Using Color Grading LUTs to Effect

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Fred Barnard said a picture is worth a thousand words. It’s notable that he was an advertising executive, the goal of advertising being to get a transaction started, to cause action. What though is a picture but an amalgamated set of colored or grey-scale shapes intended to evoke a thought? When you create, edit, and present an image for the purpose of eliciting a response, it’s important to get it exactly right. And exactly right is a difficult result to wrestle from reality within the available time frame without a little artistically applied technology. 

There’s a time during the day, when the sun is low on the horizon, that has the richest colors. The reason for that is that the light travels farther within the atmosphere and the blue and green short wavelength high energy light is more effectively scattered. Lighting is capricious and doesn’t always exist at the time and place of the event so as to provide the conditions that create the image which expresses the thought we want to convey. A photographic image is the result of an artist capturing reality at the time and place where it occurs. But that is not the same thing as the objective in using the image. We use the image to accomplish something, to inform, or persuade, or emotionally move, else, why bother? The image that is captured is not necessarily the image presented to the consumer. 

The techniques have long existed that allow you to recolor photographs by hand. It’s tedious and difficult to duplicate. Tools also exist to individually recolor digital images, but that process has the same limitations. Fortunately, a technology exists to recolor digital content according to a repeatable palette adjustment. It’s called color grading LUTs or Look Up Tables. An image editor can cost effectively use a LUT to adjust a group of images being used together in a layout created in Adobe Premiere Pro CC or Final Cut Pro X and they won’t look individually manipulated. The folks at offer free LUTs, and the LUTs can be fine-tuned to your needs. Wikipedia offers some additional history and technical explanation.

Look up tables can do more than correct for inopportune timing. Artists have style, and that is no less so in the artistic capture, editing and presentation of digital images. Is that particular cerulean blue somewhere in all your skies? LUTs can be used to edit images so they consistently convey the style attributes you have worked so hard to make into a brand. Look up tables can also be used to draw the viewers’ attention to a particular element. Does your client need to highlight a color branded tool in an environment which doesn’t lend itself to that effect? Doing so by hand may not consistently be subtle enough across multiple images to avoid drawing attention to the manipulation rather than the object. For subtle, consistent, duplicatable results look up tables are the most effective technique to edit digital images.




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