L-cut followed by a J-cut on the Camtasia timeline.

How to Edit Videos: L-Cuts and J-Cuts

Professional video editors work absolute magic when it comes to the movies and television shows we see today. They weave powerful narratives through image and sound that move our emotions. It’s an intimidating standard when we casual video creators try our hand. But, there’s a secret: With some simple know-how anyone can create remarkable videos. Today, I’m going to share with you two easy editing techniques that will help you learn how to edit videos and make even better videos while beefing up your video editing repertoire.

In this post I’ll be talking about J-cuts and L-cuts, two common but powerful editing techniques often used by professional editors. Both are a type of split edit, which is a transition from one shot to another where the audio and video transition at different times. Split edits are usually used as transitions between footage within scenes instead of using transition effects, like fades (also called dissolves) or wipes, because they help maintain visual continuity. I know imagining exactly what this looks like isn’t easy, so let’s look at a couple of examples.

An L-cut is when the audio from the preceding scene continues to play over the footage from the following scene.

J-cut is just the reverse of an L-cut. The audio from the following scene plays over video from the preceding footage.

Now that you know what L-cuts and J-cuts look like in a video, let’s learn how to set each up on the Camtasia timeline.

The Basics

Both L-cuts and J-cuts are made up of three things: (1) primary footage video, (2) primary footage audio, and (3) b-roll or another video clip. Depending on how these three elements are arranged, we can create an L-cut or a J-cut. I have all three of these things on the Camtasia timeline. The primary footage and its associated audio have been separated. I’ll use this media to create both an L-cut and a J-cut.

Footage on Camtasia timeline for creating L-cuts and J-cuts.

Create an L-Cut

As mentioned earlier, an L-cut is when audio from a preceding scene plays over footage from the next scene. I have setup an L-cut on the timeline in the example below. Notice how the primary footage audio on the bottom track remains constant but the primary footage video is cut and the b-roll clip begins. This creates an “L” shape with the primary footage and its audio. Thus, we have an L-cut.

An example of an L-cut on the Camtasia timeline.

Create a J-Cut

Now, lets see how a J-cut, which is essentially the reverse of an L-cut, appears on the timeline.

I’ve changed the beginning of the video and setup a J-cut on the timeline. To do this, I kept the same audio from the primary footage on the bottom track, but I begin the video with b-roll. Then, I cut from the b-roll to the primary footage. The result is a shape between the primary footage and it’s audio that approximates a J.

AN example of a J-cut on the Camtasia timeline.

A Step Further

What we’ve seen so far are simple L-cuts and J-cuts used to begin a video, but that is by no means the only time they are useful. Let’s look at one more example in which both an L-cut and a J-cut is used to transition between two different speakers.

I’ve added another clip to my project and named it Primary-Footage-2. The new clip contains a second person that will be speaking. I need to begin with the first speaker, Speaker A, and then transition to the second speaker, Speaker B. To do this, begin the video with Speaker A. After a few seconds of Speaker A talking, I use an L-cut to switch the video to the b-roll. Then, near the end of the b-roll, I cut to the audio from Speaker B. After a moment or two playing b-roll and Speaker B’s audio, I will cut to the video of Speaker B using a J-cut. Check out the image below to see how this looks on the Camtasia timeline.

L-cut followed by a J-cut on the Camtasia timeline.

The L-cut and J-cut in this sequence make the transition between speakers feel natural, as opposed to a jarring jump cut from Speaker A to Speaker B.

Now that you know what they look like and how to set them up, try getting creative with some L-cuts and J-cuts in your own projects. They’re a simple way to add a professional touch to any video.

If you enjoyed this primer on L-cuts and J-cuts, you might be interested in our post about common video editing mistakes!