Shelley Paulson Photography Blog – Minnesota Equine, Wedding and Portrait Photographer
  • August15th


    It’s no secret I love silhouettes. My favorites are the ones I can make against the beauty of a colorful sunset! I’ve spent years learning how to use these skies to my advantage, but I thought I would save you the time and just tell you how I do it. :)

    Step one: Know the Sky

    I am a student of light. I never stop studying it for color, direction, quality, quantity, etc. I watch the sky most evenings, even when I don’t have a camera in hand. I make mental notes about when the late day light gets it’s most golden and soft, and also when the skies light up with color and what conditions lead up to a colorful sky. I can usually tell when a good sunset is about to happen because there are usually some kind of cloud arrangement happening that will reflect the color of the sun after it has gone down. Sometimes I’m wrong, because the sky can change so quickly, but the more you observe the sky, the better you will get at anticipating what it might do.

    Step two: Find a hill, or get low

    In order to photograph subjects against the sky, you need to get them so they are visible against the lightest area of the sky. This usually means finding a hill with a clearing behind, or lying on the ground, or both, in the case of this photo. I was in a ditch, and my subjects were on a driveway. Ideally, I would love to see their shapes all the way down to their feet, but this was the best I could do at this location.

    Step three: Place subject in a clear spot

    Related to the last step, I had to find a spot where there was an opening to the sky. If I set them against the trees, I would not be able to see their shapes against a sky. I am very specific about where people stand for silhouettes!

    Step four: Expose for the sky

    This is probably the part I see most people miss when trying to make a silhouette. Point your camera at the sky and adjust your camera settings until the sky is metered correctly. I don’t want any light on my subjects – they should be completely black! I want the sky to be exposed without any overexposed areas. I use the highlight alert on my camera, which makes overexposed areas blink, to make sure I have no “blinkies” and have a correct exposure. As you can see in my settings, my shutter was at 1/3200. I could have lowered my ISO even more, but my camera is very clean a ISO 400, and I had a good exposure, so I worked with this. If anything, I would rather UNDEREXPOSE the sky than overexpose it. Why? Because a correctly exposed or slightly underexposed image will retain MUCH more color than an overexposed one.

    Step five: Set white balance to Shade

    This is my big secret! I set my white balance to shade to make the sky warm and colorful!

    Step six: Pose for shapes

    To me, silhouettes are made interesting by making good shapes. Because I cannot see any detail in my subject’s skin, I cannot see her expression. If Olivia was looking at me, all we would see would be the outline of her head – not very interesting! So for people, I almost always have them in profile to me for a silhouette. For horses, there are more interesting shapes than just profile. I have a lot of profile images in this series, but chose this one because I like that I can see all four legs, both ears forward, tail up, and his right eye.


    This second image shows how I would process this image to bring out the color. In Lightroom, I balanced the exposure, added some contrast through the Tone Curve, corrected for lens distortion, and added overall vibrance to the image.

    I hope this has been a helpful tip and that you have an epic sunset soon so you can try it out for yourself!

  • July30th


    I met Jeff and Maite 5 years ago in Mexico, at the wedding of clients-turned-friends, Gerardo and Perla. I remember sitting with them at dinner one of the evenings we all spent together in Mexico, hearing them talk about their lives and their plans, hoping that someday they would marry, and that I would get to be their photographer.

    When I heard they were engaged, my hopes grew! I so hoped they would take me with them to beautiful Cartagena, Colombia to photograph their wedding. Not just because it would be an amazing experience, but also because they are a great couple and so much fun to be around!

    When I didn’t hear from them for a few months, I figured they had found someone else. Thankfully, I was wrong! During a trip to visit Gerardo and Perla in NYC, where they were all now living and working, we made plans to all have dinner together. I vividly remember Maite saying, “We just keep comparing every other photographer to you!” So I said, “Okay, then lets figure out how we can make this work – I WANT TO BE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER!”

    And so it began. We spent a fun weekend together in Jeff’s hometown, making engagement photo magic all over the city. Then we nailed down the details for the big event, and the rest is history!


    It’s hard to find the words to describe that weekend. It will certainly stand as one of my most favorite life experiences. The vivid color and texture of the old city, the sounds of horses hooves clopping down cobblestone streets, the warm breezes in the middle of one of the worst winters ever, THE COFFEE (oh my word, the coffee! I was highly caffeinated the whole trip!)…it was an experience I will always cherish. I was able to share all of this with my husband, who traveled with me and also got to share in this experience of a lifetime.

    One of the biggest highlights of the trip was sharing a hotel suite with Gerardo and Perla and exploring this amazing city together. We don’t speak much spanish, and of course they are fluent, so they were a great help when ordering at restaurants, catching a cab, etc.. On top of just getting time with these dear friends, Gerardo agreed to be my second photographer! He has been learning photography and I thought it would be fun for him to assist me. He was super nervous but did a FANTASTIC job. I was so proud of him!

    I could write a novel, but I’ll stop there. How about some photos?




    Maite has a very close knit family. The love they share was palpable…



    I just loved her dress. A perfect fit and true reflection of her style.



    Gerardo photographed the guys while I was with the girls. He did such a great job!


    Great layering Gerardo!






    Sometimes super awesome things happen without any planning at all. :)



    Gerardo’s image. Isn’t he talented?


    They were married at the Iglesia San Pedro Claver, an 18th Century church in the heart of the city.














    After their ceremony, and a few photos with their friends and family, Jeff and Maite took a carriage ride through the city. Definitely my favorite part of the day!



    Just before we got to the reception, we stopped for ice cream. My second favorite part of the day. ;)



    Their reception was held on the Baluarte San Ignacio. It was built in the 1630 to protect the city from attack.











    Their band was pretty much amazing. The music stayed in my head for a long time. :)









    One can’t go to an amazing destination like this and not do an “Encore Session”!

















    Maite loves to jump!



    This was taken from the rooftop of our hotel…their silhouette’s against the church where they were married.

  • July16th


    It’s hard for me to even know where to start with this post. I will give you the facts, then open my heart wide…

    The same 2010 workshop where I met Eileen (last blog post), I also met Andra Erickson. A sweet, kindhearted woman who ranches in California with her family. We spoke briefly at that workshop about the possibility of doing one at her ranch in the Sierra mountains, just outside of Yosemite. We spoke over the phone a few times, and it just wasn’t clicking. Until 2013, when the time felt right and we moved forward with our plans. Here was the Ranch Retreat blog post.

    The Erickson Cattle Company started back in 1892. They have preserved a true ranching lifestyle, working cattle from horseback. In the summer, they graze their cattle up in the mountains, just a little ways outside of Yosemite National Park.

    The weekend of the retreat was perfection in every way. The Ericksons were the gracious hosts, the participants were all fun and considerate, the weather was picture perfect, and the photography opportunities were absolutely breathtaking (backlit dust? YES PLEASE!)

    I had to pinch myself often to make sure I wasn’t in a dream!

    But I also have this chilling memory. The mountains were so dry last year, and I remember asking Andra, “has there ever been a forest fire here?” She said there had been a small one in the 80s, but nothing big for many years.

    The ten days after our retreat, California’s 5th largest forest fire, named the “Rim Fire” tore through this piece of heaven.

    I prayed and cried every. single. day.

    I would stay up late, waiting for word that the cabin was still there, that the cattle were okay, that somehow the fire would go around the Erickson ranch and leave their property and cattle untouched.

    It felt like my heart was on fire. I am choked up now, just remembering how those days felt.

    But God heard my prayers, and those of hundreds, maybe thousands of others. The fire did not destroy the ranch. It came so, so, so close, but the fire fighters used Ackerson Meadow (where most of the cattle photos you will see here were taken) and the meadow in front of the cabin, as a base of operations. The blessing of that was they did not let the fire overtake these areas. Andra’s husband Dan and his dad also worked tirelessly to protect the land and get as many cattle out as possible. All while the fire raged around them.

    Here are links to a few photos of the fires near Ackerson Meadow and the cabin:

    The consequences of the fire are hard to grasp. For the Ericksons, who lost about 50 head of cattle, it has meant temporarily finding grazing land elsewhere, as their cattle grazed mostly on forest service land and that land is now stressed from the fire. It remains to be seen how many cattle they will be able to return to the land in the years to come, which has a big impact not just on their company, but it could also mean saying goodbye to a way of life that has been in Dan’s family for over 120 years.

    I am heading back to the mountains next month. But this time, I’m going by myself to spend some time with the Ericksons and see what the area looks like now. I hope to be able to teach there again someday, so we will discuss and dream about future Ranch Retreats. :) I am also going to work on a special project that I hope to have done by the end of the year. And of course, I’ll take a bunch more photos, and do some mountain riding, which I’m SUPER excited about!

    Okay, enough words, now onto the photos! I am working on setting up a web site where prints of some of these can be ordered. I will put up a blog post when that is ready!



    We named this cow “Heidi Klum.” She was always out in front, posing for us, often in the best light. And she’s quite beautiful, for a cow. ;)


    Andra’s husband Dan is a cowboy through and through. He was a professional rodeo competitor in saddle bronc riding, calf roping and steer wrestling. It was fun to watch him ride and rope!


    Standing in the truck made for a great view. Kandace smiled the whole time she was behind the camera. :)


    Andra both participated as a photographer, and as a “model.” She’s an excellent rider and roper.



    This dog was extremely loyal to Dan. We would try to contain her sometimes so she wasn’t in the photos, and she would have NONE of it!


    Travis was working for the Erickson’s that summer, so he “modeled” too.





    Andra’s kids rode too! Alissa was just 7 at the time and she roped a few cows. Amazing!


    Jon is an online friend whom I had never met until this weekend. I love it when virtual friends become real life friends!


    Isn’t she the sweetest?


    Maureen is a school teacher, and Andra’s children ADORED her.

    So did we. :)


    Several times, we got to photograph horses running through the pasture.




    We practiced panning shots. They are hard to master, but amazing when they work!



    Running horses back and forth is sweaty business! When they stopped to let the horses catch their breath, steam started to rise! I LOVE steam rising in backlight. :)


    Travis, showing off his amazing horsemanship skills!


    “Where’d the head go?” Oh, we laughed so much all weekend!





    Here’s the cabin. It was perfectly rustic, with no electricity except a generator, and no cell service.



    We enjoyed many delicious meals together.







    Here’s a photos of me taken by Jon Pece.


    Such a great family!