Look-Up Tables, or LUTs, are a great, time-saving way to process photographs and film footage. If you’re editing a large set of photos, like a wedding for example, you can create a ‘style’ in one photograph that can then be used (and tweaked) in the others, meaning you don’t have to recreate the same steps time and again.
Why Make Your Own LUT?
Making a 3D LUT in a universal format like .cube also means that you can use it across different programmes and even across mediums, for both stills and as I mentioned, moving footage, for example. This is also a useful thing if at some point you change editing suites, as you’ll be able to port your LUTs across and continue uninterrupted.
You can also share a LUT with someone easily, so if you have more than one person working on a project you can keep that consistency.
Let's take a look at how you can create yours.
How to Make a LUT in Affinity Photo
If you’re starting with a RAW then make your changes in the Develop persona first to get the photo to a good basic level. You might, for example, want to apply your profile corrections, any highlight/shadow corrections and so on. Then click Develop which will take you to the Photo persona, where you can begin your proper editing and your LUT creation.
This is the image I’ll be working from, it’s a shot of Sunderland Civic Centre with some nice shapes and angles but the basic shot is lacking a little in interest and hopefully that can be perked up with some Adjustment layers and then I can use those to create a LUT that will work well with the rest of the set.
First I’ll add some contrast, but rather than using the Brightness/Contrast Adjustment layer, I’m using Curves as there’s greater control that way.
This is just a gentle ‘s’ curve to add some overall, subtle contrast.
The image is quite cool already so I might have been tempted to warm it up with the White Balance, but actually the look I want is cool and clean to match the starkness of the building, so I’ve cooled off the white balance a little here, but also bumped the Tint towards purple to just compliment the tiles a little more.
Colour Balance is a good way to tackle the tonal ranges of your Highlights, Midtones and Shadows separately. You can see here I’ve been able to make a little more of the purple in the tiles without also making the ceiling and pillars that colour.
Finish Up Your Editing
Okay, you get the idea. Keep working through your image using Adjustment Layers until you’re happy with it. I think the key is that if you’re intending to use this look as a LUT then keep it as subtle as you can. If you edit one image too intensely then chances are that exact look won’t translate well across other images. If it’s a subtle nod to an editing style then that will likely work a lot better.
Create Your LUT
Let's mow make the LUT. This part is really easy. Go to File > Export LUT.
Now you’ll have some options for your LUT plus a very cute picture of a cat showing you what your LUT will look like. If you’d like to see it on another of your images, you can go to Load Preview Image and try that, but bear in mind you’ll only be able to see it on an image that isn’t RAW.
Give your LUT a title so you can easily identify it again later, and then choose a Format. Probably the best to choose is the default, which is .cube. You can use .cube files across various pieces of software, including on film as well as stills, so it’s a really useful format. In some newer cameras, you can also load your .cube LUT into the camera itself so that you can see how it would look on your photos.
Quality is a tricky one. The quality-lover in all of us says go for the highest. The issue with this is that when it comes to 3D LUTs, that can make the size enormous. That’s not just a storage issue either, caching and reading a LUT of this potential size would also take a lot of processing power and slow everything down.
Affinity Spotlight have a great article if you’re interested in digging down further into LUT sizes.
Most photographers are in agreement that 64 x 64 x 64 will get you a good result, and that’s just at the halfway point of your Quality slider.
When you’re happy, hit Export and save to your desired folder.
Using Your New LUT
So now you’ve got your LUT, let’s take a look at how you can use it!
Back in your Adjustment options, look for LUT, click the cog icon next to it and choose Import. Navigate to where you saved your LUT and choose it, then scroll down in the LUT adjustment menu to find it.
This is another image of the same building taken at the same time but from a different angle. I’ve chopped the image down the middle so you can see the original (left) and the applied LUT.
You can see the LUT effect is subtle; it’s just bringing out the purple colour in those tiles like in the previous photo, plus brightening up the darker areas. From here, I can make further Adjustments as well as the LUT to fine tune the image while keeping the overall ‘style’ of the image similar, so that it looks like a set. If I decided to go and get some footage of this building, I could apply the 3D .cube LUT to that, and again that would just help everything look like it went well together.
Creating your own 3D LUT can be a really useful and time-saving thing to do. While you probably won’t want to do this every single time you edit an image, you might think about spending some time creating one when you’re editing the first image of a large set or session, or an image for which there’ll be accompanying footage that you’ll need to edit/grade too. It’ll save you time, but also it means that if you come back to a set of images or some film footage later, you won’t need to try and recreate your own editing process, it’ll be right there for you just a click away.