Building IR LUT Variations In Photoshop

January 8, 2016

In this Insight learn how to build Infrared type looks in Photoshop & export them for use video grading tools like DaVinci Resolve.   

Inspired To Experiment With Infrared Looks

Happy New Year everyone!  Team Mixing Light is looking forward to 2016 – we have a lot in store from new pieces of software that we cover to new contributors and of course, some big surprises!

I wanted to start 2016 talking about something that really got my creative juices going back in December when Dan did an amazing Insight on creating an Aerochrome look.  Seriously Dan, thank you!

The Aerochrome infrared look is of course not for every project (God help us!) and it doesn’t suit everyone’s atheistic even when it’s done well like Dan did in his Insight!

With that said, I dig it, and wanted to know more about it.  The fine folks over at Lomography did a really cool write up on using Aerochrome film and there are quite a few practical tips on filtering and lots of images to browse for inspiration.

As I started experimenting with building different Aerochrome and more traditional looks in Resolve, largely based on the tips/workflow that Dan provided in his Insight, two things dawned on me:

First was that it can be a pain to setup all the parts of a very stylized look like this. Unlike Dan who mainly grades short form, I have often have 1000+ shot timelines I need to get through quickly.

Furthermore, while you could save a PowerGrade of the look once built, you have to manage those PowerGrades between databases, and PowerGrades of course only work in Resolve.

Next, that got me thinking about Infrared/Aerochrome LUTs.  As long as I was doing pixel to pixel operations and not masking, etc., I could export a LUT directly from Resolve that I could bring anywhere with me!

I was describing all of this to my good friend and incredible After Effects/Photoshop trainer Ian Robinson and he mentioned that he’d been building infrared type looks in Photoshop for years and suggested that I may get different results building the look there and I should give it a go.

How do you get work in Photoshop to translate into Resolve or other video apps?  Export a LUT! Which is a relatively new feature in Photoshop and something that we briefly covered with another friend Rich Harrington in a previous Insight.

So, in this Insight, I want to discuss building a couple IR looks including doing a rebuild of Dan’s excellent Aerochrome look, but do that all starting in Photoshop and I’ll leave it Dan to create more variations directly in Resolve!

(Note: I’m using the same sample BMD 4k clip that Dan used so you can compare for yourself the results between a LUT and the grade in Resolve.)

Adjustment Layers

As you probably already know, LUTs are not that smart!  So as Dan, Pat and I have all mentioned in various ways over the years when it comes to building LUTs, no matter where you build them, keep things simple! Qualifications, masks, etc. won’t work and at best they’ll just give you funky results.

I’m sure some of you are power Photoshop users (I’m not) and have a dozen other ways to do some of the adjustments I’m going to show to create the looks. But, you have to keep in mind that because we want to make a LUT, your pallet of tools becomes smaller.

Essentially, this workflow depends on adjustment layers.  Also key to this workflow is that you have a true background layer, otherwise you can’t export the LUT.  I’ll show you this step in the movie below.

Much like Dan showed in Resolve with various nodes, inversion and channel flopping are a key part to creating IR type looks, and almost everything I’ll show operates on the basic principle of remapping to opposite of a ‘normal’ shot.

No Right Or Wrong

Intrigued by the Aerochrome look I started doing a lot of research on IR (because I’m a little OCD) and discovered there is a ton of variation in IR photography.  While some people like colorful IR looks others prefer the more traditional negative looking effect with snowy greens and dark blues or reds.

My point?

These looks are something you’ll break out maybe a couple times of year, building variations while you’re thinking of these looks will save you time later. I’m going to show a rebuild of the Aerochrome look as well as more traditional IR look, but in your own projects push the limits and do what feels good.

Often times as colorists we’re charged with getting it to look ‘right’ and don’t have much opportunity to have fun with an uber stylized look – this is one of those times.

One side note – I find these looks work best on bright shots that have plenty of natural contrast, as well as lots of green & blue.  Will other tones work with the techniques I’ll show?  Sure, I just prefer the atheistic of the transformation of green’s and blues.

You can find the two LUTs I build in the movie below HERE

Remember any questions or suggestions please use the comments below.  


P.S. The still I sent over to Photoshop already had a grade applied to it. Most of the time,  it’s better to develop a LUT without other adjustments pre-applied.  However, the pre graded shot corrections were necessary to ‘normalize’ the look of the clip.  Readjustment of the base correction could have been made as necessary once the LUT was applied. Or if I/you end up really fighting the LUT, simply redevelop the LUT sans an initial correction.

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