Interview with Equine Photographer Shelley Paulson

Shelley shares her perspective on horse photography and offers some tips for aspiring photographers.

Shelley Paulson
Equine photographer Shelley Paulson with her horse, Maggie Sue.

A couple weeks ago a friend and I set out to the farm where our horses live, cameras in tow. Our mission was to end up with some nice sunset shots of each of us and our horse. Our first mistake (aside from not hiring a professional photographer in the first place) was bringing our kids with us. Our second mistake was rushing, thanks to mistake number one. We got some OK shots, but are currently planning a redo.

The experience made me wonder what makes the magic of a great photo. I wandered around online admiring real photographers’ portraits of horses and their people. I found myself coming back again and again to Shelley Paulson’s portfolio online. I reached out to Shelley to find out a little bit more about her beautiful equine art. Read a bit of what she had to say and see some of her gorgeous photography below:

Girl with horses by Shelley Paulson


Horse and rider in field at sunset by Shelley Paulson


Horse and rider by Shelley Paulson


Rider with horse by Shelley Paulson


Kitson: What do you love most about photographing horses and their people?

I love meeting a variety of horses and people, and visiting beautiful farms all over my area. I also love seeing and capturing each person’s unique bond with their horse while photographing them.

K: How did you get started in photography?

My start in photography was gradual. I was a freelance web designer, and had many clients in need of photography. I picked up a basic digital DSLR camera in 2004 and taught myself how to use it. Being a horse owner and lover, of course in my spare time, I pointed my lens at horses. I did web design alongside photography for many years, and in 2010, I focused all of my efforts on photography.

K: What’s the most unexpected thing that has ever happened during a shoot with a horse?

I was photographing a young woman with her Friesian gelding during her senior photo session. A bird flew in and landed on the horse’s neck! I was able to get a few photos before it flew off. I asked her if that had ever happened before and she said she no! It was a surreal moment.

Horse and bird by Shelley Paulson


Horse drinking from stream by Shelley Paulson


Girl kissing horse by Shelley Paulson


Girl walking her horse on a dirt road by Shelley Paulson


Silhouette of woman and horse


K: What have horses taught you about your art?

Horses have taught me to control my emotions and to be patient. Getting upset, or impatient with a horse (or person!) will cause them to stop cooperating and not enjoy the experience. This will make the images and the art suffer. Being kind, gentle, and keeping the session light and fun makes for more fun and better art!

K: What’s the best part of your job?

The best part is when I’m out with horses and the people who love them, with camera in hand. At that moment, all the cares of the world just melt away. It’s almost as though time stands completely still for those two hours and I’m in my happy place.

Girl riding horse bareback by Shelley Paulson


Young girl with horse by Shelley Paulson


Silhouette of woman and horse by Shelley Paulson


Woman and horse in sunlight by Shelley Paulson


Young girl cantering a horse through a field by Shelley Paulson


K: What’s the hardest part of your job?

The business side is hard for most artists, including me. Pricing, policies, taxes, accounting – these are not things I love to spend time doing. I’d rather be out taking photos! But you can’t run a business without these, so even though they aren’t as fun, I do them to the best of my ability and know that it comes with the territory.

K: What’s your horse, Maggie Sue like?

Maggie Sue is my sweet sorrel quarter horse mare. She is 22, and I bought her as a 2 year old. She has been in my life for 20 years and we have grown deep bonds between us. I recently moved to a 5 acre hobby farm already set up for horses. This weekend, after boarding for 20 years, I finally get to bring my girl home and see her every day. I think I’ll probably cry a lot of happy tears the first week!

Silhouette of woman riding horse at sunset by Shelley Paulson


Woman hugging horse by Shelley Paulson


Silhouette of woman and horse by Shelley Paulson


Closeup of woman and horse by Shelley Paulson


Silhouette of horse and person at sunset by Shelley Paulson


Black and white girl kissing horse by Shelley Paulson


K: Any tips for people wanting to take nice pictures with their horses?

Put that iPhone down and pick up a camera that zooms or has a zoom lens! Wide angle lenses distort horses (big head, small butt). Stepping back and zooming in from a distance will give you a much more proportional look to your horse (works for people too!). If you have to take photos with a wide angle lens, then keep the horses parallel to you to reduce distortion.

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