Neutral Density Filters, Light Trails, and North-Bound MARTA Trains in Atlanta

A photo taken of the MARTA train as it barrels north next to the 400 in Atlanta

Caught the north-bound MARTA train

On Photography Mishaps 

I like experimenting with photography. I'm always looking to improve my photos and play with different looks and styles. 

Last week, my friend Lauren and I went to a pedestrian bridge over the 400. You get a little cityscape view plus the MARTA train (if you're patient!), as well as some traffic from the 400. 

The weather was so perfect. It was nice to be out walking around but especially nice to be out shooting.

Neutral Density Filters

I remembered my neutral density (ND) filter - it's a 4x. That means it cuts the light by 2 stops. Why do that? So you can leave your shutter open longer without blowing out the highlights.

When you leave the shutter open longer, you get nice light trails from the cars.

Seems easy enough in theory. But I've found It's a constant balancing act between getting a long enough shutter speed for the light trails without getting too much light and blown-out highlights. The ND filter helps. 

Blurry cars and blown-out sky photo sample

The shutter speed was long enough for some blurry cars, but the sky is blown out. It was still too bright out even with the ND filter

One of the most common uses for ND filters is shooting waterfalls or moving water during the bright daylight and getting that nice flowing blurry look in the water.

If it's bright out, and you leave your shutter open long enough to get the blurry effect (a few seconds), the shot would be way too overexposed, even if you stopped the aperture way down and your ISO was at its lowest setting.

If you're going out during the day to shoot and you know you'll want a long shutter speed, an ND 1.8 is great. It blocks 6 stops of light. If you don't have an ND filter, try shooting at sunrise or sunset. You might even want a 10-stop or more ND filter depending on how bright it is. 

Last week, I brought my Nikon D610 and the Sony a6000. I only have one lens for the Sony, so I'm limited to 55mm-210mm. That's about equivalent to 85mm-300mm on the Nikon full frame. 

It's great to have that closeup capability, but it doesn't work for all situations. 

I took a few shots with the Sony but I used the Nikon with the 24mm-85mm for most of my shots.

It was still pretty light out when we got there. We lucked out and found two holes in the fence through which we could set up our tripods and cameras unobstructed. 

I don't advocate vandalism but it was nice to find two camera-sized holes!

After setting up, I was experimenting with a few shots. It was too light out to get any blurry cars or light trails. I was impatiently waiting for the sunset. 

As the sun started going down, though, it was a good opportunity to experiment. I put on the ND filter and, at Lauren's suggestion, turned my ISO to Low. In all the years I've been shooting, I've never used the low ISO setting. Essentially, it's lower than ISO 100. 

I shoot at ISO 100 as much as possible because it gives you the least amount of "noise" in your photos. But it's not always possible to shoot on 100, especially when shooting indoor events. 

The sun finally went down. Any sunset is a good sunset when you're out shooting and the weather is perfect. But, the colors in this particular sunset were kinda boring. 

We shot away hoping to catch the MARTA train as it sped by. That was a trick. There's another set of train tracks nearby, and we kept getting fooled by the train noise coming from those tracks. We'd be all ready to shoot and then realize there was no train coming. 

The MARTA train doesn't come by that spot as often as we would've liked. 

Photography is a lot about patience. 

I did manage to catch a few train shots. I think Lauren got some great ones. 

I didn't even dump my photos onto the hard drive when I got home. I was too tired.

I get up around 5-5:30 every morning. It gives me a little time to journal and be standing at the gym door when it opens at 6. I have a tendency to stay up reading or writing until 11.

It catches up with me now and then. And ever since my son had me listen to a podcast on the importance of sleep, I've tried to get at least 7-1/2 hours a night. But anyway, I digress...

Photo of Atlanta taken at night through a hole in the fence over the 400

It was a jpeg so I couldn't edit as much as I'd like. But it was a good evening of shooting

When I finally took the photos off the SD card the next day, I sat there watching in horror as they fed into Lightroom. UGH! I had recently been shooting some photos with my cousin. They were photos I wasn't going to edit much, so I shot in JPEG. 

I forgot to switch back to RAW before we went out shooting on Wednesday. 


These photos are okay, but they would have been much better if I could have edited them the way I like. But, JPEG doesn't capture enough information for me to be able to add some of the touches I normally do. 

I've been shooting in RAW for so long. I almost never switch, except for maybe for an event or something. But I always switch it right back. I forgot to check after I got set up. I've never made that mistake before. 

Lesson learned...I hope! 

Remember to check all your basic settings before you head out to shoot, especially if you're used to shooting with the same setup all the time. It's too easy to assume all your settings are what you usually use. 

Happy shooting!

And see you between the raindrops!