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How to Create a Colour Grade for Film Stills in Adobe Camera Raw, and Export a LUT

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Many film cameras are not designed to be great at stills. The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is an amazing, well-priced camera for movie making, but the quality of its dedicated stills isn’t the best. Even so, you may find you need to grade a film still for demonstrative purposes, as part of a development session, part of a pitch, or maybe even to see some different options. Working on a still rather than directly on film footage can be useful as a starting point; it’s often quicker, and you’re dealing with much smaller file sizes.

The great thing is that although the DNG format is technically Adobe's, some camera manufacturers—including Blackmagic—have adopted it, so images are compatible with Adobe Camera Raw for editing.

ACR’s version of LUTs—profiles—are exported as XMP files. Film editing programs generally need LUTs to be CUBE files to use them.

How to Create a Colour Grade for Film Stills (With 3-Way Wheels) in Adobe Camera Raw 

Basic Adjustments

Open your image in Adobe Camera RawOpen your image in Adobe Camera RawOpen your image in Adobe Camera Raw
Open your image in Adobe Camera Raw and make basic adjustments

Open your RAW still in Adobe Camera Raw. Camera footage usually has a flat profile to give a neutral base to edit from later, so make some basic adjustments to get it up to a good corrective level.

Colour Grading

Colour grading wheelsColour grading wheelsColour grading wheels
Colour grading wheels

Head over to the Color Grading tab. How you colour it will really depend on what your aim is for your footage, but as I’m editing a landscape that features a lot of greens and neutrals, I’m going to try to bring some of those out more while hopefully making it look a little more cinematic.

For a more in-depth look at colour grading in Adobe Camera Raw, check out our free tutorial How to Colour Grade Photos Using 3-Way Wheels in Adobe Camera Raw.

In the Color Grading tab, you'll see three wheels, each representing a tonal range: Highlights, Midtones, and Shadows. There are also two sliders: Blending and Balance.

Drag the colour wheel hues to get your desired colour, and move in and out to change the strength. You'll notice that when you click on one of the tonal ranges, you'll also get a Saturation and Hue slider; they're just another, slightly less fiddly way of making those same changes I described. 

You also have Luminance to make a tone range darker or brighter.

After colour gradingAfter colour gradingAfter colour grading
After colour grading

I've gone for a purple colour in the midtones to balance nicely with the greens and yellows in the shadows and highlights. I'm happy with the colours, but it all looks a little luminous! We can fix that with a quick adjustment in Color Mixer.

Color Mixer 

Colour MixerColour MixerColour Mixer
Color Mixer

The great thing about Color Mixer is that you can target particular colours to adjust. I used it to knock the edge off the greens slightly and bump up the yellow for a little extra warmth.

CurvesCurvesCurves
Curves

You can use Curves to adjust contrast, or you can lift the shadows a little to give them a matte effect, as above.

Creating & Exporting Your LUT

Making Your Settings Into a LUT

Once you've got the look you want, you need to tell ACR to make those settings into a Profile/LUT. Go to Presets and Alt-click Create Preset. It's important you hold Alt or you'll create a preset rather than a profile. 

Profile optionsProfile optionsProfile options
Profile options

In the popup menu, you'll be able to name your LUT and also choose a group (which you might use if you were creating several LUTs for one project). Keep Tone Map Strength at Low (Normal) if you want the result to be a faithful representation of what you've made. Click OK.

Exporting Your LUT

Now that you've made your LUT/profile, you can export it as an XMP file. There are two quick ways.

Export xmpExport xmpExport xmp
Export xmp

If you've made a single LUT, you can right-click on the LUT and choose Export Settings to XMP.

Export profiles and presetsExport profiles and presetsExport profiles and presets
Export profiles and presets

If you've made a few, you can right-click your group name and choose Export Profile Group, which will then export all of your LUTs in that group (as XMPs), to one ZIP file.

Using Your LUT Elsewhere

You'll be able to use your XMP file to recreate your colour grade look across all your photos in one click once you've saved it. You might, however, decide you want to use it to colour grade your matching video footage. The great news is you can; the less great news is it requires a few extra steps.

In order for your XMP to work in an editing suite like Premiere Pro or DaVinci Resolve, you'll need to convert it to CUBE format, and this isn't something Adobe Camera Raw can do. There are third-party converters that can do this for you, like John Rellis's Export LUT, which works with Lightroom. It's $9.95 at time of writing, but you can download it and try it for free to see if you like it.

More Adobe Camera Raw Tutorials

About This Page

About the Author

Marie Gardiner is a writer and photographer from the North East of England. After gaining her degree in Film and Media, Marie worked in the media industry, before leaving to set up the business she runs with her partner: Lonely Tower Film & Media. As well as writing about visual practices like photography and video, Marie is also the author of Sunderland Industrial Giant (The History Press, 2017) and Secret Sunderland (Amberley Publishing 2019). Her photographic work focuses on landscapes and industrial ruins, particularly those of the North Pennines as she continues to work on her long-form documentary project Changing Landscapes.

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