As he lies on a moss-covered forest floor, Konsta Punkka is about to capture the moment for which he’s been waiting hours. Fortunately, the sun falls gently through gaps in the canopy, perfectly framing his subject – in this case, a curious fox coming to inspect the photographer’s equipment.
Punkka is based in Finland, a country that sits comfortably on the 60 degrees north latitude line. The subarctic climate and long winters, then, are characteristic of the Scandinavian state and provide the perfect conditions for pine, spruce and birch trees to prosper. Indeed, much of Finland’s natural woodlands are classified as snow forests.
And among these woodlands lives a vast ecosystem. In fact, Finland’s forests are home to an array of wildlife, including lynx, great grey owls, wolves, bears, wolverines and ermines.
It’s no wonder, then, that Punkka finds so much of his inspiration in this wooded wonderland. Indeed, the 21-year-old, who’s based in the Finnish capital Helsinki, spends much of his time trying to capture the magic of his homeland’s forests.
The college student hones his craft studying photography at the prestigious Voionmaa Institute. However, Punkka has already managed to establish himself as a successful photographer on Instagram – having amassed over 790,000 followers.
That’s because Punkka isn’t just any old nature photographer. No, the young talent specializes in capturing extreme close-ups of wildlife.
“My main goal always is to try to capture the emotions and feelings my animals feel while I take the photos of them,” Punkka told Colossal. “The animal’s health always comes first and then I get the shots if I can. All animal portraits that I have taken have been done with trust between me and animals. And with patience you earn the trust.”
Certainly, the photographer has been known to spend hours in one spot in order to capture the perfect image. But that’s not the only trick he has up his sleeve. In fact, the self-confessed “squirrel whisperer” has learned that the way to an animal’s heart is through its stomach.
Indeed, a number of Punkka’s breathtaking shots show him luring creatures toward him with a handful of nuts. The resulting staggering images show the tender nature of the relationship between animals and mankind.
“The feeding thing in my photographs is more like a thing I want to show to the people, that the animals trust me and they allow me to get really close to them. I don’t feed these guys much, just a few peanuts to get them stay close to me to take the shots,” Punkka told Bored Panda.
But, like many creatives before him, Punkka sometimes does have to suffer for his art. In 2013, for instance, he revealed to his Instagram followers that he’s actually allergic to most of the animals he encounters.
Despite his allergies, though, the student remains committed to his cause and has even nicknamed some of his repeat subjects, like the adorable red squirrel that he calls “Snok.” Granted, Punkka and Snok work as a close-knit team now, but it wasn’t always that way.
In fact, it took Punkka two years of following Snok around to finally win over the little rodent’s natural instinct to flee at the first twitch. “I finally earned the trust of this squirrel to get him sit on my hand. I’m actually pretty stoked,” he enthused on Instagram upon obtaining the victory.
Not only does Punkka’s work celebrate the connection between humans and animals, but it also highlights the many natural wonders that help make Finland so special. To illustrate this, many of his other dreamlike posts depict snowcapped mountains, charming wooden lodges and endless summer nights.
Indeed, Punkka has taken his DSLR camera and his iPhone to a number of enchanting locations across the globe since starting his Instagram page in May 2012. In the early parts of 2016, for example, the photographer jetted to Australia, Scotland, Iceland and the United States to pursue his art.
But, ultimately, Punkka’s love for the Finnish forests always draws him back to his homeland. And, seemingly like most Finns, the young creative feels an unbreakable affinity with his native landscape.
After all, one of the most sacred principles of Finnish life is “Everyman’s Rights.” This legal concept gives everyone the freedom to enjoy the nation’s extensive countryside.
This includes the right to walk, cycle and ski through open spaces, pick unprotected wild flowers and berries, and camp out in rural areas. However, the legislation also dictates that people must treat the land with respect – including not cutting down trees, lighting fires or leaving behind litter.
All this considered, it’s no wonder that Finland received 7.4 million foreign visitors last year alone. However, if you can’t get there yourself, Punkka’s incredible Instagram is at hand to transport you right into the heart of the forest.