May 17, 2016

LUTs Explained: What They Can (& Can't) Do to Help You Make Pretty Pictures

Color grading plays a big part in making your images look good and a major tool colorists use is the LUT—but what are they?

Even if you don't really know what "lookup tables" are, chances are you've used some variation of them at one point or another—think "Instagram filter for your video footage, but way more complicated and powerful." LUTs help you change the look of your footage with a single click, but working with them can have a bit of a learning curve, so here to show you how to utilize them is Ryan Connolly from Film Riot:

I'm not a colorist, so I personally love LUTs; I can choose a look I think would work for a scene, drag and drop it onto my footage, and presto—a professional looking grade that looks like it took hours to create but really only took me 2.2 seconds.

But a common mistake beginners make when working with LUTs is treating them like a magic wand. You can't necessarily add a LUT to poorly exposed footage and get something that looks awesome. You can't necessarily add a LUT to a sequence and have each of the shots look the same.

In fact, color grading starts before you open your post-production software; it starts before you ever even hit record. Take the time to light your scene and get a correct exposure, so when you head into post you'll have good, even images to add LUTs to. In the end, think of lookup tables as a good starting point for color grading your footage, because you'll most likely need to go back in an adjust levels until every shot in your sequences looks even.

Do you work with LUTs often? What programs do you use? Which sites do you get your LUTs from? Let us know in the comments below!     

Your Comment

7 Comments

Wouldn't you usually only apply a LUT after correcting exposure and colour cast?

May 17, 2016 at 11:06PM

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For best results yes. You would have more flexibility and control doing your adjustments before a typical "delog lut" assuming you had log footage to begin with.

May 18, 2016 at 5:53PM

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Luke Taylor
DP/DIT
6

I'm late to the party at appreciating LUTs. For the past several years, I've just been grading from scratch in things like Resolve. It worked. For bigger jobs, I'd hire a colorist. But lately, we've been doing not only commercials but also corporates- and ones with fast turnarounds. So, enter LUTs. I've bought a few packages online, and honestly- after playing with them, most are not my cup of tea. A lot of them are, in fact, really Instagrammy. I'm much happier with 3D LUTs that are formulated to take correctly-exposed footage and make the colors more "correct", which is generally more "Alexa-like". Using these kinds of LUTs as the starting point for a grade saves tons of time and helps us get great results, again especially for clients who need fast turnarounds.

May 18, 2016 at 2:23PM

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Patrick Ortman
I tell stories. Sometimes for money. Sometimes, not.

To what Luts you where refering that bring a more "Alexa-like"?

May 18, 2016 at 7:09PM

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This is oversimplified.

May 18, 2016 at 5:50PM

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Luke Taylor
DP/DIT
6

I am trying to install a LUT pack to Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2015 on an iMac

Do you guys know the proper way?

May 26, 2016 at 4:04PM

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Christopher Evans
Video Artist
456

The guys from Motion Array have some free LUTs up for grabs: https://motionarray.com/blog/10-free-luts

June 8, 2016 at 9:54AM

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