What are LUTs?
Do you know what a LUT is? You may not unless you have worked with video editing and color grading. LUT stands for Look Up Table. A LUT is a file that transforms one range of colors in an image to another range of colors. Traditionally they have been used in the film industry to give films a unique look and feel. Terms like Blockbuster look or 3 Stripe look are often used to describe them. More recently though, LUTs are being used in photography. I think of LUTs as a filter. For me, they are another creative tool I can use to enhance my photographs. They help me create a unique look and feel in my images. LUTs really work best when working with RAW images rather than jpg’s, but this is an area you can explore.
What do LUTs do?
When you apply a LUT to your image it will change both the color and tone curves of the image based on how the LUT was created. Here is an example of before the LUT and after the LUT is applied. The left side is before applying the LUT and the right side is after applying a LUT. This LUT was a filmic style LUT from ColorGradingCentral.com (see the end of the article for links).
Two basic types of LUTs
In the world of LUTs, there are two basic types, technical LUTs, and creative LUTs. Technical LUTs are typically used with video style cameras that shoot in what is called LOG. The technical LUT is applied and give the color editor a starting place for their color grade. The creative LUT is most often used after the application of a technical LUT or as a way to apply a specific look and feel to the image. I use creative LUTs most often with photographs.
How do I use them?
When I use LUTs in photography I will typically make all the basic adjustments to the photograph and then apply the LUT and then refine the settings. That being said I also start with a LUT and then adjust all the settings. I also experiment with both technical and creative LUTs and sometimes combine them. There are no rules here. Be creative and explore!
In most photography programs that use LUTs, they are applied as a filter and/or layer. To uses the LUTs you will have them stored in a folder. You will apply the LUT Tool or Layer, select the LUT and then adjust the strength of the LUT. The strength setting lets you apply as much or as little, of the look of the LUT, to the image as you desire.
Programs that use LUTs?
Here are a few programs that use LUTs.
- Luminar 2018 – see how to use LUTs in Luminar 2018 with DJI RAW – click here
- Adobe Photoshop
- Affinity Photo
- Adobe Lightroom
Where can I get some?
If you do an internet search for LUTs, you will find a large selection. Some are free and some are paid. Some of them are good, some aren’t. The best approach is to try before you buy. Most LUT developers offer one or more of their LUTs for you to try. Here some options for you that I have used, to get you started.