How to Create Your Own Custom LUTs in Under 5 minutes

A Look Up Table, or LUT is an extremely powerful tool for an editor/colorist. They can easily convert your footage to look beautiful without the fuss or need to color grade. That's why software like FilmConvert or VisionColor is so popular today. But there is more to a LUT than just color grading your footage in post. Today, I want to share with you how to easily create your own custom LUT in under 5 minutes and use it to be more inspired out in the field!

We were fortunate enough to have SmallHD send over a DEMO unit of their new 500 series, the 502 monitor. We'll be putting the monitor through the paces so check back in the coming weeks for a full write up.

 
The SmallHD 502 Monitor on a Zacuto Z-Arm.

The SmallHD 502 Monitor on a Zacuto Z-Arm.

 

For now, let's focus on how to create a simple LUT for monitors like the SmallHD 502 or the Zacuto Gratical so you can view a better looking image when you're shooting your next project.

Having a great looking image during your shoot makes all the difference in the world. It can help you feel more connected to the subject you are shooting and also help you light the scene better.

The image below is straight out of the Sony A7S but with my custom LUT exported from Davinci Resolve.

 
The SmallHD 502 with a custom LUT applied.

The SmallHD 502 with a custom LUT applied.

 

The SmallHD 502 comes loaded with a set of LUTs but they are not specific enough to the cameras that we use. This is why knowing how to create a simple LUT using Davinci Resolve can really enhance your workflow and your gear.

If you're shooting on a Sony A7S, you know all too well the need to over-expose your image by a stop or two to reduce the amount of noise. If done right, you'll end up with a gorgeous image. However, that's sometimes easier said than done. By creating your own custom LUT, you can preview the image as if you've brought it back down a stop or two in post while controlling your highlights.

Here's how to get started:

1. Use a Color Chart

 
Xrite ColorCheck Passport.

Xrite ColorCheck Passport.

 

Using a professional calibrated color chart ensures that you're getting accurate colors while you're shooting. We use the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport on all of our shoots. This nifty tool saves a ton of time especially when you're shooting with multiple cameras and it fits in any bag with a very small footprint.

Here are a few tips when you're grabbing your footage with the ColorChecker Passport:

 
Sekonic Light Master L-478D Light Meter

Sekonic Light Master L-478D Light Meter

  • Make sure the black square is evenly lit (no reflections). Otherwise you'll end up with weird shadows
  • Use a Light Meter. It's important that the chart is properly exposed.
  • If you're exposing for slog2, shoot 3 versions: correct exposure, +1EV and +2EV
 

After you shoot your footage with the X-Rite ColorChecker, it's time to get inside Davinci Resolve.

2. Import your footage into Davinci Resolve

Now that you've recorded your footage with the X-Rite ColorChecker, it's time to import your footage into Davinci Resolve and begin creating your own custom LUT.

Inside Davinci Resolve, under the color tab, you'll find a powerful tool called "Color Match". Essentially, it interprets the colors of the color chart within the footage you've shot and gives you a basic starting point with the specific color science / color space you're working in. In our case, we'll turn the slog2 color space from the Sony A7S into a Rec.709 to be used with our SmallHD 502 monitor.

Here's a quick video demonstration of what to do:

 
 

Now that you've interpreted the colors and "color matched" the footage, it's time to export your LUT for your monitor.

3. Export Your LUT

All you have to do to export your custom LUT is right click the thumbnail on the timeline within the color tab in Davinci Resolve, select the 3D LUT Cube option and that's it.

Simple, right?

With your LUT exported, you can now import it into your monitor and start shooting while monitoring great colors!

Why You Should Use a LUT while Shooting

While slog2 or Black Magic's Camera RAW is excellent for holding the color information, it's not exactly great to look at while shooting. Personally, it can be a bit uninspiring. This is why monitors like the SmallHD 500 series or Zacuto's Gratical is so powerful. They allow you to see what your end result will be like while you're shooting!

Not only is this a better image to look at while you're shooting, it also makes it easier to light your scene. It is very difficult to judge what your image will be like in post while lighting a flat, dull image. Not impossible, but difficult.

You should also always use a light meter to make sure you're getting the right exposure in the right areas for your scene. Remember, a painter uses paint, a cinematographer uses light. It's your job to shape the light as well as control the amount of light.

Top 10 Must Haves Tools

Some of the tools I've mentioned above are absolute essentials that I've picked up along the way. Keep posted soon because I'll be releasing our Top 10 Must Have Tools in Your Arsenal next Friday!

Remember to comment below and follow us on social media to stay updated!