Essential Utility LUTs
As awesome as Photoshop is, there are certain things that it can’t do. Since many of them are everyday tasks, we’ve learned to live with them. In some cases, we’ve developed workarounds to get the job done. Of course, those are the things I often need.
I’m talking about things like:
• Using a blend mode without a resulting color shift. Apply the Multiply or Overlay blend mode to any color photograph and you’ll see what I mean.
• Changing saturation based on tonal values only. Sometimes you need a saturation change that is restricted to a certain tonal range. For example, darker tones reflect less light and therefore tend to be less saturated than lighter tones. To achieve this effect, you need a natural looking saturation falloff affecting only shadow values that increases as the tones get darker.
On the other hand, if the dark tones are important to your photograph, you may want to increase their saturation to bring them into balance with everything else. To do either one of these well, you need a curve that handles tone and saturation independently while allowing you to adjust one based on the values of the other. Photoshop doesn’t have such a curve.
Blend If be of some can help here, but…see below.
• Lifting the dark tones while maintaining a perfect blend with the rest of the photograph. Yes, you can use a curve or the Screen blend mode, but sometimes the lifted tones don’t play well with others.
• Changing tonal values based on saturation only. For example, what if you want to brighten only saturated colors in a certain tonal range? You’re probably going to have to use one or even two masks combined with Blend If and you’ll probably still have to tweak after that.
• Massively increasing saturation on an unsaturated photograph. You can do it, but you can only push it so far before the pixels break down. Alternatively, there are a few blend mode tricks that will get the saturation for you but, more likely than not, you’ll then end up needing to correct a color shift.
• Dodging and burning or adding contrast. Either one of these poses a danger to your color. You can correct it later, but you’re guessing. These LUTs do that work up front.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have some simple solutions that rely on the proper tools?
My dad taught me to always use the right tool for the job. “You won’t have to work so hard and the results will usually be better”, he said, “so get the right tool!” Fortunately for us, there are other tools that are better suited for these tasks
Here’s the truth. Photoshop is simply not designed to perform these tasks easily while producing excellent results. The problem isn’t Photoshop itself. The problem is that Photoshop is based in the RGB Color Space. That color space does not separate color from tone, so it’s an uphill battle from the start.
You may be thinking, “But I have luminosity masks and Blend If!”
Blend If is an awesome tool and it can solve a lot of problems, but it’s often used as a workaround to imitate the results you’d get if you were in the right color space using the right tools.
As we all know, workarounds don’t always work out. At best, a Blend If adjustment is based two things: tone and some combination of the RGB channels, which also contain tone. Getting the right combination can be challenging. Even then, sometimes things don’t blend properly, and you end up with the “If” part instead of the “Blend” part. On top of that, you’re guessing again. You might get close, but you’re still in the wrong color space. If you’re a perfectionist like me, you won’t be completely satisfied anyway. That’s because once you’ve used these LUTs, you’ll know what’s possible.
I developed the LUTs in this package as solutions for the problems I’ve encountered in my own work and I reach for them all the time. They produce superb results and are a joy to use because they keep me out of problem-solving mode. That means I can spend more time creating.
Note: When you first apply the LUTs to your photograph, it will likely look overcooked. That’s because I made them powerful enough to handle worst case scenarios. Most of the time, the only thing you’ll need to adjust after applying them is the opacity slider. Simply blend in the amount you need. Of course, if you feel the need, you can use masks or any other technique or tool (even Blend If!) in conjunction with them. You can also use them creatively by stacking them or by using them with other LUTs or blend modes. I demonstrate some of these ideas in the videos that are included.
These LUTs have saved me many times. You’ll wonder how you ever got along without them.
BONUS TIP: You can also use “My Panel”, developed by my friend Blakes Rudis, as a LUT browser. It’s not absolutely necessary, but it makes the job much easier. I use it every day and I love it! If that interests you, there is a link below. Clicking on it will take you to Blake’s store and you can purchase the panel there.
This package includes:
These LUTs apply the appropriate Blend Mode without shifting the hue or saturation.
• Blend Mode_Multiply_no Sat
• Blend Mode_Screen_no Sat
• Blend Mode_Overlay_no Sat
• Blend Mode_Soft Light_no Sat
Saturation and Desaturation:
These LUTs handle targeted delicate or massive shifts in saturation without changing the hue or tone.
• Super Saturator (this is a BIG gun!)
• Desaturation_Cool w Bright Mids
• Desaturation_Warm w Bright Mids
• Desaturation_Gentle Highlights
• Desaturation_Gentle Shadows
Specialty Saturation and Brightness Tools:
We do not perceive saturation equally across the scale of brightness. Darker tones tend to be less saturated and visa-versa. These LUTs keep those parameters separate and adjust them independently.
The “Sat/Luma” LUTs adjust the saturation of each pixel based on its luminance value.
The “Luma/Sat” LUTs adjust the luminance of each pixel based on its saturation value.
Adjustments limited to highlights or shadows are indicated by the words plus or minus.
• Sat Luma_minus Highlights
• Sat Luma_minus Shadows
• Sat Luma_plus Highlights
• Sat Luma_plus Shadows
• Luma Sat_minus Highlights
• Luma Sat_minus Shadows
• Luma Sat_plus Highlights
• Luma Sat_plus Shadows
General Use Tools:
These are exactly what their names imply. Just remember that they adjust only the targeted parameter. There is no spillover, color shift, or other unintended changes.
• Balanced Shadow Recovery
• Burn Shadows
• Dodge Highlights
• Contrast_Gentle 1
• Contrast_Gentle 2
• Contrast_Global 1
• Contrast_Global 2
.CUBE files can be used in Photoshop or any image editor or video editor that supports them.
It is possible to import these LUTS into Lightroom/ACR. However, my advice is to use them in Photoshop, or your image editor of choice, with the other tools available there.
Installation and use instructions are included.
Please note that to import the LUTs into Lightroom or Camera RAW, you must be using the following software versions or later:
Lightroom Classic 7.3
Camera RAW 10.3