Shelley Paulson Photography

Shelley's appreciation of horses goes way back. As a horse lover herself, it is no surprise that she focuses her lens on these beautiful creatures and their owners. One look at her images reveals a deep understanding of the bond between human and horse. Shelley's mastery of natural light and her soft approach result in breathtaking images you want to look at over and over again.

Shelley loves the clean and elegant display of images offered by Zenfolio for her proofing galleries . Doing all of her print sales in person, Shelley first relies on Zenfolio galleries to wow her clients with an accurate display of the color and contrast in her photos.
Selling stock images has become very easy for Shelley using Zenfolio’s digital product feature. The easy to use search function within her site allows art buyers and editors to search for images based on the specifics they are looking for.
Shelley uses Zenfolio as a platform for adding the shopping cart to her main portfolio and blog websites.

Where were you born and raised? Where have you settled?

I was born in rural Nebraska, but moved to the Twin Cities area of Minnesota when I was very young. My rural roots are still a part of who I am, and someday soon, I'm going to return to the country and have my own little farm/studio on the prairie.

What type of photography do you shoot most often? What type of photography are you most passionate about shooting?

My two main photography subjects are horses and weddings.

I fell in love with horses at a very early age. I began taking riding lessons at the age of 13, which led to leasing and showing them throughout my teen years. When I finished college and got a job, the very first thing I did was buy a beautiful sorrel quarter horse mare by the name of Maggie Sue. The day I brought her home was incredibly emotional for me, as I was realizing my lifelong dream of having my very own horse to love. She's been mine for 16 years, and I hope we share many more years and adventures together.

Because of my deep love and connection with my own horse, most of my equine photography centers on capturing the bond between horses and the people who love them. These relationships are beautiful and unforgettable, and I love being able to document them for people in a natural, documentary way so when they look at the photo, they can remember how it feels to be with their horse, not just what it looks like.

I am also constantly working to build a solid equine stock photo library so I can license my images to magazines, publications, and for general editorial and marketing uses.

I take a similar approach to my wedding photography: creating photographs that will bring my couples back, not just to the way their wedding day looked, but more importantly, to how it felt. Instead of taking a cookie-cutter approach to every wedding and creating the same images over and over, I make a special effort to know each couple so I can tell their genuine story with the photographs I create. I also have great passion for creating beautiful, natural portraits of the couple that they will be proud to display as art in their homes.

How long have you been a shutter releaser? What led you to this profession?

I've been getting paid to do photography since 2004. I was a freelance graphic and web designer before becoming a photographer and ran both businesses side by side until 2010.

I started to create photos as part of my work for design clients, and quickly found great fulfillment in it. Having a design background meant that I was already proficient with Photoshop and other design programs. My years of experience as a designer also allowed me apply design principles such as balance, composition, and color to my photography, shortening the learning curve considerably.

How has Zenfolio helped your business?

Zenfolio has helped me in two ways. First, I host a stock photo library through Zenfolio. It allows magazine editors and potential stock photo clients to search by keyword and category for the photos they might be interested in licensing.

Secondly, I use Zenfolio to host my proofing and ordering galleries. Proofing galleries have print ordering disabled, and are simply a preview for my clients to get a first impression of the photos from their session. I like to do in-person ordering sessions with my clients, where they can order both digital and print products from me. When digital files are purchased, I set up an ordering gallery for them where they can download their images, as well as order products at cost through

What I love most about Zenfolio is the elegant interface. As a designer, I looked for a gallery hosting service that would be simple for my clients to use, visually uncluttered, and easy for me to customize to my brand.

The second thing I love about Zenfolio is their partnership with I have calibrated my system and workflow to the Millers family of labs (Mpix, MpixPro and Millers), so I know that when my clients order through Zenfolio, their photos will be printed with the correct color and density.

Tell us about your work flow, what editing program do you use?

For photo management, including backing up files, culling, exporting with watermarks, general image cataloging and uploading to Zenfolio, I use Photo Mechanic. I've come to rely on this software so much that if it went away, I would honestly grieve the loss! Photo Mechanic makes my job easier in so many ways.

For actual photo editing/processing, I use Lightroom. I shoot RAW and my workflow in Lightroom is fast! I have a color preset I apply to all of my images, and if my captured image is correct (always the goal!), then that color preset is often all I need to do to the image. Of course, I tweak here and there, but I have a very strong belief that photos should be finished in a way that will stand the test of time, which means I avoid gimmicky or trendy coloring and actions.

I do use Photoshop for my black and white photo conversions, as I have yet to find a way to create the look I like in Lightroom. I also like to have all of the images from each session in color, in case a client orders the color version of an image I had converted to black and white. I also do most of my skin and scene retouching in Photoshop.

Do you have brand loyalty for Canon, Nikon or something completely different?

I am a Canon girl. Although, I think the perfect setup would be a Nikon body with Canon lenses. :) I like skin tones and high ISO noise control better with the latest Nikon bodies, but I would have a hard time giving up my yummy Canon "L" prime lenses like my 85mm F/1.2, 135mm F/2, and 35mm F/1.4!

Do you have a motto you live by?

My tagline is "Real Life, True Beauty." These are my photographic values. I want my photos to have real feeling to them, but also show the true beauty of the world I live in and the people I meet.

Are your photography skills self-taught or were you classically trained?

I am mostly self-taught. In addition to being creative, I am highly analytical. This allows me to learn a great deal from my own mistakes. Early in my career, I spent a lot of time on forums, reading, asking, and generally soaking in all that I could.

I attended several key workshops in my career that laid a strong foundation for my photography, one with Cheryl Jacobs Nicolai and another with David A Williams. I also have a wedding photography mentor by the name of Sergio. He challenges me especially in my mental approach to photography, which has made a huge difference in my work in the past year.

What advice would you give a new photographer just starting out?

Two main things:

Learn how to run a business. Honestly, I probably only spend 25% of my time doing photography-related activities. The rest is spent running a business. I wish I had taken some business classes before starting a business (sounds kind of basic, doesn't it?), I could have saved myself a lot of wasted time and pain.

Practice Your Craft. This year I embarked on a 365 project, where I am taking at least one photo a day and publishing it to my Tumblr blog. There is something about the discipline of picking up my camera every day that has given me greater confidence in my photography. Each day I go through the process of deciding on a subject, choosing the angle, light and composition for that subject, creating the image, creating some more images, pushing myself to think about how it could be done differently, playing with different exposures, looking for the light to change as I move, or it moves, creating some more images, and then knowing when I'm done and can put the camera down. It's changed me as a photographer, and I believe now, more than ever, that photographers should practice their craft on a regular basis.

I do not believe we should not be learning how to do photography on our clients' dime. Sure, you will learn things as you do sessions, but if you really want to mature as a photographer, go out and shoot for yourself. Give yourself assignments, or start a personal project centered around something you love or are passionate about. Take a friend out and try to find the right light, create a great composition, or work with a slower shutter speed or shallower depth of field. Practice until you have confidence in that thing you are pushing yourself to do. Then, the next time you are out on a paid session, you can pull out those creative ideas and do them with predictable results and without wasting your clients' time.

What was your first published work?

I have to admit, I have a bad memory for this stuff! I can remember my most recent published work was in Minnesota Bride Magazine. I had a featured wedding and I was interviewed for an article about "Trash the Dress" sessions. In addition, I was recently featured in's "Mpix Rocks" ad campaign, which ran in 5 national photography magazines.

What inspires you as a photographer? Or who?

Light! I am obsessed with light and am looking for great light to photograph even when I don't have a camera with me. I also receive a great deal of my inspiration from spiritual life and friendship with God.

What's your favorite food?

Anything Mexican. I shot a wedding in Mexico last fall and now I feel this insatiable appetite for Mexican food! I also love Pizza. I eat waaaay too much pizza. Maybe I should start eating Mexican pizza. With goat cheese. I like goat cheese a lot too. :)

What is the very first camera you ever owned?

Professionally? The Minolta Maxxum 5 film camera. I only shot with that camera for a short time before I went digital with the original Canon Digital Rebel (silver body). It was so great to be able to see my photos and instantly understand what I was doing wrong, instead of waiting to get a whole roll of film developed and find out I messed up all the photos. I learned VERY quickly once I went digital.

Tell us something about yourself that we would never guess.

I am a classically trained singer. I have a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Minnesota and had plans to become a professional Opera singer. I still love to sing, but mostly just do it in the shower, and occasionally in churches and other ministry settings. I hit a really great high note the other day, just walking around my house. I didn't break glass or anything, but it felt good to just belt one out again.

What piece of equipment or doohickey do you have with you on every shoot?

My Shootsac. I've tried a lot of different bag and belt systems and just keep coming back to it. It just fits my shooting style. I also like being able to coordinate the cover with the session or my mood for the day. I can't help it – I'm a girl!

Do you have any final words of wisdom on being a first class shooter?

Learn your craft, but also learn how to express your vision. One of my favorite authors, David duChemin, has a web site and series of books around the idea that a first class photographer needs to master their craft, but also have vision for their photography.

I often see photographers who can create technically perfect photos, but they have no heart, no soul. And then I see photographers with lots of heart and soul, but they haven't studied how to use light, how to create a good exposure, how to create a compelling composition or how to correctly process their images, so their great vision gets lost in technical problems. I believe that when you bring craft and vision together, that's when you get first class photography.

Shelley Paulson

Equestrian Photographer, Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN


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