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Photographer Bill Peak captures the beauty of Chicago-area outdoors

It’s time year when Bill Peak sends photos bucks this one from LemLake County Park northwest Indiana. Close-ups such as

It’s the time of year when Bill Peak sends photos of bucks, this one from Lemon Lake County Park in northwest Indiana. Close-ups, such as a bird feeding in water, set apart his nature photography from others. | Bill Peak/for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 11, 2013 6:28AM

As the rut started over the last couple of weeks, a photo and note arrived: ‘‘Hi, Dale. Found this nice-looking guy
crossing the road near Lemon Lake County Park. Looks like a pretty nice rack. Hope you have a great weekend. Bill Peak.’’

That buck went at least 14 points from what I counted. That’s like calling Scarlett Johansson ‘‘nice-looking.’’

For years, photographs from Peak have come with straightforward explanations, just enough words to pique interest, to explain.

Peak is my favorite non-professional photographer of Chicago outdoors — doubly so because his early work concentrated on Wolf Lake, the great mishmash of modern urban wilds and an industrial past on the Southeast Side.

‘‘One of the things that drove me was that, when I was walking at Wolf Lake, a lot of people that I’d talk to would tell me that they either did not know that this nature area was there or that it was as nice as it was,’’ he said.

‘‘I wanted to photograph it in a way that showed that there was more there than brown fields and abandoned factories and steel mills. Another thing was that this natural area was located between an oil refinery and the Ford assembly plant, yet you could go there and fish, hunt and enjoy nature.’’

In his best photos of the Wolf Lake area, he captures that combination of the wild and the industrial, not really editorializing as much as documenting.

‘‘I became hooked on digital photography after buying a small camera for a golf outing,’’ he said. ‘‘Just before retiring, I upgraded to a DSLR, and I now have a Canon T3i with several lenses, an 18-55mm, a 55-250mm and a 75-300mm, several tripods and flashes.’’

That retirement for Peak, who grew up in South Chicago near U.S. Steel South Works, was after 30 years in the Chicago Police Department on the South Side around Roseland and Gresham.

‘‘Which is why I enjoy the peace, quiet and beauty in nature,’’ he said.

I didn’t hear from Peak for a while after he moved to Crown Point, Ind. Then the photos started again. He still visits Wolf Lake, but his home wilds now are Lemon Lake in Cedar Lake, the Taltree Arboretum in Valparaiso and the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, southeast of Valparaiso.

Besides the nature of his wild photography, the other defining part of his photography is the intensity of close-ups.

‘‘I like to get as close to the subject as I can because I like showing the subject in a light that you don’t normally see them [for example, small birds that you normally see only as a small brown blip or small flowers that you would just walk by without noticing],’’ he said. ‘‘A lot of it has to do with being outdoors. I have a small 14-year-old dog who loves to walk, so when we’re out, I have my camera with me.’’

His work can be followed on Flickr. I would love to see him do an exhibit, maybe as part of others who do fine photography of the Chicago outdoors. It would be a learning experience for us all.

Peak is self-taught.

‘‘No teacher,’’ he said. ‘‘Just picked up things along the way and experimented. And if I liked it, I just kept doing it.’’

I am glad he keeps doing it. I hope others learn to focus and get close up.

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