Can you remember what you used to do when you were 21? Possibly it wasn’t anything like that of Finland-born, Konsta Punkka. By the age of 21, Konsta had spent six years honing his skill as a wildlife and landscape photographer and had amassed an incredible 800,000+ Instagram followers as a result of it @kpunkka.
Take one look at his series of intimate close-up pictures of foxes, squirrels, bears, and other animals and it is easy to see why. His images, which have been shared thousands of times, seem to invite us into a world of wildlife animals living happily in the Nordic countryside – with close-up photographs almost seem to tap into their very souls.
Here, he shares how his passion and respect for wildlife gives him the kind of patience needed to be a good as a wildlife photographer.
Building up trust can take years
As a teenager, Konsta decided to abandon his hopes of a music career, and put all of his effort into wildlife photography instead. A decision that would later prove to be a good one. Taking photos of the wildlife in areas that he knew from his childhood seemed like a natural starting point, and he spent hundreds of hours returning to the same places to familiarise himself with foxes, and other creatures, and build up their trust.
“I spent a few years trying to find locations around Finland and Norway where I could get close to the animals.”
It took a long time for Konsta to build up trust with the wildlife animals; they had to become familiar with his scent so that he could get closer without scaring them away. Whether going on wildlife shoots alone or as a crowd of photographers, animals would find it intimidating.
His commitment to putting animals at ease with him has meant he’s needed to go to some extremes: “I once had a project with badgers that meant I needed to get rid of my ‘human’ scent. Before I set off, I went to a farm for the day and I lay around in the mud to lose my smell so I could get closer to the animals and earn their trust.”
Hard work pays off
Nowadays, the hard part is already done: “I now have plenty of places where I can go to find foxes, deer, and elk and they know and trust me”, Konsta explained.
Konsta is reaping the rewards, and he’s able to be more creative. Konsta told us, “it’s not about trying to find a fox to photograph any more, but instead it’s deciding on the finer details, like the background.”
“I’m now able to focus on how to capture the photo that I can picture in my head. For example, right now I’d love to get a portrait of a fox with a background of the flower fields that are in bloom and popping with colour.”
The best way to hone your craft
If you want to be able to shoot like Konsta, he emphasises that practice makes perfect. He advises any budding wildlife photographers to “go and shoot every day and you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t.”
“I’m a self-taught photographer. The first year, I read a lot, searching the internet for tips and tricks from the experts. But learning by doing is really the best way to learn”, he said.
Don’t be scared to try something out of the ordinary
Initially Konsta took inspiration from other nature photographers, but he now tries to get stand-out shots that no one else has taken.
Through experimenting with his style, he found a unique lens combination that works for him. Conventional wisdom dictates that wide angle lenses are best for landscapes, and longer lenses are preferable for portraits, but Konsta reverses this. He shoots most of his wildlife portraits on a NIKKOR 14-24mm, f/2.8 and will choose a longer lens for a landscape, such as a NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G.
Wildlife photography is not for the impatient
Patience is key, especially when you’re starting out on the path to becoming a wildlife photographer. In the past he has spent weeks without getting anything he was happy with. “I’d go to the same spot maybe 20 times and never get anything. Then just once, I’d be able to get the shot.”
During the colder months, it can be particularly frustrating, Konsta explained “the winter is harsh up here. To get shots with smaller creatures, it involves lots of laying down and just waiting, hoping that when the animal emerges, you have enough time to take the photo you want.”
Indeed, as Colossal writes, Punkka will go to extreme lengths to capture a perfect photo. One winter, he crawled for hours at the mouth of a cave to nail a shot.
Konsta always maintains a positive attitude despite the challenges; he preaches patience and encourages photographers not to get frustrated: “Don’t expect anything. Sometimes nature works as you want it to, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Above all else, he wants photographers to make sure they’re safe and that the animals are safe, too. Konsta is keen to make sure the creatures he works with remain wild, and don’t become dependent on him.
Konsta is currently making the most of the Nordic summer, travelling around Norway and Finland. But when some of his usual subjects go into hibernation, he travels the world as a landscape photographer. He’s visited 15 countries this year alone, and loves being able to explore other parts of the world and work with other incredible photographers.
Keen to head out to the great outdoors? Getting close to wildlife is a spectacular experience, it is dangerous for both visitors, photographers and wildlife. Please remember to maintain safe distance and respect the natural environment of wildlife at all times.