With a bit of luck and lots of love for nature, Julia Kivelä’s, 28, photography is growing into a successful career.
Snow-burdened spruce trees in the arctic Lapland, northern wilderness bathing in pink sunset, quiet stillness of an evergreen forest. Julia’s photographs of Finnish nature have gained over 50 000 followers on Instagram.
Born and raised in St. Petersburg, Julia had no intention of moving to Finland, let alone become a nature photographer. But fate stepped in. During a weekend trip to Helsinki, Julia got separated from her friends and couldn’t find the way back to her hotel.
– Then I met this Jaakko and he helped me to find my hotel. As a graphic designer I only remembered that the logo of the hotel was a red apple. He understood it’s Omenahotelli, and got me there, Julia laughs.
Julia fell in love with the helpful Finn and the couple got married. In 2011 Julia moved to Helsinki. While exploring her new surroundings on the Lauttasaari island, Julia was impressed by the pure nature just a stone throw away from the city center.
Julia and her husband spent a lot of time walking through the parks and along the seaside of Lauttasaari. During these walks Julia started to take pictures of the beautiful sights with her phone.
– Lauttasaari was the beginning for my nature photography. I was amazed and taking pictures all the time, and started to get more and more interested in photography, Julia recalls.
Julia started rehearsing photography on her own and upgraded to a DSLR camera. She developed a clear and bright style, drawing from her experience in graphic design.
The real kick-off for Julia’s career in photography happened when she started uploading her photos on Instagram. Instagram is a social media platform, where you can post photos and videos. Taking part in a competition hosted by the Instagram Community Team helped her gain a large audience in a short period of time.
– I participated in the Weekend Hashtag Project. It was about everyday heroes and I posted a photo of my husband who is a voluntary firefighter. This photo won and Instagram gave me a lot of attention by putting me on the Suggestions list.
The Suggestions list appears for new Instagram users and shows them selected accounts to follow. Julia’s account was featured on the list for two weeks. During this time she gathered over 20 000 new followers.
– Since so many people started to follow me, I felt more responsible to not just put selfies on Instagram. I was trying to give my followers what they like, and just post high quality pictures. Then it just started to grow organically, Julia says.
Love for the Finnish nature is apparent in Julia’s Instagram gallery. She depicts landscapes with a sense of calm and serenity, often featured by pastel-toned light. Reflections on the lakes, red cottages, fields and pine forests are some of Julia’s favourite subjects to photograph. The most important element for her is light and sunrise is her favourite time to shoot. On her Instagram account she even describes herself as a sunrise addict.
– I like beautiful light. Especially in the morning when the pinks and oranges of the sunrise combine with fog, featuring a little cottage or a river or hills. This is what I love, Julia says.
To chase the perfect sunrise photos, Julia and her husband head out for photography trips. Catching a sunrise during Finnish summer means getting up as early as 4 am, or even 2 am to drive to some locations like Repovesi National Park in Kouvola.
What impresses Julia most about the Finnish nature is how pure and well protected it is. Indeed, the national parks of Finland are a regular destination for the Kiveläs to go camping and hiking.
– If you’re taking photos you won’t see any trash in the background. The nature is always clean. There aren’t any crazy mountains but it’s simple and beautiful, Julia says.
Julia’s photographs of the Finnish nature have also attracted some business opportunities. She has been found through Instagram by companies like Sokos Hotels and ABC-asemat for collaborations. Companies have also contacted her through Instagram to buy her photos for advertisement pur-poses.
Maybe the most important customer for Julia so far has been Visit Finland, the government-funded association that promotes Finland as a travel destination. It only seems fitting, since our northern nature was the initial inspiration for Julia’s photography career. Now her photos are used to promote Finnish nature to a world-wide audience.
– My favourite experience so far was organising a trip for Russian instagrammers with Visit Finland. Me and my husband were driving them around the country and showing them nice places like Repovesi National Park.
Even the most internationally recognized Finn has reached out to Julia to inquire about her photos. In February Santa Claus Licensing Oy and Finavia hosted a photo exhibition at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport featuring Julia’s work.
Instagram has become the main channel for Julia to promote her work. Besides being an excellent online portfolio tool, Instagram is a creative outlet and a way to connect with other photographers in Finland.
– Instagram is very important to me. Once I couldn’t log into my account. I thought that I had been hacked and started to cry, Julia says.
Besides all the professional accomplishments, the best thing Julia has gotten through Instagram are friends. She has found fellow nature enthusiasts and photographers that she has also collaborated with.
– I’ve made all my friends in Finland through Instagram. We take pictures and travel together. We spent the last New Year’s Eve in Pyhätunturi with a big Instagram group, Julia says.
In the future Julia wants to focus solely on photography and leave graphic design behind. She is expanding her skills to also portrait, advertisement and lifestyle photography. Julia aspires to photograph also abroad. Wilderness and rugged mountains of New Zealand, Greenland and Nepal are her dream locations.
– I just want to be better, more professional and sell my prints. And one day become a National Geographic photographer, that is my dream.
Julia’s 3 Tips for Beginner Photographers
1. Go and take pictures of whatever you like. Doesn’t matter whether you have a phone or a camera.
2. If you take pictures of nature, try to take photos at sunrise. Usually sunrise has an amazing light.
3. Don’t edit your photos too much. It’s important but don’t overdo it.
Teksti: Veera Siekkeli
Kuvat: Julia Kivelä