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Timeline Tip: Editing the Details

Believe it or not, a very common mistake many editors make is actually forgetting that they can zoom in on their timeline. To properly fine tune a cut, a music edit, or whatever you’re editing, you need to both zoom in on your timeline and enlarge your track size vertically as required, depending on what you’re working on.

Why Zoom in?

There are two main benefits of zooming in on your timeline. First, it lessens the distractions caused by everything else in your field of view – it sounds crazy, but it’s true! Editing can be overwhelming at times because of the large number of assets and edits that you’ll have going on.

The more you edit, the more you’ll want to cultivate selective attention. This is a cognitive process in which a person attends to one or a few sensory inputs while ignoring the other ones. Zooming in not only focuses your timeline, but your attention as well. You’ll focus on the essential elements, and all other details that would slow you down get ignored.

Two screenshots of a timeline in a Non-Linear Editing Software, showing how much easier it is to edit clips when zoomed in
Visual noise is greatly reduced when you zoom in, letting you focus on just the essential elements

Improving the Edit

Additionally, zooming in on the timeline gives you a fine level of control. When you’re zoomed out, you don’t have that frame-by-frame accuracy, and you’ll end up making incorrect adjustments to things and messing with an edit far longer than you need to. Nobody wants to leave a black frame in their timeline unintentionally. Making small precise adjustments and tweaks to picture and audio is what distinguishes the amateur editor from the professional. This attention to detail is only possible when you can see everything happening in the timeline on a granular level.

In the example below, a woman is entering an elevator, and we want to make her hand stopping the door a dramatic moment, using a big sound effect and some impactful timing of the music. If we try to cut those elements in while zoomed out, when we play the clip back it’s obvious the timing is off. By zooming in, we can get a much better look at the audio wave forms to line up the music’s hit with the hit of the sound effect. Then it’s much easier to line up your audio to the visual of the hand coming in without the visual clutter of a busy timeline.

Two screenshots of the same timeline in a Non-Linear Editing Software, demonstrating how much easier it is to edit a section of footage when zoomed in
Zooming in allows you to make fine adjustments to you edit, such as timing music and sound effects to a single frame

Tools for Zooming

Zooming in on the timeline is so essential that every editing system has several ways to do it. Let’s take a tour from the most basic to the most sophisticated.

By clicking on the scale slider and dragging it to the right, the timeline will expand horizontally and show more detail. You can use commands to see more or less details in the timeline incrementally. You can zoom into a region and target specific areas that you want to work on, and you can return to the previous level of magnification and see the entire timeline again.

Alternatively, by using a feature like Avid Media Composer’s appropriately named Focus button, you can change your view of the timeline to see a few seconds of material on each side of the position indicator. And finally, some NLEs have a timeline sequence map, which lets you see and navigate the entire sequence, adjusting your current view of the timeline as you mouse around the white box.

A visual guide on five different tools commonly found in Non-Linear Editing Software to adjust the scale of the timeline
NLEs have different tools to help you zoom in and out of your timeline

Wrap Up

To edit efficiently and effectively, you’ll want to quickly isolate and enlarge the area of the timeline that you’re working on. Get into the habit of zooming in, and you’ll be surprised at how many problems it solves.

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