All You Need to Know About Color Grading and LUTs

Color grading can entirely change the outcome of your project. But unless you’ve spent years working in a production company, learning how to use it effectively can seem daunting. However, there is a way to make things a lot easier.

LUT, otherwise known as Lookup Table, is a term used by experts to define a predetermined series of numbers that acts as a shortcut for a particular computation. When it comes to color grading, using a LUT can help make it easier for you to change the color input value to your final footage.

To know what LUT is all about, let’s take a closer look at its basics, variance, as well as a few examples. We’ll also discuss how to use LUTs in your projects and how you can use it to your advantage.

To get an overview of what LUTs is all about, feel free to watch the video below:


The basics of LUT

If you’ll look at it closely, LUT is primarily a preset color look meant for your editing footage. Using it directly to your project can help you swiftly go through the entire color grading process with ease. Another feature that makes LUTS interesting is that you can use it as a reference point to establish your style. You can even use specific LUTs to achieve more cinematic feels similar to what you see in movies. 

LUTS comes in three different types. It includes calibration, transform, 1D, 3D, and viewing. But no matter what you choose, it’s essential to know the color space and the input level needed for the LUT you want to use. LUTs are primarily available through NLE’s like Final Cut and Avid, as well as other coloring software (Speedgrade, Da Vinci Resolve). You can also use them in other software made for editing videos like After Effects. 

The difference between 1D LUTs and 3D LUTs

Out of all the different types of LUTs, most people often use 1D and 3D for their projects. That’s because of how easy they are to use and how quickly they can produce several versions of an image or render. But what makes them different from one another?

1D LUT got its name because of how a single control setting can control the entire preset. In other words, D LUTs remap unique pixel values to entirely new values. For example, a Lookup Table can indicate that an input value of 4 (near black) becomes 230 (near white). Because of this feature, 1D LUTs are incredibly useful in changing the brightness, contrast, or gamma of an image or render. However, while it can be valuable when doing necessary color alterations, it doesn’t give you the same level of control that most editors and colorists prefer. 


Unlike 1D LUT, 3D LUT can handle even the most complex operations you need to edit your project. You can use it when working with gamut alteration and saturation. It’s even applicable for channel mixing since you can alter the color values to make all the colors look more cohesive. Since it can map out hue, saturation, and brightness to a single axis, you can easily control the colors to get a specific color value. 3D LUT is also ideal for converting from and between camera color spaces where the color values are inconstant and different.

Here’s a clip that shows the difference between 1D LUT and 3D LUT:


Creating cinematic shots with LUT

What’s impressive about film LUT is that it can replicate a 35mm film. It means that you don’t have to spend hours of your time editing the color wheels and the sliders. But to achieve it, there are a couple of factors that you need to learn. 

The first thing that you need to do is establish the overall look of your project. To achieve such a feat, you need to understand Log and how it works.

Camera log. Otherwise known as s-log, a camera log is a shooting profile that provides a project with a comprehensive, dynamic, and tonal range. Thus, helping you achieve more latitude, especially when you’re color grading your clips. When using a camera log, your shots would often appear washed out at first. But it still keeps the shadows and all its details which would otherwise get lost during editing. This shooting profile works well with films as well as other types of videography.

Keep in mind that log specific film LUTs works well with log exposures. So, recording your footing in Log can help you achieve cinematic effects quickly.

Here’s a clip to help you create better cinematic scenes:


Using LUT to your every project

As previously discussed, LUTs can replicate the same aesthetics of a 35mm film. But it can also help you achieve a few cinematic looks that you see in some movies these days. And as you get better at it, it might even help you achieve a unique style that you can use for your future projects.

If you’ve seen any of David Fincher’s movies, you’ll notice how he uses neo-noir color in almost every one of his projects. It usually comprises of dark, eerie colors that capture the audiences’ attention. Thus, helping to amplify the feel of the film. Just like David Fincher, you can also use color grading to your advantage.

Here’s an example of some of David Fincher’s work:


When done correctly, LUTs can help you create custom preset looks, which you can strategically apply in various scenes. It can be helpful, especially when you’re trying to use multiple color grades in different scenes. One excellent example where they used various preset looks is in the movie, The Traffic.

You can also see a few examples of how cinematographers use LUTs in their work:


If you may have noticed, every color scheme used for each scene in the film complements each character’s story. Not only does it help interpret the artistic side of the movie, but it also creates an emotional standpoint that allows the audience to relate to the character.

Understanding color theory is an excellent way to understand the basics of color grading. For example, a light and desaturated color elicit a different emotion than a dark and deep color. That’s because a lighter and paler shade often feels gloomy compared to deeper colors. 

Watch the clip to see how cinematographers use color in their projects:


Applying LUTs to your log footage

As mentioned earlier, to achieve a cinematic look at your log footage, using LUTs is the best way to go. Doing so will give you better dynamic range and latitude, especially when color grading your footage. 

To give you a better idea, here’s how to apply LUTs with Adobe Premiere Pro CC.


Step One: Normalize the footage 

The very first step that you need to take is to normalize the footage. It’s almost impossible to judge exposure based on log images. So, you need to apply a log normalization LUT before attempting to correct the colors. Although it’s entirely possible to normalize footage manually, it often takes a lot of time without the use of LUTs. Remember to check your footage using a vectorscope to see if the log exposure compliments the rest of the clip.

Step Two: Color correction

Once you’ve normalized the footage, it’s now time to manually tweak your footage to find a correct balance between exposure, color temperature, contrast, and light. Normalizing the footage before correcting the color will make it easier for you to notice if some parts are underexposed. It’s also helpful, especially when you forget to set the white balance to the correct value. Everything may look well-balanced now, but it doesn’t mean that it’s free of any mistakes. At the bare minimum, try to do some shot to shot matching to get perfectly balanced footage.

Step Three: Applying creative color grading

Once you have achieved an ideal balance between color temperature, contrast, exposure, and light, it’s now time to apply your preferred color grading. Remember that you should use LUTS as a starting point for your final color grading and not as a final output. While everything may look well with a LUT, there are still times when you need to change a few settings to get your desired outcome. So, apply your preferred creative LUT and see how it looks. If you’re not happy with it, you can still tweak it a bit to get the final results. This process is called secondary corrections, which is essential in ensuring you get the best quality video possible.

Where to use LUTs

LUTs are highly compatible with various software applications used for editing videos and images. A few mobile applications are compatible with Adobe Premiere Pro, Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve, and Final Cut. Now that we’ve covered the basics of using LUTs, it’s still important to understand that it’s not the solution to everything. Although it can help you improve your brand and greatly enhance your color grading, it still requires your input to get the best quality footage. If you want to get the most out of it, it’s crucial to gain some basic knowledge and correct workflow to get the best results.