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opacity of the layer, or as an edit to the overall look. LUTs are
very powerful, and simultaneously very simple.
Let’s jump in a little deeper. We know we’re shifting color
values, but what’s actually going on? A look-up table, by its
very name, suggests that Photoshop is referencing some-
thing when it’s applied. Rather than simply shifting a slider,
a LUT is giving consideration to terms we set. It’s also math-
ematically precise: A LUT takes a specific RGB value from a
source image, and then it modifies the values by changing
the Hue, Saturation, and Luminance values of that source
image. It’s for this reason that you can be confident that,
when using a LUT rather than a preset, you achieve a specific
end result, or look. When looking at LUTs from a consumer
perspective, you should understand that there are technical
LUTs and creative LUTs. The former deal with transforming
an image from one color space to another, which is useful
when printing or when displaying an image on a projector,
for instance. These technical LUTs help to ensure that the
image looks the same on any medium or device. A creative
LUT is what we’ll concentrate on because, as the name sug-
gests, these are what we use for color grading and creativity.
There’s also a third kind of LUT, which is interesting and
worth a mention, and it’s a camera LUT. When you shoot a
RAW image on your camera, the preview on the rear-display
screen is not the RAW file, but a JPEG version of that RAW
shot. I’m sure you’ll notice that the image isn’t the same on
the camera screen as it is when you load it into Lightroom
or Bridge, and that’s because the camera has applied a LUT
to create that JPEG preview, which inevitably gives it more
contrast and saturation, among other things. That’s a fun
fact about LUTs!

So, let’s pull back a little now and take a practical look at
how a LUT actually works, rather than the theory we’ve
already gone over. Essentially, when you apply a LUT to an
image or video, you’re running a predetermined sequence
of adjustment layers. To ensure that everyone understands
this, let’s make one. The look we’re going for with this LUT
is a cool, cinematic one.
To create a LUT, first you’ll need an image to work on.
Here, I’m using a shot of a Canadian Pacific train pass-
ing through Morant’s Curve in Banff National Park in the
Canadian Rockies. You’re welcome to use this image, too,
and follow along. You can click here to download it. The
original image is quite warm, with the magenta showing
clearly in places. This enhances the brown of the timber,

the orange of the clouds, and the red of the train, but it’s
not the look I want to achieve here. To make this image
cinematic, it needs to be less saturated, more contrasty,
and to have the white point and black point shifted. Let’s
tackle these, one at a time.

Step One: First, load your image into Adobe Photoshop, or
open an image to which you’ve already made basic correc-
tions using Adobe Camera Raw or Adobe Lightroom. I’ve
already taken the example image to a state of readiness, so
if you’re following along with it, just open it.

Step Two: The first thing to tackle is the saturation. In the
Adjustments panel (Window>Adjustments), select Hue/
Saturation, and in the Properties panel that appears, drag
the Saturation slider down to –20. This 20% reduction is
just enough to take the edge off the colors in the image,
because you want to “calm” the colors overall, so it’s a
good place to start in achieving your cinematic LUT.
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