Whether you’re a film buff, professional photographer, or color enthusiast, you’ve probably heard about color grading with LUTs. Although the inner workings of this process are deeply technical, don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s outside your reach. What sounds like a complex technique is actually no more complicated than applying presets in Lightroom or actions in Photoshop, once you know what the steps are.
Here, we’ll explain what LUTs are on a basic level and talk about how they work, how you might use them, and where to find a few good ones. Then, we’ll walk you through the steps to apply an LUT to a video or photo in 13 common editing programs.
And make sure to check out our growing library of premium color grading LUTs! From dramatic film looks, to warm and cool toning, we’ve got you covered with a wide variety of versatile styles. We even have a sample pack that’s complete free!
LUTs 101: What Are They, Anyway?
LUT is an acronym for Lookup Table. To say it out loud, rhyme it with “cut”, “but”, or “strut”. In basic terms, a LUT is a cheat sheet for your image editing device. It tells your editing program how to make specific changes to certain colors to achieve a stylistic effect or apply ongoing color correction. You may have heard this referred to as color grading.
Color grading is something you’ll hear a lot about in terms of cinema. It’s used to get a cohesive look across multiple clips where the colors don’t originally have a lot of consistency. That way it’s a smoother transition for your viewers between scenes and you’re able to maintain a mood throughout your video.
Color grading is, however, also becoming very common in still photos. As a result, LUT functionality in programs for still editing is getting better every day. (We’ll show you how to apply them in Photoshop and Lightroom in just a bit.)
Finding a LUT
When you’re starting out, our free LUT pack is a good option for playing around with different looks. Then, when you’re ready, you can browse through our growing library of beautiful looks (we recommend our Cinematic Color Grading LUT pack is a great starting point.)
Once you get more comfortable with the process, you can create your own LUTs by making the desired changes yourself and then saving them in the correct file type.
Why LUTs and Not Presets or Actions?
Why not all of the above? Lightroom’s way of managing a LUT, for example, doesn’t change the sliders in your color settings. You can combine a color grading LUT with one of your favorite presets and actions (or other, independent edits) to get the desired atmosphere with a few targeted changes.
LUTs are different from the type of presets you’re used to seeing in another way: the same LUT can be used to apply color grading in different editing softwares, whereas presets, actions, and their ilk are usually designed to work only with a specific program.
Get the Most Out of Your LUT
When you’re working with multiple clips, be sure to also fiddle with the lighting in each of your clips for a consistent balance. Although your LUT will give stylistic continuity to the colors in your film, there may still be differences in contrast or exposure that could be jarring when you go from one clip to the next.
Speaking of jarring, when you first apply your LUT it may seem a little over the top. Any application that will accommodate a LUT should have an option to reduce the intensity of your LUT, usually with a slider. Look for this feature if you feel like your LUT is stealing the show from your image or clip.
How to Apply a LUT in 13 Different Programs
Now you understand what LUTs are and you may even have one or two you’re dying to try out. The only thing standing in your way is actually applying it to your image or video. Here’s how you can do just that in 13 commonly-used editing software: