Custom Look-Up Tables (or LUTs) are a great way to apply color, contrast and exposure adjustments to digital images and video. In video and movies, this process is used to apply a “look” to the image without fundamentally modifying the pixels themselves. Think of it like a nondestructive filter through which a moving image is viewed.
A handful of Look-Up Tables are included by default in Photoshop, and they can be purchased online as well. They’re simple to apply—just click on the LUT icon in the Adjustment Layers palette and watch the image change. Better, though, is the fact that you can make custom LUTs yourself. In fact, any adjustment layers applied to an image in Photoshop can also be saved as a custom LUT. This way, you can dial in the exact look you’re after and save it for use in the future, for application in both stills and video.
To create a custom LUT in Photoshop, start by making changes to the image using adjustment layers. In the example here, a Photo Filter adjustment is applied for warmth, along with a black and white conversion, layers and tone curve adjustments. Once the image looks as you’d like it, click File>Export>Color Lookup Tables. In the popup window that appears, give the LUT a name, a copyright if you care to and then adjust the quality.
I use High (64 grid points) and the 3DL and CUBE versatile formats, but you can certainly check all four if you plan to use your LUT extensively in other applications. Click OK and Photoshop will convert the Adjustment Layers to the LUT. Then, choose a location for the files. I save them to my desktop initially, then drag and drop them to the 3DLUT subfolder of the Photoshop Presets folder (which likely requires a password to access, so saving there directly doesn’t work).
With the LUT files now in the folder where Photoshop will find them, they’ll appear in Photoshop’s LUT list after restart of the application, easily accessible back in the Adjustment Layers palette. But I like to go one step farther and convert the LUT into something I can use in Lightroom. It’s a sneaky way to bring Photoshop Adjustment Layer functionality into an application that doesn’t use adjustment layers.
To import the LUT into Lightroom, we’ll use Adobe Camera Raw to import the file as a profile. I simply open a RAW image in Photoshop so the Camera Raw popup appears, then navigate to the Presets heading (second from the end of the list in the top right of the window) and look for the New Preset “folded paper” icon in the bottom right of the panel. Option-clicking (or Alt-clicking) this icon will open up the New Profile dialogue box.
Here, you can give your profile a name and choose which settings to include. Point Curve is checked by default, and I adjust the Tone Map Strength to Medium. Uncheck Look Table, but click on the Color Lookup Table checkbox at the bottom of the window and navigate through the file tree to the Photoshop 3DLUT subfolder in the Presets folder. Then click OK when you’re ready, close out of Camera Raw and restart Lightroom to apply the changes.
With Lightroom restarted, click on the Profile Browser icon near the top of the Basic heading in the Develop module. Be sure All Profiles are active and look for the User Profiles heading at the bottom of the list. Here, you’ll find all of the custom LUTs you’ve created and imported, ready to deploy as Profiles at the click of a button.