Thinking Outside the Box

by Kevin Shank | Oct 1, 2022 | 0 comments

Box? Did you say box?

The large owl was sitting on a branch, silhouetted against a gorgeous sunset of orange and reds. The branch he was on, the trunk he was beside, were flawless—splendid props for this photo that was only etched in my imagination.

How can a person find the perfect opportunity for photos? Would a rehab center work with me? Probably not, with emphasis on the NO WAY!

And then a thought began to niggle. If it is a silhouette, why does it have to be an owl? I began to think outside the box….


The old Minolta photocopier—so old it took film instead of paper—kept enlarging a photo of a Great Horned Owl until I could tape together several pieces to make a life-size pattern. Now, where was that box?

On a sheet of cardboard I traced the outline and then cut it out. I was all set.

I glanced out the window. No orange tonight, I thought. But wait, neither was it black yet. The glow in the west was all I needed.

I grabbed my Nikon, a tripod, and some thumb tacks. This would be fun.

I ran out back and stuck my “bird” on a branch and set up my camera. I took some shots, bracketing the exposure.

This was in the eighties, and there was no display to preview the shots. I would have to wait until my film was full and the slides were developed before I would know what I had.


“You asked for photos of predators,” I said to the Art Director of Virginia Wildlife. “I have a photo of an owl silhouetted against the sunset, but it is not a real owl. Does that matter?”

“It doesn’t have to be real,” she replied.


Great Horned Owl silhouette

Imagine my surprise, when one day I looked at a Virginia Wildlife magazine, and there on the back cover was this owl! Well, sort of—this piece of cardboard anyway.

Great Horned Owl silhouette and moon
When I looked for photos to illustrate this article, I found another version of
this owl photo. I forgot I had done this tweak even though it was just last year.
Photo © Kevin Shank.

Twenty years later our family jostled and jolted along a mountain top forest road on the Virginia/West Virginia border. Suddenly someone exclaimed, “There is an owl!”

The Barred Owl watched us from his perch. The lighting was bad. He was silhouetted against a white boring sky. What could be done?

I used various exposures to photograph him. Some were over-exposed to capture as much detail as I could on the owl. Those that were the “right” exposure to not wash out the limbs left the owl appearing as a dark blob on a branch.
Dark blob on a branch? That rings a bell….

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