Creating and using custom LUTS for still photography is easy and fun using Affinity Photo and Exposure X5. (the above video is best viewed in full screen mode.)
LUTs have become really popular recently for photographers wanting to create a unique look for their images after looking over the shoulders of video creators and seeing some of the cool and beautiful color grading effects they have achieved. The best description I have heard of what a LUT is, is it's a file that tells a program how to remap the colors in an image. Now it is really easy to create your own custom, dynamic looks and apply them to your images with the right tools. The first step in LUT creation resides in the incredibly powerful Affinity Photo which has great LUT integration both in the creating, saving, and using of them if you prefer to do all of your image editing in Affinity (here is a short video on one of my favorite features in Affinity Photo - Using the Infer LUT feature.) One thing not mentioned in the video above is that these same LUT files can be imported into Affinity Photo for iPad so you have the same color grading tools for on-the-go editing as you do on a desktop.
Part two of the integration process for me is the easy and powerful tools within Exposure X5 (soon to be X6) with its dedicated LUTs tool tab. I've not seen any other image editing program with the same versatility as Exposure. They are ahead of the game and I expect it will only get better.
Now, in researching this phenomenon of creating your own custom LUTs, and importing and using them in your image editor of choice, I discovered the process is not as seamless as it should be. In fact, it's currently a bit, shall we say, "cludgy" by comparison in some programs. And the options for tweaking the color grading are limited compared to Exposure X5:
Here is a clear explanation from Scott Kelby on how to import LUTs into Adobe Lightroom (you have a subscription, right?) that is pretty "hackey" compared to the Affinity-Exposure route. Adobe chose to make LUTs work in the Profiles menu, which is not all together intuitive. Here is another video showing an even more convoluted approach using a third party 3-D LUT creation software for Lightroom. Pretty crazy!
Capture One Pro is the worst at handling the use of LUTs, and as a complete all-around image editor it is way behind other programs. There is no dedicated LUT pathway, and C1 instead relies on its Styles feature. Safe to say that Capture One Pro 2020 really hasn't gotten onboard the LUT train.
So, there you go, the state of the LUT world to date. Exposure is leading the way in the use of LUTs, will the other players catch up?
* and just as an anecdotal note: after creating this video I decided to rename the "Trace LUTs" category in Exposure to "Cinema LUTs" for better reference to the Cinematic LUTs files. Now I feel better! 😎