27,000 and counting. That’s the amount of followers fourth-year Honours Bachelor of Social Work (HBSW) student Alan Poelman has on his Instagram account. His rapid overnight success on the popular social channel can be attributed to his awe-inspiring and unique photos of picturesque landscapes from across North America.

From Atikokan, Ontario, Poelman’s interest in photography started at a young age, thanks in part to his parents who purchased cameras for him. However, it wasn’t until three years ago that he purchased a high-end DSLR camera and began to master his craft, taking a keen interest in his natural surroundings and the local wildlife.

Working full-time as a children’s mental health therapist in Northern Ontario, Poelman took to landscape photography as a means to de-stress from work and keep his own mental health in good standing. “Working in the social work field, I understand how crucial it is to take care of your own mental health,” says Poelman. “This field presents many challenges, emotionally and mentally, and we have to handle those accordingly… Walking and hiking are literally the best things you can do for your mental health. Studies have continuously proven this.”

Poelman often recommends hiking and walking as a coping strategy to those suffering from anxiety and depression, the two most prominent mental health issues in today’s youth. Such outdoor recreational activities can become therapeutic when coupled with photography, he claims. “Some of the things that photography helps do is act like a therapeutic distraction technique. Photography distracts their mind from anxiety concerns. When you’re sitting on a couch, anxiety can literally cripple you and push you down. But when you’re out in the wilderness, you’re distracted, and distracted with an objective and a goal through photography. Photography pulls at your creativity by asking you to find new angles and perspectives. You often will forget about your anxiety and will start to feel better.”

After working for five years in social work in Atikokan, Fort Frances, and Dryden, Poelman came to Sault Ste. Marie to earn his designation in the HBSW program, in addition to his Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from Laurentian University and Police Foundations diploma from Confederation College. On the weekends, he continues to pursue his hobby, jet-setting away on his next photographic adventure, allowing him to de-stress from course work. Recently, he’s been to Banff National Park, Niagara Falls, Chicago, and more. Some of his most popular photographs show off the Sault Ste. Marie region  and Lake Superior coastline under heavy starlight and the aurora borealis. His captures have appeared on high profile social media accounts and garnered him sponsorship from retailers like Baffin.

Poelman will graduate from Algoma U this June. He hopes to continue working in the realm of children’s mental health in Northern Ontario, where he can continue to balance his love for social work with exploring and photographing rugged landscapes.

Until he returns to the field, he continues to advocate for positive mental health, encouraging others to get outside, get active, and disconnect from social media. “If you’re struggling, the best thing you can do is to force yourself to get outdoors. Go for a walk. Go out in nature. We’re in the best place to do that, here in Sault Ste. Marie. Getting outside is the hardest part, but once you’re out there, you’re enjoying it, you’ll start to feel better.”

To see Poelman’s photography, visit @alftown on Instagram.