Are LUT’s Killing Creativity And Eroding Skills?

I see this all the time “which LUT should I use to get this look” or “I like that, which LUT did you use”. Don’t get me wrong, I use LUT’s and they are a very useful tool, but the now almost default reversion to adding a LUT to log and raw material is killing creativity.

In my distant past I worked in and helped run  a very well known post production facilities company. There were two high end editing and grading suites and many of the clients came to us because we could work to the highest standards of the day and from the clients description create the look they wanted with  the controls on the equipment we had. This was a digibeta tape to tape facility that also had a Matrox Digisuite and some other tools, but nothing like what can be done with the free version of DaVinci Resolve today.

But the thing is we didn’t have LUT’s. We had knobs, dials and switches. We had to understand how to use the tools that we had to get to where the client wanted to be. As a result every project would have a unique look.

Today the software available to us is incredibly powerful and a tiny fraction of the cost of the gear we had back then. What you can do in post today is almost limitless. Cameras are better than ever, so there is no excuse for not being able to create all kinds of different looks across your projects or even within a single project to create different moods for different scenes. But sadly that’s not what is happening.

You have to ask why? Why does every YouTube short look like every other one? A big part is automated workflows, for example FCPX that automatically applies a default LUT to log footage. Another is the belief that LUT’s are how you grade, and then everyone using the same few LUT’s on everything they shoot.

This creates two issues.

1: Everything looks the same – BORING!!!!

2: People are not learning how to grade and don’t understand how to work with colour and contrast – because it’s easier to “slap on a LUT”.

How many of the “slap on a LUT’ clan realise that LUT’s are camera and exposure specific, how many realise that LUT’s can introduce banding and other image artefacts into footage that might otherwise be pristine?

If LUT’s didn’t exist people would have to learn how to grade. And when I say “grade” I don’t mean a few tweaks to the contrast, brightness and colour wheels. I mean taking individual hues and tones and changing them in isolation. For example separating skin tones from the rest of the scene so they can be made to look one way while the rest of the scene is treated differently. People would need to learn how to create colour contrast as well as brightness contrast. How to make highlights roll off in a pleasing way, all those things that go into creating great looking images from log or raw footage.

Then, perhaps, because people are doing their own grading they would start to better understand colour, gamma, contrast etc, etc. Most importantly because the look created will be their look, from scratch, it would be unique. Different projects from different people would actually look different again instead of each being a clone of someone else’s work.

LUT’s are a useful tool, especially on set for an approximation of how something could look. But in post production they restrict creativity and many people have no idea of how to grade and how they can manipulate their material.

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