Nicole S. Young Tries Bird Photography with the FUJIFILM X-T2

Nicole S. Young Tries Bird Photography with the FUJIFILM X-T2

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BASED IN: Nebraska, USA
KNOWN FOR: Mouthwatering food photography and vibrant landscape images
SHOOTS WITH: FUJIFILM X-T2 Camera, X-T20 Camera, FUJINON XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS Lens, XF10-24mmF4 R OIS Lens, XF23mm F1.4 R Lens, XF27mmF2.8 Lens, XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Lens, XF56mmF1.2 R Lens, XF60mmF2.4 R Macro Lens, XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR Lens, XF1.4X TC WR Teleconverter


After serving in the U.S. Navy, Nicole S. Young transitioned over to stock photography. Since then, she has developed into a renowned photographer and educator. Now living in Lincoln, Nebraska, she writes and travels around the world with her camera, sharing her photography knowledge through her books, training, and online articles. In this Interview blog post, we asked Nicole about her recent experiences using the FUJIFILM X Series for bird photography.

What type of images do you typically shoot and what particularly appealed to you about this trip?

My photographic interests shift over time, and right now I would say that the types of images I typically shoot are landscape and travel-themed photos. I also photograph food and other stock photographs as the opportunity arises, but prefer the adventure of traveling and being outdoors. I have never seriously attempted bird photography in the past, or any wildlife for that matter, so the fact that this was a brand new subject altogether was extremely appealing.

Also, this trip was a workshop that I attended, led by avian photography expert Scott Bourne. Because I am new to bird photography I knew I would get the best experience out of my trip by learning from a subject matter expert. Scott is not only a professional bird photographer, but also an expert when it comes to understanding birds. To excel at any photographic genre, it’s smart to study the subject you are photographing to know and predict their behavior, which can ultimately result in better photographs.

Can you provide a little background information about the location you visited and the opportunities it offers for photographing birds?

Bosque del Apache is a national wildlife refuge in New Mexico, about a one-hour drive from Albuquerque. Each year thousands of birds pass through this area and it is most well known as a prime spot for viewing the sandhill crane migration in the fall. However, it is also home to many other species of birds and wildlife, including snow geese, ducks, eagles, and more.

This location is a wonderful spot to photograph birds and is very photographer friendly. You have a lot of mobility to move along the water’s edge and there are no intense restrictions on where you can stand, so long as you are obeying the rules of the refuge. When I was there many of the birds were primarily at the South Crane Pond, but the best location for photography can differ from year to year.

What FUJIFILM kit did you take with you and how did it perform?

I brought two cameras for this trip: the FUJIFILM X-T2 as my main ‘workhorse’ camera, and the FUJIFILM X-T20 as a second, handheld camera body.

My lens setup was the FUJINON XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens combined with the XF1.4x teleconverter, giving my images a total maximum 35mm equivalent focal length of 840mm.

On the X-T20 I used either the XF18-55mm, XF10-24mm, or XF50-140mm lens to get wider-framed photos. These lenses also helped me to be prepared for quick moments, especially in the early morning when there was a chance for a blastoff – when all the birds take off at once.

To set up my main camera I used a tripod and gimbal head for maneuverability. Some photographers use a monopod for this type of work, but because I was also shooting video in between still images, I needed the stability of a tripod.

I discovered that it was uncomfortable to shoot in portrait orientation for any extended period of time, so after this trip I also added the X-T2 Vertical Power Booster Grip to my kit. I plan on using this for future bird and wildlife photo shoots.

What new skills did you learn that you could pass on to bird photographers?

There are two things that I learned on this trip that will help me photograph birds in the future. The first is to photograph birds with direct light. This means that if the sun is behind you and your shadow is pointing at the bird, then you are in the best position to get the most flattering light. It can take a lot of moving around to get into position, because it’s important to avoid the temptation to pan the camera to get a different shot.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with being creative with your available lighting, and I had a lot of success photographing silhouettes of the birds at sunset.

The second tip is that you want the wind at your back. Birds take off into the wind, so if the wind is blowing at you from behind, a group of birds in front of you are more likely to fly over your head. This is especially important during moments when you expect a ‘blastoff’, when thousands of birds in a pond all take off at the same time, which is incredible to experience.

How did you combine shooting video with still images – did you find that shooting one, then the other, needed a change in approach?

I used the FUJIFILM X-T20 for all of the video and, after I got the hang of it, I found it quite easy to switch quickly from one to the other. There’s a toggle on the camera to quickly change the shooting mode over to video, but because I was photographing the birds at such high shutter speeds, I also needed to make a change to my exposure settings before I could record.

With video, you want your shutter speed to be approximately double your frame rate, so if your frame rate is 30 fps, then the shutter speed should be around 1/60 sec. This gives the video a smooth and much more cinematic feel. I wasn’t particularly rigid with my settings, but I did slow the frame rate down considerably and tried to keep my shutter speed at around 1/60 sec.

When doing this, I also had to adjust the ISO to compensate for changes in light. I did all of this manually, but after doing it a few times it became second nature and was easy to quickly adjust.

Nicole S. Young is a FUJIFILM-compensated professional photographer.

To see more of Nicole’s work, visit her website.

To explore the full X Series lineup visit X Gear Chooser.