In video and filmmaking terminology, a “transition” could be defined as the way in which any two video shots are joined together.
The first point to understand about transitions is that misuse or overuse of transitions is a sign of an amateur, in the same way that overuse of slide transitions in a PowerPoint presentation are unprofessional. Especially if too many different types of transitions are utilized. In short, any way that transitions call attention to themselves and distract from the video continuity would be poor utilization.
Conversely, when used professionally (“not” to the point of overuse), effective transitions bridge different video shots together to produce a better message or story flow.
There are significantly more transitions than depicted in this article, but the following are among the most widely used.
Video Transition: The “Cut”
The most common transition is the “cut.” This is simply one video clip changing instantly to the next shot.
Cuts are the best way to keep the action or momentum moving along at a good pace.
Straight cuts are not only simple, but they create smaller overall file sizes, which are an advantage for web videos. (In other words, adding transitions create larger video files, and on the Internet, smaller files are desirable).
Video Transition: The “Crossfade” or “Dissolve”
The next most common transition is the crossfade, or dissolve. This is simply one video shot gradually changing to the next.
The timing of crossfades can be made shorter or longer and they generally provide a more relaxed feel than a cut and slow the pace of the video. Dissolves can better convey a sense of passing time than a cut.
Video Transition: The “Wipe”
A wipe is a more complex transition, and includes a number of variations.
One way to think of a simple wipe would be imagining a single sweep of a slow windshield wiper as a transition from one shot to the next while it moves across the screen.
Variations include an iris wipe, a heart wipe, a clock wipe, and a star wipe, in which the name approximates the geometric manner in which the wiping motion occurs.
Examples: an “iris wipe” is like an expanding or contracting circle. A “heart wipe” or “star wipe” is like an expanding or contracting heart or star. And a “clock wipe” moves around in a circle.
Video Transition: The “Fade”
Two key transitions are fade-up from black and fade to black. Fading in from a single color, such as black, conveys a sense of “beginning.” And nothing says “the end” like a fade to black. (Fades can be used with other colors, too).
Keep it Simple
Effective integration of transitions should always be inspired by some aspect of the story that is being conveyed in your video. For example, a transition may signify a change in location, or a change in the pace of the action, or simply the passage of time. If there’s no specific reason to use a transition, keep it simple and use a cut.
Another application of transitions is to smooth out minor video (or even audio) errors, which could appear more prominent with a cut, but which may be less apparent by a well-placed dissolve.
As a concluding note: Transitions should not call attention to themselves. Their job is to subtly support the video story or message.
Avid hiker, bicyclist, motorcyclist, long-time seasoned advertising pro and taste-tester of too much organic dark chocolate. Founder of Skyworks Marketing, Nonprofit Fire and Founder/Producer of local cable TV series Our Ventura TV. One career highlight was working on a small team that built a business from nothing to over $100 Million in 3 years.