The Ultimate LUT Guide

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT LUTS

THE BASICS OF LUTS

LUTS can be a little scary if you haven't used them before. It seems like some kind of miraculous filter. ​You supposedly just drop this thing on your footage and it looks nice.

 

But the truth is, LUTs are simple. The way you use them is simple, once you get over the scary magic, things start to make sense. Read on and we'll dive in deeper to explore exactly what a LUT is and how they're used in color grading.

 

WHAT IS A LUT?

A LUT or "Look Up Table" is a set of color values that many different apps can read. Think of a really simple version of it like this...

RED = DARK RED

GREEN = BLUE-GREEN

BLUE = GREY

If the above were a LUT, it would make an image with dark reds, blue-ish greens, and grey blues. It's just a table of values that change colors to other colors. Of course, a real LUT has more than 3 values, but the idea is the same.

​Still confused? Take a look at the video to the left, which explains this with cats. That's right. Cats.

HOW DO YOU USE A LUT?

Ok, so we know a little bit about WHAT a LUT is, now how do we actually use it? This, again, is pretty simple, but hard to figure out if nobody tells you. 

Here's the long and short of it...

You have to open the LUT with a utility or plugin that runs within your app of choice. You can't just import it like footage. A LUT is more like a preset than media, so you have to open it with something that can read the LUT.

For Premiere CC and Later, it's The Lumetri Color panel.

For Resolve, you have to import them in settings and apply them to a node by right clicking.

For FCPX, you need a LUT Utility (sold separately)

Lots of apps support LUTs, but they have to use some kind of utility or plugin to do so.

Do your research, try out FREE LUTs to make sure you can open them in your app before you go buying up a bunch of LUTs.

If you're not sure how to use a LUT in your app, and we don't have a tutorial here, Google it and see if there are some tutorials that can help out.

Check out the videos to the right for specific examples and more info on how to apply a LUT.

WHAT LUT DO I CHOOSE?

Now that we know what a LUT is and how to apply it in various apps, it comes time to actually choose a LUT or LUT Pack to use on our project. So that begs the question... Which one is good for you?

You should use a LUT designed for the footage you have for the style that you want. If you shot in Protune on a GoPro, get a LUT designed for Protune footage. Also, pick a LUT made to achieve the style you're trying to achieve.

The LUT you pick will depend on 3 things...

1 - What type of footage do you have?

2 - What style do you want?

3 - How much work do you want the LUT to do? A little saturation? A full correction?

LOG VS. REC.709

There are essentially 2 kinds of footage, Log and Rec.709. Without going into crazy detail, here are the basics...

​Rec.709 is the normal-looking footage with good contrast and saturation. Think of it as the kind of images you'd see on TV, not stylized, looks realistic.

Log footage looks really low contrast and de-saturated. Cameras shoot this way to get as much brightness and color information into the recording as possible.

Rec.709 footage looks nice out of the box, but bright things might be too bright, and you might not be able to see darker things. Log footage tries to keep the bright and dark information, but it needs some color work to actually look good.

So there are LUTs that are made to go on Log footage, and some made for Rec.709. A Log LUT will add quite a bit of contrast and saturation to the image before adding style. A Rec.709 LUT will usually add style without any extra contrast or saturation.  

EVERY CAMERA IS DIFFERENT.

So there's Log and Rec.709, but where it gets tricky is there are infinite different flavors of Log footage.

Each camera has its own idea of the best way to record footage in Log. Some are flatter than others, some need more saturation, some need bumps in the shadows.

That's why it's a really good idea to use a LUT that's designed for the exact kind of footage you have. If you're shooting D-Log on a Phantom 4 drone, you'd ideally want a LUT designed to be used on D-Log footage. It saves time and minimizes additional adjustments you have to make to the image.

You can use any LUT on any footage you want, but the work it will take to actually make it look good will vary quite a bit. But the rule of thumb is, if you use a LUT designed for your footage, things go easier and faster.

​Check out the video to the left for more info on this.

LUT BEST PRACTICES

There are many schools of thought on how to use a LUT.

Some people say you should never use them and they're horrible. But let's remember, a LUT is a tool to help you out. You can definitely use it wrong, but using it right will give your great results.

So... a couple quick tips:

1) Adjust colors and tweak your image BEFORE the LUT. Your LUT is adding a certain style to the footage, if you don't want to mess with the style, tweak your image before the LUT so that the LUT is the last thing the colors hit.

2) If you want to change the style of the LUT, adjust AFTER the LUT. But, be careful as most LUTs will do some kind of limiting to the image and may "Bake in" certain colors or lose detail in the highlights that you can't get back while grading after the LUT.

3) There are no MAGIC LUTs. There isn't a LUT out there that can make all of your footage look great 100% of the time. LUTs are designed for ideal WB and exposure. That means if your image isn't exposed or balanced correctly, you'll have to adjust the image before the LUT.

4) Don't use a LUT for no dang reason. Know why you're choosing a certain LUT or look. Be informed and make creative decisions. If you don't know why you're using a LUT, maybe consider if it's good for your camera, lighting, and feeling you want the viewer to experience. Remember, LUTs are just a part of color grading, which is a very artistic medium. Don't slap any old LUT on your shots and call 'em good.

NEED LUTS?