Photoshop Color Grading for Landscape Photography

In this article I want to explain how Photoshop Color Grading works and how you can improve your landscape photography with this technique.

A couple of weeks back I published a tutorial explaining how to apply color grading in Lightroom to a sunset photo to improve the appearance. I must admit that although I liked the results, Lightroom is quite limited. Photoshop provides lots of flexibility in applying color grading to your photography.

If you have done any research on Photoshop Color Grading Techniques, you will most likely have seen the term LUT. LUT is an abbreviation of the term Lookup Table which is responsible for creating the Color Grading effect.

In the following video you will see the Photoshop Color Grading applied to a landscape photo using LUT’s. It also demonstrates how to adjust the Color Grading effect of the LUT and save this for future use.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel. I publish a new video every week about landscape photography and photo editing.

Applying Photoshop Color Grading

Color Grading isn’t something unique to Photoshop. This is a technique that’s made its way over from the cinematic industry. Adobe has simply integrated it into Photoshop using something called the Color Lookup adjustment. You won’t immediately see reference to LUT’s or Lookup Tables, although the term Color Lookup is quite similar.

There are two ways you can apply the Color Lookup adjustment to an image in Photoshop.

  1. You can apply it as a direct adjustment to the image using “Image | Adjustment | Color Lookup…” from the menu. This isn’t a good idea as it applies a destructive edit to the image. If you find the Color Grading effect too strong, you need to use the undo feature of History panel to change it.
  2. Alternatively, you can create a new Photoshop Color Lookup adjustment layer. If you find the Color Grading effect is too strong you can reduce the Opacity of the layer. If you decide you want to use a different effect, you can change the LUT used. It’s also possible to layer different LUTs on top of each other to create new effects.

How to Create LUT’s

The Photoshop Color Grading effect can use several different LUT formats. The LUT is responsible for instructing Photoshop how to translate the colours and tones in the image to new colours and tones. Once you have created your Photoshop Color Grading effect you can export this as a new LUT file. You then have a new LUT file you can apply to your other images.

One tip when exporting LUTs from Photoshop is not to select too high a level of quality. When you set very high-quality settings it takes a considerable amount of processing power to save the LUT. At times I have found this can crash Photoshop. It’s therefore also a good idea to save your image in the PSD format prior to exporting a LUT. The PSD format is preferable as it will retain the layer information used in the image.

Whilst it’s possible to find some free LUT’s on the internet, you will probably need to purchase the best. Some of these can be very expensive and there is no certainty they will produce a good result with your photography. An alternative is to create your own LUTs using special LUT creation software. This has a couple of distinct advantages over exporting LUTs from Photoshop:

  1. You’re not constrained on the effects created by the LUT’s you already have.
  2. You can create a LUT based on a specific image. This may allow you to create even better effects than using an existing LUT file.

You can find my tutorial on Lenscraft if you want to know more about creating LUT files for Color Grading.

Summary

As your probably already aware, Photoshop Color Grading is a great technique for photographers. If you’ve watched the video, you should now have a good understanding of how to apply it to your work. Be sure to also read the article describing how to create your own LUTs. It may just transform how you edit your photography.

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