Zip from shot to shot with film transitions.
Fade in, fade out, cutaway — transitions are the thread that stitches a film together. Learn about the different types, and experiment with them yourself.
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Transitions guide your audience.
When you jump from scene to scene in a film, or even between cuts, the way you transition can make or break a scene. Conceptually, transitions convey a passage of time, character movement, pauses, storylines, and silence. They structure the film from first shot to last. There are several common forms — the wipe, the dissolve, the split-cut, and many more.
Practically, transitions are how film editors move a scene from one video clip to another. Transitions don’t necessarily have to be visual. They can also be conveyed with music or sound effects. The effectiveness of transitions in your films comes down to how well you can fit different shots together, and that often depends on the pre-production and shooting process.
Learn types of video transitions.
Great film editing begins with getting to know the available options when it comes to adding transitions. Learning about straight cuts, jump cuts, dissolves, and more will help you get a sense of where you can go with transitions.
The straight cut
The straight cut — also known as the hard cut, standard cut, or A to B cut — is one of the most basic transitions to get to the next shot in the same scene. It’s simply a transition from one shot to another, with no effects. Straight cuts are the foundation of continuity editing, which is the process of maintaining a film’s cohesiveness throughout its runtime.
While there are examples of straight cuts in just about every film ever made, don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a generic piece of editing. Straight cuts can create jarring connections between moments in a scene, build the foundations of a montage, or provide a connective thread to maintain the 180-degree rule.
“Most of the emotion in a scene is often concentrated in reaction rather than action, particularly in comedy,” says cinematographer Steven Bernstein. The straight cut forms the connective tissue between action and reaction. The Cut tool in Adobe Premiere Pro is the simplest way to cut and join clips for compelling straight cuts.
The jump cut
A more advanced version of the straight cut is the jump cut. To create a jump cut transition, remove a section of one continuous shot, so the audience has the feeling of lurching forward through time.
The dissolve is another common transition that either fades a shot into black or white or blends two scenes together. It’s often used to signal to the audience that they are entering a new scene and that time has passed. Dissolves can add some classic Hollywood flair, depending on how they are used.
A cross dissolve is when one shot is blended into the next. Some of the most iconic cross dissolves are in Citizen Kane. In one of these, a character leaves through swinging doors and the audience is brought slowly into the next scene, hovering over a printing press. The dissolve and camera movement blend together the two moments so they feel conceptually linked, in spite of the audience jumping through time and space. This is also an example of a match cut, where similar things or single colors are matched through a transition.
In Premiere Pro, there are many dissolve options in the Effects workspace, and you can drop them onto a clip and adjust them in the Effect Controls panel. While cross dissolves can be effective, experiment with fading to black or white as well, to see what works best for your shot.
Some transitions can be so jarring visually that they need sound to accompany the leap. This is very common in action sequences, where poor sound mixing can create a cacophony of sound and motion. Ensuring that each shot leads into the next, in terms of both visuals and sound, is essential.
For example, if a character is running down train tracks with the camera pointed at their back, one way to build tension would be to layer the train whistle over the running shot and then cut to a train barreling down the tracks. Having the same sound work across both sequences keeps them conceptually linked.
These types of transitions are referred to as J and L cuts. This refers to the shape of the audio and video tracks overlapping in the edit. In a J cut, you hear the audio from the following track in the current track, like in the train example above. In an L cut, the sound from the previous shot overlaps into the next shot. The L cut is less common, but can also work to great effect.
More transition possibilities
Here are some other common transition techniques:
- Parallel editing
Also called cross cuts, these are jump cuts between two different narratives that are happening simultaneously for the audience (flashbacks commonly use the parallel editing technique).
- Additive Dissolve transition
Brightly flashing into the next frame can often serve double duty, disorienting the audience and conveying a hard shift.
Potentially a bit over-the-top, spinning the frame to transition can add a comedic effect.
- Wipe transitions
Most famously used in the original Star Wars film, wipes can help transition between different locations.
- Cutaway shot
Similar to a cross cut, a cutaway shot inserts a shot of another object or action into an ongoing action sequence.
Plan and shoot with an eye for shifts.
While transitions are made in the editing room, their journey begins much sooner — first in pre-production, and then on the shoot itself.
Start with a storyboard.
The storyboard is where the visual planning for your film begins. You don’t want to conceive of an action sequence or other complicated series of shots while you’re on set. Having a plan, especially for complex scenes, will keep things moving. According to Bernstein, “For an action sequence complicated with chases, special effects, stunts, and explosions, you have to plan out everything in minute detail, because you don’t want to shoot too much. But you also don’t want to shoot too little.”
Shoot with cutting in mind.
While storyboarding is important, you don’t have to be inflexible. Allow for improvisation in scenes when you’re shooting, and capture extra head and tail for each scene. That’s to say, if you record extra footage on both ends of a shot, you have more room to cut and add transitions in later.
Beginner tips and tricks.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced filmmaker, reviewing the possibilities for transitions can help open new doors into your post-production editing process.
Shoot more and experiment.
Thanks to digital technology, there’s a lot more room to capture extra footage with less constraint. Give yourself plenty of footage to work with when you’re shooting, and things will be easier to cut together later. Above all, experiment, take risks, and be brave — the results can often surprise you.
“You very often discover what shots you want to use when you’re in the cutting room. Get everything from lots of different angles, and decide when you’re editing which ones you're going to use,” says Bernstein.
Make space for your story.
Every film, whether it’s a documentary or a high-budget thriller, contains a narrative. This narrative often has natural inflection points where the viewer can experience a visceral or emotional reaction to what’s occurring. Transitions help make this happen by guiding the viewer and providing (or denying) space for their thoughts.
Organize your footage.
Creating compelling transitions starts with something that’s a bit less exciting — organization. Luckily, Premiere Pro makes organization and categorization simple.
Create a timeline with the rough sequence of your edit to help yourself organize clips and start to figure out a basic flow. Once you’ve done that, relabel clips for easy identification and create labeled folders for a solid foundation for your project.
Compelling transitions knit together your film, and when you start to explore different ways to cut scenes, you become the weaver. Learn more about other film editing techniques, and discover all the ways Premiere Pro can help video editors edit a film from opening shot to final cut.
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