Focusing on color can help you communicate style and emotion. This approach is often referred to as color grading.
Color grading versus color correction
You may have wondered how this differs from color correction, which is more of a technical adjustment. A tungsten bulb, for example, will produce a color shift in your images that’s warmer than what you’re accustomed to seeing with your eyes. Often you want to adjust that hue, cooling it off a bit so that it appears more natural. That’s a correction.
Color grading, on the other hand, leans toward the artistic. You may want to add or enhance orange tones and teals to create a mood similar to what one would experience in the movies. Exact reality isn’t the goal. It’s more about a creative look that elicits a feeling.
Here’s a simple example. Compare these two portraits. The first picture seems perfectly fine. The rendered colors are similar to what we would perceive if standing there during capture.
The second image is color graded to communicate a style, a look. And even though it isn’t natural by everyday lighting standards, it’s interesting – and probably more engaging than the “correct” color version.
All image editors are equipped to correct color. But some are better than others at providing the means to manipulate it stylistically. Luminar 2018 is one of those creative applications.
The Power of LUTs
Lookup Tables (LUTs) sound like a technical adjustment. And indeed there is plenty of color science at work under the hood. They are used to precisely shift colors from one spot to another. But those shifts can be stored in a container, such as a “.cube” file, that can be used to color grade an image.
So even though LUTs are precise color science, their recipes can be wonderfully artistic.
The original version of this Las Vegas scene was serviceable, but certainly not exciting. Nor did it convey the majesty of the building. By color grading with a teal and orange LUT, suddenly the scene comes to life.
Does it look exactly like that in reality? No. But does the image feel like Las Vegas? Definitely more than the original.
Applying LUTs in Luminar 2018
Your gateway to this type of color grading in Luminar 2018 is via the LUT Mapping Filter. You can add this adjustment to your workspace by clicking on the Filters button, and by choosing LUT Mapping from the Professional category.
Once the filter has been added to the workspace, click on the popup menu inside the panel to reveal the built-in LUTs (such as Tritone and Kodack chrome 3), or to access LUT files that you may have already added to your computer via Load Custom LUT File.
Once you select a LUT, the image is color graded via the LUT’s recipe. You can fine-tune the recipe using the Amount, Contrast, and Saturation sliders. Also, a good companion filter for this color grading with LUTs is HSL, which provides color adjustments for hue, saturation, and luminance.
Tips for Effective Color Grading with LUTs
Creating a separate adjustment layer for your color grading provides lots of flexibility. The base layer is used for basic adjustments via the Develop filter and the other tools that you need to establish a good range of tones. The adjustment layer (Layers > Add New Adjustment Layer) contains the LUT Mapping, HSL, and other creative filters. You can then use the blend modes and the opacity slider for precise control over the grading.
Another handy technique is to save your LUT color grading as a custom preset. Luminar makes this easy. Once you achieve a look that you want to use again, save it as a custom preset. Use the “Save Filters Preset” button in the lower right corner of Luminar. This provides the added benefit of a preview thumbnail for the LUT and its accompanying adjustments. You can create custom presets for all of your favorite LUTs. That’s a real time saver.
LUTs are also terrific for film emulation. There are LUTs for Kodachrome, Polaroid, and B&W film looks. This is a high-quality way to build your own Instagram-like filters, with a pinch of your own creativity added.
Downloading and Organizing More LUT Files
Skylum maintains a LUT downloads page that you can access through Luminar. Click on “Download New LUT Files” in the LUT Mapping popup menu. This will take you to the Skylum LUT catalog.
Once you download a new collection of LUTs, store them in a place that you will remember, such as a LUTs folder in Pictures or Documents. You’ll have to navigate there when you use the “Load Custom LUT File” command in Luminar. The application doesn’t store LUTs for you, so you have to remember where you are.
Bonus tip! Store your custom LUTs in Dropbox so you can access them from any computer.
Save Your Work
If you’re using Luminar 2018 as a standalone app (as opposed to a plug-in or editing extension), then save your favorite color gradings as a Luminar file. This allows you to return to the image and its settings at a future date to continue your work, or to change the color grading to another style.
Make it Look Easy
Your viewers may not realize the techniques that you used to create the enticing color schemes in your images. What they will notice are your style and creativity. Using LUTs can contribute greatly to that pursuit.
Disclaimer: Skylum (formerly Macphun) is a paid partner of dPS.