Hone Your Visual Style: Discovering and Developing Your Editing Style | Ryan Kao | Skillshare

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Hone Your Visual Style: Discovering and Developing Your Editing Style

teacher avatar Ryan Kao, Cinematographer, Video Editor

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Finding Inspiration


    • 3.

      Differentiating Your Visual Voice


    • 4.

      Navigating Your Visual Style in Client Work


    • 5.

      Reflecting on Your Own Style


    • 6.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Discover your power as an editor by leaning into your unique style, identity, and inspiration.  

There are a lot of things Ryan Kao wishes he had known before starting his career as a freelance video editor and cinematographer. From learning editing essentials to finding his distinctive visual style to properly managing client projects and marketing himself on social media, developing skills like these have helped Ryan go on to secure opportunities with brands like Nike, Adidas, and IKEA as well as cultivate a community of almost 250K across YouTube and Instagram. 

Now, Ryan wants to share everything he’s learned about crafting a unique identity and sense of style as a video editor. In this class, you’ll learn how to find new sources of inspiration, translate your visual style into client work, and create your style guide using one of Ryan’s favorite tools. 

With Ryan by your side, you’ll:

  • Analyze your media consumption and previous work to find inspiration
  • Create your own reference library and style guide using Milanote
  • Discover how to work in tandem with a client’s needs and creative brief 
  • Understand you own style and how to use it to your advantage

Plus, Ryan will share some of his favorite edits, inspiration, and creative reference library as a full-time freelance editor. 

Whether you’ve been working as an editor for years but can’t seem to figure out your unique style or want to start your career off by honing and developing your unique visual style right off the bat, you’ll leave this class with a better sense and understanding of style, how to find new ways to influence your style and how you to translate that into your personal and professional work

  • Basic video editing knowledge and experience will be helpful when taking the class. You’ll need your computer to get started. You can also bring pen and paper to take notes. Learn more about video editing in Ryan’s full Learning Path.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Ryan Kao

Cinematographer, Video Editor


Ryan Kao is a cinematographer and video editor based in Los Angeles. What started as a simple childhood hobby over 15 years ago has grown into a thriving and transformative career as a full-time freelancer in the video industry. With cinematography and post-production work ranging from commercial, documentary, and narrative pieces. He is proud to say that his work has taken him all over the world. Making and learning from mistakes along the way has allowed him to discover some unique perspectives and strategies over the years. He's also been so honored to share his knowledge and experiences on YouTube with an audience of over 200,000 subscribers. This creative community has fueled his career beyond anything he could ever imagine possible, and he's beyond excited to share even more with ... See full profile

Level: Intermediate

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1. Introduction: Your power as an editor is your own style. It's your own identity that is deeply connected to you. As you grow, your style is going to grow with you. My name is Ryan Kao. I'm a freelance video editor and cinematographer based in Los Angeles. You may have seen some of my work on YouTube where I have a channel talking all about film making, storytelling, my experience as an editor, and a cinematographer. I'm regularly doing freelance commercial work for brands like Adidas, Nike, Jordan. I also have been more recently tapping into the narrative space, doing some documentary work, and also some scripted short films. In this class, we're going to go over things like finding new sources for inspiration. How to translate your visual style into client work, and even how to reflect on your past work to help you maybe grow past previous versions of yourself. I want to share with you some of my personal experiences, the things that I've found new inspiration from, share some of my creative references, and also a tool that I've been using as a style guide for myself as a video editor that you guys can follow along here within the class project. By the end of this class, you'll hopefully have a better sense and understanding of style, and how you can find new ways to influence it and really understand how you want to translate that into your work. I couldn't be more excited to talk about this information with you guys today. It's absolutely something I wish I understood when I first got my career going. Let's jump in. 2. Finding Inspiration: Today, we're going to go over a few ways to hone and develop your own unique visual style. This is an incredibly competitive industry. It's also one where our work and the work of our competition, it's all around us. Whether it's social media, the YouTube content that we're consuming, TV, movies, we're constantly seeing the edits that other people are pushing out. There's been plenty of times in my career where I'd watch an incredible piece of content and instead of feeling motivated and inspired to get out and go create something, I'd find myself feeling insecure about my own edits and style. Instead of focusing on the differences between what you create and what you consume, it's important to focus on the relationship between your own visual style and your editing style. Developing at this practice will allow you to more confidently create those striking edits that will stand out and more like the ones you probably find yourself watching on repeat. It's important here to think about diversifying our media consumption. As a video editor, you need to be fluent in a variety of different visual aesthetics. Maybe you're a person who's a regular YouTube consumer, you're watching content from a bunch of your favorite creators, and maybe that's the style that you aspire to create. But one thing that I think we should all be conscious of and actively practice is consuming different types of things. Maybe spend some time watching films from different genres, different cultures, even time periods. Take note of those emotions that those stories leave you with. It seems sad in some ways, but in Western culture, particularly American culture, we are limited to a certain amount of taste that we're given within the films that make headlines in our current market. There's so many amazing films from different countries that are evoking totally new forms of emotional cinema and storytelling that I think we could learn a lot from. I've personally been really enjoying watching a lot of South Korean films. There's been some incredible stories that have been coming out of that. I think Parasite is a perfect example here. I think just getting out of your box a little bit and searching beyond what's just currently on social media and on the main pages is something that we could all be a little bit better at doing. Music is also another way we can diversify our content consumption. I know we all have our favorite genres that we like to listen to on a regular basis. Me personally, I regularly like listening to hip-hop, of course, R&B, even alternative or ND music. But I find that in filmmaking, in storytelling, in video editing, music is such a strong driving factor to creating emotional response in your viewer. Choosing to listen to genres that might not necessarily be comfortable to you and expanding that palette, that library for sounds for rhythms, for emotional cadence is such a strong way that we can begin to build a more diverse palette for our editing styles. When it comes to editing with music, choosing the right track and syncing it flawlessly with the rhythm and the emotion can do so much for elevating the narrative in the story that the edit creates. The rhythm, the tempo, the mood of the song can do so much to guiding your cuts, your effects and transitions and help to create a deep connected visual experience for your viewer. One huge key to doing this to diversifying our inspiration sources is consuming as a viewer and not always as a creator. Watching a magician, it's like one of the purest forms of entertainment. Usually, it's because we're not so concerned with all of the smoke and mirrors, we just want to see something that amazes us. Watching content is in a way, no different. If we're spending time trying to figure out and dissect how they colored that shot, what camera that was shot on, what lens was used for that? More often than not, we may end up watching through that story without even taking away the emotional response that it intended to deliver us. What this means is that sometimes you can often be left with a pretty empty understanding of why a visual story was impactful, what those edits did to help convey that action, those character emotions or to help better sell a product. For me, one of my favorite directors is Yorgos Lanthimos. He has this incredible iconic style of very mundane but unique and striking dystopian films, stuff that really evokes very strange emotional response. I've found that while a film like this definitely doesn't fall in line with the type of editing that I would really be doing on a regular basis, and certainly not stuff I would regularly be paid for. Watching movies like this for me, can have a huge impact and be massively beneficial in helping me break past some creative plateaus or sticking points that I'm feeling in my own creativity. Take some time to maybe go watch a few of your favorite pieces of work. It can be movies. It can be commercials, some things from your favorite creators. Take some time to watch through. Watch the story first. Take away the emotional impact it left you with, and then revisit it at another time through that creator lens, and take some time to take away those notes and those ideas that can help you to guide you in your next project. If we begin to implement these practices, this will help us to develop a strong sense of visual literacy, which is another incredibly important attribute to have as video editor. What I mean by that is your ability to look at a shot. Look at a given scene and say, this shot sells this product. This shot makes me feel happier. This shot makes me feel curious or maybe even contemplative or sad. Being an editor means you ultimately have the power to turn that footage into whatever you want. It might sound a little weird, but you could take footage from a funeral and make it look like one of the biggest parties of the year with the right skills, the right music, the right editing choices behind it. Maybe that's not the point here, but in many ways, as an editor, you hold all of the cards to the story. You in most cases are the last person to touch that and really determine how this is going to come across so take time to study shots and analyze the impact of what a scene or a cut created in that particular edit. Now that we've talked about all of these ideas and how to find inspiration, find reference work, create your own reference library and this can be anything. Think of it like a playlist of videos that inspire you from all sorts of different sources. You can use sources like Vimeo, YouTube, but I personally have been using a platform called Milanote and creating my own visual style guide as a board. This is also a class project for you guys, where I'm going to have a template that's exactly like the one that I'm showing here, and you guys can follow along. In this first card over here on the left, I have a board for visual inspiration. If we pull this open, I've dropped in a bunch of references of some of my favorite content. These are a variety of different commercial spots from Vimeo. It's one of my favorite movies that I've referenced from Yorgos Lanthimos, The Lobster. It's just a palette, a visual place that I can add a glance. If I'm feeling a little stuck or creatively uninspired I can pop into this, look over a few of these references, look at some of these frames and get maybe some new ideas, some new spark of excitement for that next project I'm taking on. Now that we've got this visual guide to reference and follow along with here, let's jump into our next lesson in talking about how to differentiate your visual voice. 3. Differentiating Your Visual Voice: Now that we've talked a bit through finding new inspiration from different places, let's talk some steps on how to actually apply those into your own visual style. One thing that I've noticed catching myself doing over time is that as a video editor, I'm not often actually practicing. It's this weird thing we do. You think maybe I just took a vacation and I shot some video clips maybe on your phone or your camera of some sort. You come back and you're like, I could maybe throw together a quick little travel edit. This will be good practice. Well, the truth is, well, maybe that's a fun stylistic thing to do. How often are you as an editor really going to be hired to edit together clips from a vacation? Probably not all that often. It seems a little counter intuitive because the things that we want to get better with at editing, commercials, short films, music videos, probably not going to have clips from a vacation. How can we effectively practice? How can we actually get better? One approach that I've developed this, coping. Now bear with me. I realize that may seem a little bit odd. Coping being a good thing. It's a weird stigma that we've developed in the age of social media. People want to identify themselves and stand out amongst the crowd, and certainly I'm not endorsing going out, copying the work of somebody and claiming it as your own. But I do think we should all be very conscious of the benefits that come from recreating work in your own way of defining your own style. Maybe pick a scene from a movie or pick a section of a commercial that really caught your eye. Find a song that maybe was amazing that you watched in a piece and use it in your own work, and practice recreating some of those elements in that edit. This is such a fast way to, instead of just practicing the basics, the small technicals, actually applying it all into a singular piece for you to improve your own skill set. For example, here in my reference board, I've got a ton of different stuff. Some things that align very directly with the work I'm doing as an editor, but some things that are totally out of the box. This is a really cool high energy spot from New Balance for one of their shoes from a couple of years ago. There's so many amazing little small editing techniques in here. I love going back to this one because there's just so much energy in camera movement. This is an amazing branded, like Docu commercial from Adidas, talking about the design of a unique shoe that they put out. There's so many elements within this edit, the way that they choose to show the interviews that really captivate your attention. The story itself isn't even all that exciting, but the way that the editor bridged all of this archive information, it's just striking. I love watching this edit. There's this really beautiful of fashion film. I think it's an editorial piece for a new collection from Zemo. I don't even really know much about the brand, but the way that this piece was shot, the sound design, the editing cadence, it has such an amazing character that I think is really pivotal into how it was edited. I often find myself watching this piece to study that and think about the pacing of dialogue and how I'm cutting a particular scene. Personally, I am so driven by music, by sound. There are so many times that I've found songs that I fall in love with and develop a deep emotional connection to. There's this funny thing that happens with music as video editors. We're restricted with the songs, the tracks that we're actually able to use, one way that we can help differentiate our style and practice these elements is maybe grab one of your favorite songs, like something that you actually listen to on a regular basis. Don't worry about the copyright, just use that to actually create a unique piece. I have so many songs that I've pulled from different artists that I've fallen in love with, Baby Keem is a really unique one, Kendrick Lamar. They've developed such a unique tone within their work over the last handful of years, and I've certainly found myself envisioning so many creative ideas. Of course, in a client project, probably not going to use one of their songs, but to practice, this is a good way that we can differentiate and get out of our comfort zones. Music as a whole is not only a place that we can find new inspiration, but it's also something that we can use to stand out and differentiate ourselves as editors. I've personally found that I really get excited when I see an editor use a song that's out of the norm of what you would expect from a traditional edit. Maybe we see a high energy sports commercial. But there's a classical piano ballot underneath it. When that is done with taste and it feels authentic to the story, the emotional impact that that creates is so unique and so powerful. Finding ways that we can utilize genres of music as a tool to help ourselves stand out is just one of those secret tools. Just like we created our visual reference library, our playlist inside of Milena here, I also have another board for music inspiration. I take some songs from different genres, make sure they're different, things that have a deep emotional impact to you. It doesn't have to be songs you'll actually use in an edit, but again, just some things that get your brain turning and get you inspired. Here in this board, I brought in a handful of some of my favorite songs. A couple of these I actually have used in some edits, but they just really stuck with me. Some of them are pulls from completely random places. But I use this as just a quick way to skim through a handful of different sounds and get my brain in that creative editor's mindset of really thinking how I can differentiate my style as I approach a new project. Finally, another way that we can practice differentiating our visual voice is maybe try a self editing challenge. Put some constraints on yourself. Maybe give yourself a creative brief just like a client would. Use stock footage, use a particular type of music that you've never really tried to edit with before. I'm sure we've all heard of those in 24-hour or 72-hour film festivals where a bunch of people get together with a specific prompt to create a film in a super constrained amount of time. I realize those might seem a little hectic and a little intense to jump into, but doing a practice like this, just giving yourself a box to try and work within that you're not comfortable with can really help you to define yourself as an editor and develop a stronger connection to your own style. Now that we've walked through some ways, some actionable things that we can do to apply these inspirations and references to our own style, let's move on to talking about how that style translates into your client work. 4. Navigating Your Visual Style in Client Work: The key to client work is getting to know their brand and their needs. It's not necessarily always placing your stamp on that work. Every gig is going to be different. Knowing how and when to infuse your own creative style, or when to maybe take a bit of a back seat, is such an important attribute to have as a freelancer. In some cases you may have full creative control, but in many cases you probably won't have any. In this lesson, I want to talk to you guys a bit about knowing how and where to flex your own creative style versus knowing when to let those personal tastes be a bit more on the back burner. Your main objective as a video editor is to use your understanding of visual style and video formats and use that to dissect your client's brand and their needs to help better inform your creative decision making when you take on that edit. But of course, it's important to be cautious to not experimenting with your own style within that client work. Your goal is to create a puzzle that looks like it was never a puzzle, but instead just a completed piece of art. Good editing is fundamentally invisible. If a cut or a transition, sound, even color, stands out just a little bit too much that can be just enough to remove the audience from that experience. Your job is to do your best to create that seamless end product. Once you've landed a new project, a new edit with a client, you'll spend some time acquiring all of the assets that they'll provide to you for the project. Of course, that's all of the video footage, maybe it's graphic assets, maybe it's logos or music. One way that I think that style can apply to a client project is did they provide a song for you? If they did, great, saves you some time. But if they didn't, that's an area that you can use your own style and influence from what we just talked about before to provide your own touch into that project. As you begin to take on that edit and really understanding the needs for what is going to happen with that edit is a YouTube video. Is it a short film, is it a commercial? Using your understanding of all of those various formats and the content that you're consuming is the way that you can influence and inform your creative editing decisions. Here within our [inaudible] guide, I've left some boards for you, kind of blank that you can drop in, brand assets, maybe from the client, maybe they've provided you some past references to projects that they've done that they're looking to use as a guide for this new edit that you're taking on. Maybe they have some fonts, maybe they have some graphics. Bringing this in and visually ordering this stuff for you to look at in combo with some of your own personal references is a great way to keep all of this information contained in your own mind to give you that creative inspiration when maybe you might hit a sticking point throughout that project. One of the assets that you're likely to get as an editor is a creative brief or a treatment. We talked about this in another class about some client facing definitions and terms that you want to know and understand. But this is in a way like your Bible for how you're going to creatively approach the edit. Now, sometimes these will be really simple. Maybe they'll just be an email with a block of text, but sometimes they'll be a little more visually interesting for you to look at. This is a past project that I was working on for Adidas and this is a slides presentation, and so there's all sorts of stuff in here. As we walk through, we get a look at the script and some shot references for how the edit should feel as we're reading through the script, like in the timeline itself. As we get later on, you'll see that there's some mood references. These are going to be shot angles that the client likes. There's going to be some gifts in here that's always really helpful, something that I've seen clients doing more regularly in these presentations. But this is just like a master view for you to look and determine, okay, I see the style that they're hoping to get out of this project, maybe there's some ways that I can clearly use some of my own ideas and communicate those back to the client. The reality here is that, you might not always get a super in-depth, very creatively thorough brief treatment from a client. In some cases you might get something that is super difficult to read as like a big chunk of text in the body of an email. But as an editor, it's so important for you to be able to thoroughly read through and understand that those ideas that they're trying to communicate to then be able to translate that into the project that they're looking for and hopefully meet their needs. Or at a minimum, just be able to ask questions about that brief to get you to the place that you need to be. Now that we understand a little bit more about visual style and how it applies to your client projects, I think we should take a little bit of time to understand a bit more about how to reflect on our own styles and how to analyze those in a healthy way. 5. Reflecting on Your Own Style: We've talked a lot about analyzing the works of others and recreating style from different inspirations, different things that we're watching and consuming. But I think that there's an important thing to take away about reflecting on our own work and our own styles. It might not necessarily seem appealing, but diving back into some of your own work can have some huge benefits. I know it's not something we all really like to do, but hidden in some of your early work are traces of your creative identity that you're probably chasing to develop. I know it's kind of hard to believe, but it's not something that's just crafted overnight. It's typically kind of there from the beginning. Maybe it's a favored color palette or a particular angle or composition that you're drawn to. You like wide angle shots, you like low angle shots, you like super quick cuts on certain beats within a song. These are all elements that are likely to kind of exist in probably some of your earliest attempts at creation. But if you take some time to go back and study them, you may find that there are things that you could maybe lean back into and improve upon. A mindset that we can adopt to go about doing this is treating our old work like we would treat movies from a favorite director of ours. Don't write off any of their early work just because it's maybe not up to the quality that they're currently producing. Take some time to go back and really study those early attempts at some of your first ideas and see if there's something that stands out to you. You might be surprised. It's a powerful thing. Your style, it's kind of like your editing fingerprint. The more you understand it, the more you can use it to leave a stamp on your work and stand out amongst the crowd. It's like how you watch a Christopher Nolan film and you know it's a Christopher Nolan film within the first 30 seconds. Understanding this and really having that connection to your identity and your style is just such a powerful thing that we can use as editors. The next thing to understand about our style and reflecting on the process is that it should change. It should grow with you as an individual. As we become freelance editors, you get to a point where things do begin to click. You do begin to niche down and do a particular type of work on a regular basis. It's a great thing to reach that kind of consistent level of work. But at the heart of it, creativity thrives on the openness to innovation and experimentation and not restriction. As we grow and develop as individuals and humans, it's so easy to allow our voices to get defined on the things that we're regularly consuming and creating. You think over time as we evolve and grow in our personal lives. We're likely to have interests that change, like hobbies, new things that we pick up, new types of food that we grow to appreciate. Our editing should mirror that in many ways. Our creativity should grow and change as we evolve. Your creative identity, your style, your touch on a project, it is intrinsically tied to you as a person. If you try to force yourself to maintain a certain editing style in every single project, there's a chance that you're just limiting your ability to create something new and something fresh. So being open to that change and being open to growing and allowing your styles to change, maybe in ways that you don't expect or anticipate, it's just one way that we can help to keep ourselves growing past those plateaus in those creative dry moments in our time as being freelance editors. Throughout my journey as an editor and as a creative professional, the type of content that I consumed and the lifestyle that I lived, maybe back in like 2016, I was very much into the vlogging type, like the things that Casey Neistat was creating or some of the work that was beginning to happen with the filmmaking content creators. But as I've grown older and as I've been doing this longer, I found myself finding new inspiration in new ways that my style is shaping from completely unexpected influences. Music videos are something that I never really had a deep connection to. I've never really been somebody who spends time watching music videos from different artists, from my favorite songs. But ironically, some of that art form has begun making its way into my own work and I've been finding myself watching music videos from completely unrelated genres to what I do, but just to kind of see how other people are utilizing those inspirations in their own work. In other moments in my life, some of the most impactful breakthroughs that came and transformed my creative identity came from sometimes pretty sad things. So I decided to use those emotions to try something new within the style that I was applying to my work. Yeah, sad is not necessarily a great thing, but in many ways I discovered a new side to my storytelling from those moments and experiences in my life. So we've talked a lot about how to find inspiration, how it applies to client work, how to look at your past work. Within this millino, I at the heart of this left this personal reference section. What I've done here is I brought in one of my favorite edits that I've done for a client. It's a campaign that I did for Adidas a couple of years ago. Beneath this I've written three strengths, things that I think I really nailed within that edit. Then also I've put three things that I think I could have improved on or I would have done differently had I approached the project now. I think that this can act as a great way for us to find a piece of work and reflect on it, while also getting to look at all of these other references from external sources. We have our visual inspiration, these different video references. We have our music references and then we have the brand assets and the things that we might be using for our next project. Use this board as a guide and a framework for you to discover a new sense of your own visual style and maybe help you push past that sticking point that you are at with a client project or even a personal project. The important thing that I want to leave you guys with here is just understanding that style. While it's easy to feel like you need to compare yourself to the style that other people are doing in this industry, it's you, it's yours, and that's something you should be proud of and lean into. So I hope that some of these tools can give you guys some framework and some new ways to approach your own style, and hopefully find new touches that you can leave on your next project. 6. Final Thoughts: Well, we've made it to the end of this class. I'm so glad that you guys were able to watch through this with me and get to go over some of this information about style, which it's a little weird for some people to talk about and understand. But hopefully this class project, the Milano can act as a bit of a new template and workflow for you guys to work through some of these things on your own. We talked through so many pivotal and important things to understand about style and how it can translate to client work, and how you can really refine it for yourself. Please, if you guys feel inspired to, I hope you will upload your Milano into the project gallery. I would love to check them out. I'm sure some of the other students would love to see yours. Thanks for watching. I hope to see you in the next class.