We all know Aurora HDR is great for landscapes, but did you know you can also use it to create the popular Sports Grit Look? In this tutorial, sports photographer Robert Vanelli will walk you through all the steps needed to practice and create your own Sport’s Grit Matte Look. Let’s get started.

Choosing the Right Image

This style looks best with outdoor images that are photographed in bad weather with lots of mud or dirt. Solid backgrounds such as grass will enhance the look along with tight shots that have lots of color. Try to avoid a cloudless sky — the images don’t process well with this look.

Above all, capturing the attitude of the athlete is the key!

Start With HDR Basic

Select an image, uncheck Tone Mapping and click Create HDR. Start with HDR Basic to prepare the image for the sports grit look and apply these settings.

1. Review White Balance - Shade works well
2. Set HDR Enhance to 90 for clarity 
3. Slightly increase Smart Tone to a positive value of 24  —  this is only going to affect the brighter areas of the image
4. Decrease the Highlights to -92 to make them less pronounced
5. Lighten the Shadows with a value of 30
6. Adjust the Whites to a -100 value so they are not as pronounced 
7. Crunch the Blacks to 20 to make them look dull


A characteristic of the grit look is muted colors. To accomplish this, we need to make adjustments to Saturation and Vibrance. Saturation will adjust the intensity of all colors and Vibrance will only adjust the intensity of muted colors, ignoring well-saturated colors. 

1. Decrease Saturation  to -33 
2. Increase Vibrance to +12 

HDR Structure

This adjusts the clarity, structure, micro-contrast of the image, leading to a more “crisp” result. 

1.  Add just a little more structure with the Amount of 15
2. Increase Softness 70
3. Set Boost to 60

HDR Microstructure

HDR Microstructure amplifies micro-detail within the image. These are small details that form the surface of any object in the image

1.  Amount 50
2.  Softness 80

HDR Details Boost

Increases image details globally or in highlights and shadows. 

1.  Small 30
2.  Medium 50
3.  Large 20

STOP: Create a Preset

This is a good stopping pointing. Create a new preset by clicking Save Filters Preset... button at the bottom right of the interface. Name the new preset Game Day Sports Grit —  or something to your liking. You now have your own Sports Grit Look that can be used as is or as a starting point. Before you stop reading, I want to share an extra step that really completes the look.

The Hidden Secret 

Up to this point, the image has the look and feel of the Sports Grit Look but it’s missing something. The something isn’t actually missing, it’s staring right at us —  the background. The special Grit look was applied to the entire image. Although it looks good, it will look better if the effect was only applied to the subjects and the background has less of the effect. Here’s the next step to create another preset: Game Day Sports Grit Background.

A little warning, it will look terrible at first until the last step, that's when you will say Wow! 

Add an Adjustment Layer

Adjustment layers are a powerful way to “build up” your images. They allow you to add filters—or stack several filters together—to apply corrections or enhancements. Click + in the Layers section and choose Add New Adjustment Layer... and change the White Balance under HDR Basic to Shade.

HDR Structure

1.  Amount -52
2.  Softness 100
3.  Boost 80

Top & Bottom Tuning

Permits separate adjustments of exposure, contrast, vibrance in the upper and lower areas of the image. 

1.  Top Exposure -40
2.  Bottom Exposure -40

Tone Curves (crush or dull the blacks)

Represents the tonal range of the image along a diagonal line which can be adjusted by clicking and dragging. These settings will make the image appear dull and give the background a unique Game Day Grit look.

1.  Move the black point up and over to the right
2.  Move the white point down and over to the left

STOP: Create the Background Preset

Create a new preset by clicking Save Filters Preset.. button at the bottom right. Name the new preset Game Day Sports Grit Background. At this point, the background looks great but the subject looks terrible. The next step is the Wow step. 

Finalizing the Image

Let's add a layer mask and brush in the background.  Click the Layer brush, select Paint and apply the effect to just the background. (You can select the Mask Layer to view where you have painted.) Click Done when finished and you should hear yourself say WOW! 

How cool was that! We were able to use Aurora, which is typically associated with Landscapes and Architecture, and use it to produce great game day photos.