6 Tips for Editing Instagram Reels

From beginner to pro, a guide to filming and editing your next Instagram Reel.

In 2016, Instagram introduced Instagram Stories, a feature that set out to dampen Snapchat’s continued growth, and ultimately, it did just that. In 2020, Instagram Reels was revealed, a feature similar to rival the ever-popular video sharing application TikTok. While successful at launch, the popularity of Instagram Reels didn’t take off until a simple UI adjustment. Instead of having the “create new post” button at the center of the mobile application, Instagram adjusted the layout so the Reels feed appeared as the central button of the app. Now, nearly every sports team, celebrity, and influencer is using Reels to grow their brand. Let’s look at six editing tips so you can get the best out of the app, as well.


1. How to Edit

Ok, before we give you some tips on editing, it’s best to know the core basics of how to edit with the app. Don’t worry, it’s relatively easy. And, if you’re not technically versed, we have a quick, three-minute tutorial that will give you a step-by-step guide on using the application.

The video covers everything from shooting, editing, and using effects, so make sure you check that out before moving forward.

If you’re already a filmmaker or editor and are simply looking to grow your platform, I’m sure you’ll be familiar with a number of the concepts mentioned.


2. Cutting on Action for Transitions

Image by Veles Studio.

Cutting on action is one of the core fundamentals of film editing to create a sense of fluid and continuous movement. An example of this technique would be of a man accidentally dropping a plate in a wide shot. Just as the plate touches the floor, we cut to a close-up to see the plate smash into pieces. If you cut too early and the plate is still falling, the fluidity of movement is off, and the moment will feel jarred. If you cut too late, the impact will be missed, and the cut will be noticeable.

Cutting on action is also the perfect technique for when you’re creating transitions of yourself. However, it does require pre-emptive planning. There’s a popular Reel of a woman dancing and the camera is high above facing the dance. From that perspective, we’re watching her shadow more than the woman herself. The scene continues to cut to different locations, while the dancing remains consistent.

The reason why this works is that the edit conjoins two clips where the woman’s actions match. If her hand is midway over her head in Shot One, you’d then edit Shot Two and start it just a frame forward from the position in Shot One.

You can see it put to use in this Reel, where a man walks along a mountainside in both daytime and nightime.


3. Smooth Wipe

Image by Kaponia Aliaksei.

As digital cinema cameras became more mainstream in the 2000s, we’ve seen an increase in films being shot as if it was a single take. Birdman and 1917 are examples. A method that allows filmmakers to trick the audience into thinking that a long, complex shot was captured in one take, as they pass the camera in front of something, stop recording, then start again from behind the object. The editor will then cut the two shots together when both the first shot and second shot are behind the thing.

You, too, can do this on Instagram Reels for a smooth-looking edit. This Reel pokes fun at the wave of new content creators making videos like this, but it’s also precisely what you need to do to create the effect.

You simply take your phone and quickly pass it behind an object. This can be a door, a person, anything that blocks the camera. Then, in the same direction, start the phone from behind an object and move outward.

When in Reels, use the trim tool to cut the excess video footage, so the first shot cuts when behind the object, and the second shot starts exactly behind the object. The things don’t even have to be the same. As long as the camera is slightly obscured, the edit will be unnoticeable.

Here’s the smooth wipe in action.


4. Align Tool

Are you looking to create a Reel filled with snazzy outfit changes or instant object transformations? This falls on the line of also editing on the action. However, when you’re standing still, it can make the cut slightly more challenging to pull off, as there’s no inherent action to cut to.

Jillian Nicole is a pro at this.

Thankfully, Instagram has a built-in tool for you to do this easily—the Align tool. Simply open the app and create your first recording.

Align Tool

Change outfits, remove the object, and then select the Align tool. You’ll now see an overlay of the prior video clip, allowing you to align yourself in the overlay position correctly.

Align Tool
At first, it’s going to look blurry. The idea is that you want to match the previous pose as close as possible.

If you’re filming yourself, you’ll also have to make sure you have the timer active so you can get yourself into position. Be warned—it’s not as easy as it sounds and requires a lot of patience. Take a deep breath when finding the perfect place to keep still.


5. Cut to the Beat

This tip is undoubtedly more helpful if you’re creating a reel within editing software, then uploading it to Reels as a completed video (remember, a reel can only be up to thirty-seconds long).

Cutting to the beat is a tried and tested formula for music video editing to create a rhythmic form of visuals. While you don’t have to cut to every single beat, when you’re switching scenes, cutting on a beat is aesthetically pleasing.

There’s a new trend of users saying, “What I mean when I say I live in *add location*.” The following Reel is accompanied by a remix of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody To Love,” and when the beat kicks in, we’re presented with a series of pictures or videos that cut to the heavy bassline.

To do this, simply bring your content into editing software (this could be Adobe Rush on mobile, too). Then, open up the waveform properties of the music track. When you see these large spikes:

Large Spikes

That means there’s a drum hit or bass hit at this moment. You then want to cut the current image or video clip, and cut to the next one. You can repeat this as you see fit.


6. If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them

Finally, if you find yourself endlessly scrolling through the presented Reels that Instagram algorithmically shows you, you’ll notice a recurring theme with both editing techniques and music used. Whether it’s a snowboarder grabbing insane air to the intro of “Astronauts In The Ocean” and landing when the beat kicks in, or perhaps a Reel of a guy filming with his phone on a hot air balloon with “Capone – Oh No” playing, and when he drops the phone, you hear “Oh no, oh no, oh no no no” with black and white close-ups of the phone falling through the sky. These tracks and editing tropes are used time and time again until the next trend rolls up. While it won’t promote originality, the familiar conventions of following popular trends are a good way to engage non-followers.

For example, Labrinth’s “Still Don’t Know My Name” has become one of the TikTok and Instagram Reel tracks consistently played for scenic travel clips. Look at the difference between these two reels that feature the same content.

The original reel from kiteboarder Reno Romeu:

And, the reupload from a Kite Surfing community page:

They were both uploaded on the same day, but Kite Surfing Official has nearly double the views. I’d argue that a good reason for that is because of the Labrinth track. As it’s been used so often, it reinforces the genre convention that we’re about to see something wild, and that casual scroller holds on a little longer before flipping to the next reel.


A lot of the techniques talked about and presented are common filmmaking and editing techniques. If you’d like to dig a little deeper on editing tricks, check out this tutorial.


For more Instagram tips, check out these articles:

Cover image via chaoss.

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