The way we capture and consume videos is evolving. We may have hit record on camcorders for an hour at a time decades ago to capture graduations or weddings, but these days we’re more likely to enjoy 30-60 second clips. Luckily, the tools we use to make and edit videos today are more accessible than ever. One reader wrote in asking about how to convert old videos on VHS tapes into shorter, edited clips:

Q: I have 10 two-hour VCR videos of my grandchildren’s dance recitals. I would like to edit each one to only their 3 minute appearances. Then I would like to put it on one CD or whatever is timely. If I try to use a service, I am not sure that they would be able to recognize the kids. I am not too tech savvy, but the one good thing is I have the time.

A: It’s always a good time to tackle old stacks of tapes. Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, it’s actually easier than ever to edit videos without having to do anything more than upload your clips. But first, you need to get those taped digitized.

The very first step of any VHS editing project is to get those fragile videos into a more malleable format. For most people, it’s not something worth attempting. There are services you can mail the tapes to and they’ll convert them to digital files.

However, if you only have one copy of the recitals, it might feel too risky to let some warehouse across the country take it on. Instead, find a local service that handles video conversion. They typically charge a fee based on the length of the video.

It’s important to ask the company to convert the VHS tapes into much smaller clips instead of a single file so that they’re easier to work with. If possible, see if they’ll break it up by individual performance. That way they don’t need to know which dancers are your grandchildren, you can review them yourself. If they can’t, you should still be able to find the shorter clip you’re looking for and do a simple trim from there.


Most video and photo hosting services, like Apple’s iMovie, Apple Photos and Google Photos, have built-in tools for cropping movie clips. Should you want something a little more polished, there are a number of apps and services that can automatically edit together videos for you with some flair.

Apple this week announced that the iPad and iPhone version of its iMovie app has a new automatic feature called “Magic Movie.” It lets you choose the clips you want to edit from your phone, then it splices them together to highlight what it detects as the most important parts. Google Photos, the company’s storage service, has an option to make automated videos on demand.

You can even pick themes or specific people using its face-detection technology. GoPro, the company that makes small sports cameras, has a mobile app called Quik that automatically edits down long videos or multiple clips into sleeker projects. Video-hosting company Vimeo has an auto-editing tool called Vimeo Create, which includes some free templates or fancier options for paid members, but is more manual.

The company that converts your video can make you a CD or flash drive backup of the videos, but I don’t recommend that. Instead, upload the desired clips to someplace like Dropbox, Google Photos or Apple’s iCloud and share the link over email. This way they’ll be accessible, shareable and backed up.

Q: I’m getting a little long in the tooth. I promised my family I’d figure out how to create a video for them of the steps I go through on my iMac to log into various sites, pay my bills, check my bank accounts, manage my portfolio on Vanguard, etc. etc. But I have no idea how to even begin. I’ve seen many instructional videos and YouTubes of people moving from one screen to another, talking as the cursor moves, showing how to click on this, click on that. I’m sure if I could learn how to do this and put the resulting feature on a thumb drive or whatever — call it “Uncle John’s Life Online” — my family would be overjoyed.


A: Hopefully you won’t need these videos any time soon, but I love the idea of making them. The videos of computers and smartphones are called screen recordings, and it’s a built-in feature for most computers and mobile devices these days.

You’re on a Mac computer, so first you’ll clear off your desktop so it’s clean and you’re only showing the window you want. Then open an app called QuickTime Player. Go to File -> New Screen Recording. You’ll get a small window with a few options to record the entire screen or just the selected portion.

There’s also an option to record audio from the computer’s built-in microphone. I’d highly recommend you turn this on and narrate what you’re doing. In addition to being helpful, I think your loved ones would enjoy hearing your voice.

On an iPhone, you can find a screen recording button (a dot inside a circle) in the control center. It will count down for three seconds and start recording. Click on the red icon in the top left corner of your screen when you’re done.

On many Android devices, you can pull down twice from the top of the screen to locate the screen record button.

Save any videos someplace your family can find them, and be sure to add them as legacy contacts on your big services like Apple or Facebook.