What is a LUT? How LUTs Can Transform Your Videos

First things first—check out this list of high-profile films and TV shows released over the last two years:

  • Dune
  • John Wick: Chapter 4
  • The Nun II
  • Stranger Things: Season 4
  • The Batman

All of these films were shot on digital cameras and created with digital technology. Several of them were even shot with the same camera system. And yet, they all look incredibly different from each other. Ever wonder how filmmakers achieve this? While, of course, production design, costumes, and lighting all play a major role in how footage will look and feel, ultimately, a lot of it comes down to color grading.

Color grading is a process. It’s an art and a science. It’s how a colorist alters certain aspects of an image—the original colors, contrast, saturation, and more—to achieve a desired look. And using LUTs is a significant aspect of color grading.

LUTs are the unsung heroes of video editing and color grading. They’re not just filters—A LUT (Lookup Table) is a predefined array of numerical values that offers a convenient way to streamline a particular computation. In color grading, a LUT converts input color values (typically from the camera) into the desired output values (ultimately reflected in the final footage).

Think of them as a shortcut to achieving a specific visual style, whether it’s the sun-drenched hues of a summer blockbuster or the gritty tones of a noir thriller. However, they’re not just a drag-and-drop fix. Often, your footage must meet specific requirements for them to work.

The Technical Side: Understanding LUTs in Video Editing

At its core, a LUT remaps the colors in your video footage. It’s like a translator, converting the original hues and tones into a new color space. This process can be as simple as adjusting the brightness and contrast or as intricate as altering individual color channels to achieve a desired mood or atmosphere.

However, in the world of LUTs, it’s essential to distinguish between log conversion and creative LUTs. Most modern cinema cameras will film in a log profile. This saturation and contrast-devoid profile allows for greater tweaking in post-production.

Example of a LOG image with a photo of two women reading on steps
This is an example of a LOG image. Image by Lewis McGregor.

Log conversion LUTs are designed to convert this flat, log-recorded footage into a more standard, contrast-rich image, essentially serving as a starting point for color grading.

Two women sitting on steps while one reads a book

As every camera unit has its own color science and gamma curve, and most units have multiple color profiles, a specific log conversion LUT depends on the camera and profile you filmed on.

The above image was filmed on a Canon C300 Mk III in C-Log 2. If I apply a Sony S-log 2 conversion LUT, the results look like this:

Two women sitting on steps while one reads a book

Not so great.

On the other hand, creative LUTs are all about artistic expression. They’re used to impart a specific style or mood to the footage, whether it’s a vintage look, a cinematic feel, or a particular color theme.

While log conversion LUTs bring footage to a baseline for further grading, creative LUTs are used to infuse the footage with an artistic vision.

Check out the clip below to get an idea of the transformations they can create.

For those venturing into video editing, you might come across terms like “Cinematic LUTs” or “Filmic LUTs.” These pre-designed color profiles emulate the look of film stock or replicate the color grading from famous movies. They’re a fantastic starting point for beginners and a time-saver for seasoned professionals.

Want to start experimenting with LUTs? Good news! Here are 48 FREE LUTS you can download right and start using today:

Now, while LUTs are commonly associated with post-production, they’re also making their way into in-camera applications. It’s a pretty pivotal reason, as this feature is especially beneficial for visualizing the final look on set and making informed decisions about lighting and exposure.

Of course, when shooting in log, you would need a correction LUT to see the footage properly. Still, you can also apply creative LUTs for feedback, which is invaluable for directors and cinematographers striving for a specific visual tone.

Check out this behind-the-scenes video for the children’s TV show Heirs of The Night. Pay special attention starting at 2:13.

The show revolves around vampires and, as a result, the majority of the show takes place at night. However, the producers decided to shoot a day-for-night process in order to maximize shooting time during the day.

As that process is very heavy on color grading, the cinematographer utilized in-camera LUTs to give the filmmakers a clearer sense of how the end result would look. As you can see, the difference between how things looked on set and how things appeared in the final product was significant, to say the least.

With this, it’s crucial to note that in-camera LUTs are primarily for monitoring purposes. The recorded footage still retains its flat, log profile, preserving the flexibility for detailed color grading in post-production.

LUTs in Action: Software and Practical Use

When it comes to applying LUTs, video editing software like Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, and DaVinci Resolve offer seamless integration. Each program has its own way of handling LUTs, but the underlying principle remains the same: You select a LUT that aligns with your creative vision and instantly transforms your footage’s color profile.

For instance, in Premiere Pro, you can apply LUTs through the Lumetri Color panel. While in Final Cut Pro, it’s a matter of a few clicks in the “Effects” browser. DaVinci Resolve’s advanced color grading tools take it even further, allowing for more refined adjustments.

Practical examples of LUT use are abundant. Let’s say you’ve shot a beach scene that looks a bit flat. You can instantly give it warm, vibrant tones by applying a “Summer Beach” LUT.

Screenshot of LUT dashboard in DaVinci Resolve

For a closer, step-by-step look, check out our tutorial from Robbie Janney, who helps you walk through adding LUTs in Premiere Pro.

Exploring the World of FREE LUTs and Making Your Own

The internet is a treasure trove of LUTs, both free and premium. While we have a solid selection of 17 FREE Cinematic LUTS, websites like PremiumBeat offer a variety of LUTs for Premiere Pro, DaVinci Resolve, and Final Cut Pro.

Whether you’re looking for something specific like “LUTs for Sony cameras” or more general like “cinematic LUTs,” there’s a plethora to choose from.

However, it doesn’t stop there. Once you get the hang of using LUTs, you might find yourself returning to a grading setup that works well for you. While not identical in practice, I’ve been using the same Lightroom preset for my photos for the last few years, and I can’t imagine switching to something else.

In this scenario, you can export your grade (with some limitations) to create your own LUT. This can then be used across various platforms, shared with your friends, or even considered for sale!

In the tutorial below, I’ll walk you through the process:

Conclusion: The Transformative Power of LUTs

In filmmaking and video production, LUTs are more than just tools; they are the bridge between vision and reality. As the cinematographer sculpts light and shadow, LUTs add the final touches, transforming ordinary footage into cinematic art.

They are a testament to the power of color and its ability to evoke emotion, set the mood, and bring a director’s vision to life. In a skilled editor’s hands, LUTs are the secret weapon for creating video masterpieces.

License this image via oneinchpunch.

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