What are LUTS? The Definitive Guide To LUTS In 2020

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Color Grading not only transforms your film but also essentially defines it. It defines the very mood of your story by adding a colorful texture to your footage, which otherwise would have looked normal. If you are a storyteller or an Indie filmmaker focusing on enhancing your storytelling and elevating your production quality, LUTs are a perfect place to begin the color grading with.
Our aim with this article is to give you a definitive idea of what color grading and utility LUTs are, and how to use them in 2020. How to achieve your desired cinematic look using film LUTs in the best way possible. Whether you are using Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, or Davinci Resolve, using LUTs for color grading can be a huge time saver. We’re also going to give away 3 free LUTs to change the look and feel of your footage. Let begin!

DEFINING LUTS

LUTS Color Grade your footage.

LUTs are the fastest way to color grade your footage, given that you have already color corrected it. LUTs (or sometimes called Film LUTs) help you transform the look of your entire film by changing your colors into the specific color palette. Indie filmmakers, travel filmmakers, and commercial filmmakers usually create their own Premiere pro LUTs which helps them achieve overall color consistency in color grading throughout their projects. Let’s take a quick look at the technical definition of LUTs.

What is a LUT?

LUT A.K.A lookup table is a file containing an array of value references. This array of references makes it tremendously easy to achieve the final result. That’s because one can avoid going through the necessary computation again and again to reach the final value. In the field of color grading, a LUT is used to convert an input color value into a different output color value.

In most basic terms is a smart video presets, that you apply on your footage. This video presets help your color grade and transform the look and feel of your video in no time. LUTs can be applied to your footage or stills via your editing software.
What this means is that with a LUT you have the power to distinguish your work from other content creators and filmmakers. Stand out with a signature cinematic color style that is consistent throughout color grading of all your Premiere Pro projects (or FCPX or Davinci Resolve projects). All this while tremendously reducing overall work it takes to color grade footage from scratch in premiere pro or other editing software.

There are two categories of LUT. Utility/Technical LUT and Creative LUT. But before that, let’s quickly go through a video on LUTs by Jeremy X Lewis.

Play Video

CREATIVE VS TECHNICAL LUTS

Technical LUTs Vs Creative LUTs

Technical LUTs: Most cameras out there capture flat footage for the sake of maintaining a high dynamic range. This way a user can capture maximum details while shooting, and recover these details in the post. The goal is to make the image go from a”flat look” to how it would have appeared in front of our eyes under natural circumstances. This process is also known as color correction. Color correction must be taken care of before color grading.

A common shortcut for the color correction process is applying a LOG – Rec709 conversion LUT, also known as Technical LUT/ Conversion LUT/ Utility LUT. Every camera manufacturer gives away LOG to Rec 709 conversion LUT for their cameras. Once you apply a conversion LUT, the footage goes from a flat look to something which has more contrast and saturation and basically looks more real.

Color Correction using Technical LUTs

What is camera LOG?

All camera manufacturers offer their own Log Curves. Log curves are the function or curve by which image details are encoded into the memory. This is done to retain the maximum dynamic range and details as much as possible. Most big productions out there use LOG to record their projects. Once you record a video using the LOG curve, your video will basically look flat and unsaturated. Therefore contrast and saturation must be added in the post before starting with the color grading process.

Each manufacturer offers its own log curve. For example, for Sony there is S-Log, for canon, there is C-Log, for Arri there is LogC and so on.

Creative LUTs: After you’ve color corrected you definitely want further enhance the color grade of your film to resonate with your storyline. That’s where creative LUTs come in. Creative LUTs by definition are used to help you reach a cinematic final color grade for your film. Film LUTs or creative LUTs help you achieve a professional color consistency throughout your project. Some filmmakers use LUTs to maintain a signature color grade throughout their projects.

Sometimes colorists use a creative LUT for the whole film and the only thing they do in the color grading process is playing around with contrast and saturation to balance everything out or match one shot to another shot. That’s how using quality creative LUTs can save you an ample amount of time trying to perfect your color grade shot by shot.

Color Graded using Creative LUT ( From our Premium Bundle)

LIMITATIONS OF COLOR GRADING WITH LUTS

What are Limitations of using a LUT?

LUTs are made by color grading a single shot: Most free LUTs out there are unfortunately created by grading a single shot. What does it mean? That means when you apply these free LUTs to on something that looks different, chances are that the LUT might not deliver the color grading results promised by the creator. Let’s take a look at the following example:

Example: what happens while using most LUTs out there

Aggressive video color banding: Typical free film LUTs (in the attempt of color grading) breaks the image/footage into different bands causing the image to break and become practically unusable. Further, if you try to color grade on top of the LUT output video it will only make the situation worse. Here’s an illustration of how a typical market LUT can break the image causing severe color banding. Also, it is worth mentioning that the LUT applied here is one of the paid ones available in the market.

Aggressive video banding in color grading process after applying a normal market LUT

Exceeding the Limitations of LUTs

If used correctly, a LUT is a pretty smart way to decode and save color grading information. At Colorist Factory, we pulled it up a notch and made them smarter and minimal. We analyzed real-world footage’s detail-structures to create an array of data. Soon enough, a pattern appeared. Footages with similar lighting conditions follow a similar detail-structure. Therefore we created LUTs specific to unique lighting conditions. Our extensive research resulted in 132 proprietary color science LUTs divided into 4 categories. Daylight LUTs, Sundown LUTs, Dusk LUTs, and Indoor LUTs. This unique categorization helps in reducing the overall time spent in color grading adjustments. You can check them out here.

LUT COLOR GRADING EXAMPLES

Cinematic visuals using LUT

Color grading your film in the right way can help you create a unique look for your film. A look that helps your audience engage in your story. One of the best examples is the cinematic color grading from Todd Phillip’s recent blockbuster “Joker”. The color grading, palette, and overall visual tone are on the point to create a toxic world of our protagonist “Aurthur”. Let’s check out a quick video in which we have recreated Joker’s color grading in Premiere Pro using our own free film LUTs.

Play Video

Here are some color grading examples using LUTs from our bundle pack. These were applied post color correction and white balance fix. If you want to learn how to color correct a footage, you can take a look at our quick Youtube video on “how to perfectly color correct your footage in Premiere Pro under 3 mins”. Check it out here.

The following are before and afters of applying our film LUTs. Before being “Color Corrected” footage and after being “Color Graded” footage. Stick around till the end of the blog to get a free sample LUT pack that will help you color grading your projects.

Stinchar LUT (from Premium Bundle) Popular among brand-oriented fashion filmmakers
Former LUT (from Premium Bundle) Popular among creative Youtubers

The following slideshow showcases some final cinematic renders of shots color graded using our proprietary LUTs. Color grading in all of these shots was done quickly with minor adjustments. If there are people in the shot, the LUT might affect the skin-tones. Therefore it’s best to fix skin-tones professionally in your editing software after applying the LUT. If you want to learn how to fix skin-tones professionally after applying LUT, here’s a quick tutorial for that. 

Slideshow, footage final renders using our LUTs from Premium Bundle

FREE SAMPLE FROM OUR BUNDLE PACK

Your takeaway: A 100% FREE SAMPLE LUT PACK

As a thank-you for reading our article, we’re giving away 3 LUTS for free from our Premium Bundle. These will help you in color grading your projects and hopefully reduce your overall post-production time. These are Crust LUT | Desert LUT | Renegade LUT. Also, this will be our last set of free cinematic film LUTs. Here are some “before and after color grading” using our free LUTs. Make sure to share this article if you like the LUT Pack!

Free LUT Samples, download now

APPLYING LUTS

How to apply a LUT in your software?

Alright, we will cut this short:

Adobe premiere: Apply “Lumetri Color” effect > Lumetri Color > Creative > Look > Select you LUT from drop down or browse a custom LUT from your system. 

Final Cut Pro X (FCPX): Open the effects browser > Add ‘Custom LUT’ effect to the clip > “Choose a Custom LUT” > Find the “.cube” extension LUT and click open.

Davinci Resolve: Got to color tab > Click on the LUT Icon (top left) > Right-Click on the LUTS folder > “Open File Location” > Copy-Paste your LUTs in this folder (you can create a sub-folder if you want) > Back to Resolve > Right click on the LUTs area and click Refresh! 

Adobe Photoshop: Image > Adjustments > Color Lookup > Select Load 3D LUT from the pop-up menu > Navigate to your downloaded LUTs and select one.

Adobe Lightroom: Procedure for installing LUTs in Lightroom is a bit long to follow. So here’s a short video by Joe Jackson on how to install LUTs in Lightroom. 

Play Video

LUTS 2020

LUTs in 2020, a small piece of advice.

So the main question is, how relevant LUTS are for color grading in 2020? The answer is:  they are still relevant. They still save a huge amount of time that goes into color grading each shot up to a “pro cinematic” level. They still provide immense utility in the post-production sector. The only catch is: you need to do your homework before investing in good LUTs.

Okay, what do we mean? This means that you have to understand how a LUT will affect your image and if they are suitable for color grading your projects or not. Does the color palette fit the color grading of your film making or photography niche? Understanding how LUTs work beforehand, and reading how they are meant to change your image will equip you against LUT creators who sell try to sell cheap filters in name of “Cinematic color grading LUTs”. 

For example, our LUTs in our Premium Bundle is based on how your footage was shot. We’ve studied the recursive patters of details structure throughout footages shot in the day time, footages shot in the evening, and footages shot in the night time. This way you have to spend less time tweaking the image after applying the LUT. If you want to check out our Premium Bundle, here’s the link for that. We’ll end the blog with a couple of “before and after color grading” using LUTs from our Premium Bundle. 

Denwick ( Premium Bundle, from sundown - evening category )
Wildwest ( Premium Bundle, from bonus recreation category )

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Excessive false advertising going around in the name of “cinematic look” pushed us to form Colorist Factory with the goal of simplifying color grading for storytellers.

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