If you follow the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County on social media or spend much time on dupageforest.org, you’ve probably seen nature through his lens. Local hobby photographer Kevin Rodde first caught our attention a few years ago when he submitted some of his work to our Take 5 Photo Contest, and his images have been captivating us and our forest preserve fans ever since.
A dragonfly Rodde found at Pratt's Wayne Woods in Wayne. All nature photos in this blog are by Kevin Rodde Photography.
Rodde finds a mental escape in nature, and his images evoke that same sense of serenity. He says he tries "intently to live in the moment" when he's outdoors and photographs "whatever jumps out and grabs my attention." To see more of his photos, visit @kevinroddephotography on Instagram.
He’s as content to take pictures of an insect as he is a bird or a sunset as he appreciates their beauty all the same. "During any single walk, I can very easily go from photographing water patterns hitting the lake shore, to a dragonfly, to a mallard taking off in flight, to an angry wild turkey, to a sun-drenched grassy field."
Nature photography has taught Rodde to see beauty in everything and to focus his message on its essence, eliminating any elements that don't add to it. It's a skill he says he tries to carry over to life. "Keep looking for beauty," he says.
Rodde took some time recently to share his feelings about the forest preserves with us, so let’s hear directly from him.
I’m a husband and father of two who has lived in DuPage County my entire life. I work as a 3D architectural illustrator/designer, but my passion is photography. I come from a long line of photographers, so having a camera in my hand is woven into my DNA. I dabbled in photography in high school, but It wasn’t until I was much older with a family of my own that I caught the photography bug.
About 10 years ago, I realized I needed a hobby to get me out from behind the computer. Thinking back to my father's and grandfather's passion for photography, I decided to give it a try. After all, I thought, it seemed like the perfect activity for me — something that would satisfy my artistic side, which always seems to be looking to capture beauty, as well as my nerdy side, which is obsessed with nature, science, optics, light and time. And what better subject matter was there than the great outdoors.
Kevin Rodde focuses on beauty in a fall woodland at Danada Forest Preserve.
Discovering DuPage Forest Preserves
As a young child my parents and grandparents frequently took me to Waterfall Glen and Maple Grove forest preserves, which as a small child felt more like national parks than forest preserves. I remember being fascinated by the Rocky Glen waterfall and awestruck that such a place existed so close to my house. I was confident that other kids weren’t so lucky as I to have a waterfall like this so close to home.
Then, for a good portion of my early adult life I didn’t really patronize any preserves, mostly because time was at a premium. I rediscovered the preserves with a newfound appreciation soon after I picked up photography as a hobby. I look back on those early adult years as wasted time.
Photo by Kevin Rodde
What Brings Him Back Time and Time Again
Nature's beauty draws me back. I try to absorb it through my eyes and lens. I'm drawn to its silence; it lets my brain relax and brings me peace. It lets my soul breathe.
Catching the Nature Bug
I don’t ever remember “catching” the nature bug. I suppose it's always been something that I’ve carried around with me. As a child, my family took frequent vacations to Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, Utah and Arizona (many of the “western” states). It was these vacations that really kindled my love for the outdoors — its scenery and wildlife.
Back home, I suppose my earliest recollection of nature was exploring my backyard as a child. My family’s backyard wasn’t large by any means, but since all the neighborhood houses seemed to join up backyard-to-backyard with no fences, those five or six medium-to-large-sized yards joined and became one large backyard with distinct ecosystems, including a wooded area, a large group of conifers, a grassy field, and a low-lying proto-swamp with bulrushes and phragmites.
Intermixed in this area across the yards were apple, cherry and mulberry trees, grapevines, raspberry clumps and blackberry bushes, which made being outside not only fun but also delicious. While out there, I discovered all manner of bugs and birds, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, toads, foxes, muskrats and coyotes.
A beautiful capture by Rodde at Lyman Woods in Downers Grove. Photo by Kevin Rodde
Favorite Forest Preserves and Times to Visit
When I’m taking portraits, my favorite is St. James Farm followed closely by Fullersburg Woods. There's simply so much to see and experience at both. (I’d highly recommend getting out to St. James Farm for those who haven’t been there yet.)
I often visit Mallard Lake and Deep Quarry Lake (at West Branch Forest Preserve) toward the edges of the day, sunrise and sunset. Mallard Lake’s hilly terrain against the path as well as its bridges and lakes make interesting subject matter to photograph. Deep Quarry Lake provides a simple, understated beauty that doesn’t clutter up my photos and allows me to capture sunrises or sunsets without too much photographic distraction.
I enjoy Pratt's Wayne Woods at lunchtime since there's so much wildlife there — birds, bugs, coyote and deer — that I can get my photography fix after snarfing down my daily salad. Finally, Lyman Woods is my favorite on the weekend since a walk along its wooded paths lets me unwind and distance myself from the hectic workweek.
Rodde snaps a photo of a red-winged blackbird as it calls. Photo by Kevin Rodde
Other Favorite Things to Do in the Preserves
In addition to photography, I enjoy hiking the miles and miles of well-maintained paths and boating at Blackwell and Herrick Lake. I also really like the winter-season demonstrations and activities at Mayslake Peabody Estate.
How Nature Inspires
I work in architectural design, which is usually very computer-centric, so I can quickly become “buried” by plastic, metal, screens, keyboards and mice, and blueprints. Getting out in nature reminds me that my job has an equally important organic, creative side that can sometimes get overshadowed by the technical end. Nature helps me design aesthetically, looking for beauty instead of pure pragmatism.
A beautiful sunrise at East Branch Forest Preserve in Glendale Heights. Photo by Kevin Rodde
Advice to Others
There's so much to see and experience in nature that one trip to a preserve won't do it. I get out into a DuPage County forest preserve three to four times a week, and almost inevitably I discover something new and inspiring on every single trip. Get out there as often as you can!