: transitions are necessary. They’re the adhesive that connects two shots and, ultimately, the entire video.
When it comes to YouTube transitions, what matters is that you know how to sort the good from the bad, the necessary from the superfluous, and the bold from the campy.
Good YouTube transitions do exist
If a video’s transitions trigger some kind of visceral reaction from the audience (a wince, an exasperated sigh, an eye roll, etc.), that’s an obvious sign that the transitions are bad and could use some major improvement.
But not all “bad” transitions are that noticeable at first.
Maybe you’re watching another creator’s video and just get the feeling that something is off. Or maybe you’re editing your own footage and your gut is telling you that your original plan for the video isn’t working.
Good transitions can keep your viewers engaged from start to finish. But when transitions go wrong, there’s a good chance that viewers will simply decide to stop watching your video.
If you’re unsure whether a certain transition style will be effective or ineffective in your video, there are four questions you should ask yourself before you start filming. It’s what we like to call the (unofficial) official transition test.
The (unofficial) YouTube transition test
Full disclosure: finding the right transitions isn’t an exact science.
YouTube has no shortage of video content, and stylistically, different types of transitions work better in different types of videos.
For instance, you might be more inclined to use over-the-top transition effects when making a sci-fi short film than you would when making a vlog style video. (In this latter case, you might opt for a more simple, minimalistic approach.)
But this isn’t true for everyone all the time.
The best way to decide once-and-for-all if using a certain transition is actually a good idea is to examine (or re-examine) your own rationale. Here are a few things to consider when doing this.
1. What is the intent and goal of the transition?
Having a lot of video editing tricks up your sleeve is nothing to scoff at or minimize, especially since your technical expertise gives you an upperhand in this already competitive industry.
But, to borrow an old gambling phrase, there is such a thing as overplaying your hand.
Simply put, it’s one thing to be an expert in video production, and it’s another to seem like you’re shouting from the proverbial rooftops, “I’m an expert, and this is everything I can do!”
Just because you know how to create every transition effect doesn’t mean you should.
While there’s nothing wrong with using a transition because it looks cool on-screen, it’s probably not the right one to use if that’s your only reason. Aesthetics matter, but your YouTube transitions should serve a purpose beyond that.
Take this transition from one of our Creative team’s Tips and Tricks videos, for example:
As you can see in the video, we used a diagonal transition to really emphasize the difference in image quality before and after our team rigged the lighting on location. It was a deliberate choice to use this transition, which is why it works.
2. Will this transition distract viewers?
Let’s say you’ve gone through the process of defining each transition's purpose. The next thing you’ll need to do is put yourself in the viewers’ shoes and consider, “Will this transition take attention away from the video itself?”
Granted, this is easier said than done when you’ve spent hours looking at and editing footage. So if you can, send rough edits to some of the creators you know to get an outsider’s input on how the transition works in the video.
The last thing you want is to use well-intentioned but extremely distracting transitions in your videos, especially since this can backfire and make your content less engaging.
3. Why this transition and not a different one?
You’ve got plenty of options when it comes to YouTube transitions. With a quick Google or YouTube search, you can filter through dozens of transition effects and how-to content. (It’s mind boggling really.)
This question is third on this list for a reason. At this stage, you’re on the cusp of finalizing the transitions you will use in your video. So, naturally, now is the time to double or triple check that there isn’t another transition style that would serve your purpose better.
If you’re 100% sure you want to opt for x transition instead of y, that’s great. But it’s always a good idea to consider your alternative options before you make the final call.
4. How will all of these transitions work together?
The last step in this (unofficial) official transition test is to look at your video, and all of the transitions, in its entirety.
How do the shots flow together? Are there any awkward transitions or last-minute improvements that you should make?
This is an opportunity to make sure that your YouTube transitions are all in sync with each other, which can go a long way in creating a great viewing experience for your audience.
When in doubt, find some inspiration
Choice overload is something you’ve probably already encountered when making YouTube videos and transitions. Being able to take so many different approaches can feel like a blessing and a curse at times.
One of the best ways to recharge your creative batteries and get inspiration for your videos is to follow other creators on YouTube.
Whether they’re in your same content niche or not, it can be enlightening to notice the subtle or not so subtle ways that other people integrate transitions in their videos.
And who knows? A transition effect that you refused to use three years ago might impress you if it was used in a unique way in someone else’s video.
The bottom line here is this: keep tabs on your fellow creators (like the ones below) and be open to learning from them.
Check out Cinematic Fanatic for eye-catching intros:
For filmmaking expertise and how-to videos, check out D4Darious:
For lots of different transitions effects, check out Parker Walbeck:
A few final thoughts
If the mention of “YouTube transitions” and “transition effects” made you think of a lone videographer wildly whipping their camera from side-to-side and up-and-down when reading this blog post — well, we get that. Ditto.
When you’ve seen your fair share of overused fade ins and fade outs (not to mention those classic checkerboard effects), it can leave a lasting negative impression on you.
This, in turn, can make you reluctant to experiment with different transition effects in your own YouTube videos.
One of the major takeaways from this article is that transition effects aren’t inherently bad or overused. They are simply tools for video editors to use when and how they want to create a certain visual effect on-screen.
YouTube transitions can and will add quality to your videos — whether it’s a simple cut from one shot to the next or a more stylized transition.
You just have to make sure that each transition serves a purpose, isn’t distracting, and improves the flow of the video as a whole.
By asking yourself questions like the ones in this article, what you’re really doing is challenging your own rationale and checking in with yourself to make sure that you’re exercising your full creative potential — and not overlooking something that could make your content even better.
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