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Windows Movie Maker is back: how to use Windows 10's hidden video editor

There's more to the Photos app than meets the eye

Microsoft Photos on a laptop

Windows Movie Maker was simple, free video editing software that was last updated in 2012 and officially discontinued last year. Windows 8 and 10 launched without a video editing app, but following the Fall Creator's Update, there's now one included in the Microsoft Photos app – if you know where to look.

in May 2017, Microsoft announced Story Remix – a new editor that would be included with the Fall Creator's Update. Instead of just making simple home movies, Story Remix would allow users to combine video clips and photos with virtual 3D objects created in Remix 3D (opens in new tab).

However, when the Windows 10 Fall Creator's Update rolled around, Story Remix had turned into a less ambitious tool much more like the late Windows Movie Maker. It lets users organize media in a timeline, apply special effects and transitions, set the whole thing to music and add 3D animations (but not objects). Rather than releasing it on its own as originally intended, Microsoft chose to add it to the existing Photos app.

Although its scope is somewhat narrower, it's a brilliant tool for anyone who wants to make a good looking video without mastering complicated software. Here's how to find it and create a video from start to finish.

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1. Adobe Premiere Pro is the very best video editor in 2020 (opens in new tab)
Premiere Pro offers outstanding value for money. It's the industry-standard video editing program for pros, but really easy to use and get the hang of. So if you're serious about your videos, you should seriously consider going for Premiere Pro.

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2. CyberLink PowerDirector - a great value, powerful editor (opens in new tab)
CyberLink is a terrific choice if you like the idea of premium video editors, but still want to keep costs low - less than $4/£5 a month! For that, you still get a feature-packed tool that caters to beginners, intermediates and pros alike. We particularly like its clever Magic Movie Wizard mode.

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3. Apple Final Cut Pro X - top honors for Mac users (opens in new tab)
It may be aimed squarely at the professional end of the market, but Apple Final Cut Pro X is not needlessly complicated and its 'trackless' timeline is super intuitive. You pay for it upfront rather than monthly, so it's likely to work out very affordable in the long run if you're in video editing for keeps.

Selecting media files in Microsoft Photos

1. Choose your files

To add your photos and videos to the Photos app, select the ‘Import’ button from the top right, then choose either ‘From a folder’ or ‘From a USB device’ (such as an external hard drive, smartphone or camera).

Select the folder you want to add and click ‘Add this folder to Pictures’. You can’t select individual files to add, but any new files you add to the connected folders will be imported to the Photos app automatically. Once that's done, click the green ‘Create’ button and choose 'Custom video with music'.

Rearranging media files in Microsoft Photos

2. Arrange and trim video clips

Microsoft Photos will put together a simple movie automatically, complete with background music. It will even sync the photos so they’re displayed in time with the beat. You can preview it using the player at the top right. Don’t worry if the playback is choppy; it will be smooth when it’s finally rendered and exported.

To rearrange the media files, just drag and drop them to a new position in the Storyboard at the bottom.

If a video clip is too long, select it in the Storyboard and click ‘Trim’. Choose a start and an end point for the clip by dragging the rectangular markers, then select ‘Done’. To preview the clip, position the circular playback marker, then click the ‘Play’ button on the left. 

Adding a title to a video in Microsoft Photos

3. Add titles and motion effects

To add titles or captions to your video, click a video clip or photo, then select ‘Text’ from the menu above the Storyboard. Type your text into the box at the top right and it will appear in the preview window, automatically resized to fit the space. If the video clip is at least two seconds long, the text will be animated when it appears. Select a style from the list on the right (unfortunately these aren’t customizable), then choose a position. When you’ve finished, click ‘Done’. 

The ‘Motion’ options (in the menu above the Storyboard) add some interesting panning and zooming effects that are particularly effective for still photos. Select a frame from the Storyboard, then click the icon and choose a style.

As before, you can preview the effect using the small ‘Play’ button on the left, then confirm your selection by clicking ‘Done’. Editing in the Photos app is non-destructive, so you can go back change effects later if you change your mind.

Adding 3D effects to a video clip in Microsoft Photos

4. Apply filters and 3D effects

To give your video a totally new look, select ‘Themes’ from the top menu. Each theme will add different music to your video, with appropriately styled titles. The app will automatically adjust how long photos are shown to sync with the music.

There are also Instagram-style filters to add a touch of style to your video. Click a video clip or photo, then select the ‘Filters’ icon and choose an option. All the presets have a vintage look, and sadly aren’t customizable, but there’s quite a wide selection. Make your choice, then click ‘Done’ to confirm it.

To make things even more special, select ‘3D effects’. These are fun particle effects that you can use to draw attention to something in your video. Subtle ones are usually the most effective, but they’re fully customizable so you can tone down the more dramatic ones. Move the green slider under the preview window to choose when the effect should appear, and use the arrows to adjust its angle and direction.

Changing the music in Microsoft Photos

5. Change the music

Similarly, clicking the ‘Music’ tab will let you select a new soundtrack for your video, and sync your video’s content automatically. You can choose one of the built-in songs or pick one from your PC, but bear in mind that you shouldn’t use copyright-protected music in videos you’re going to publish online.

If you need some suitable tunes, take a look at BenSound (opens in new tab). Songs here are available under a generous Creative Commons license for non-commercial use, provided you link back to the site when posting your video. Check out the full license details (opens in new tab).

If the sound in any of your video clips is too loud and drowns out the music, right-click the clip and select ‘Volume’ to turn it down or mute it.

Exporting a finished video in Microsoft Photos

6. Save and share your video

When you’re done, select ‘Export or share’ from the top menu and pick a size option – small, medium or large. Your choice will determine the picture quality, but you can’t set the resolution or frame rate manually. The video will then be rendered (which might take a while depending on your hardware), encoded in MP4 format and saved in your Pictures folder.

Once that’s done, click ‘Share’ and select an option: copy the file, share it using the Mail app, send it via Skype, or upload it to YouTube or OneNote.

VSDC Free Video Editor (opens in new tab) is a feature-packed non-linear suite that can compete with even expensive video editing software. There are no extra programs bundled in the installer – just the occasional prompt to upgrade to the premium edition.

With VSDC you can create video projects from a combination of video clips, still images and audio files, with a resolution of up to 1,980 x 1,080 (full HD) and a maximum frame rate of 30fps. There's also a built-in screen capture tool for recording video and taking still images from your desktop – ideal for software reviews and tutorials. VSDC also offers an extensive range of video and audio filters, plus stylish transitions. 

You can export finished projects in a variety of formats, with handy ready-made profiles for popular devices. VSDC also provides a way to burn your project onto DVD – a feature rarely available in free video editors.

Cat Ellis
Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of TechRadar's sister site Advnture. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better)