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April 2023
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Me circa 2007, while shooting a wedding.
Dear First name / Friend,
How are you? I hope you keep in mind today is April Fool's Day. Not because I'm going to fool you, but I've already seen almost believable jokester posts on social media and had to remind myself what day it is. 🙄
The big April fool's joke around here is the 8 inches of snow that fell last night after lightning and thunder just hours before. But as my husband said this morning, after coming in from plowing our driveway, it's better than a tornado. My heart goes out to those who lost lives and property in last night's storms.
Several people have asked me in the past few months if I could share more about my journey as a photographer. As one of my Wings Mentorship participants shared recently, "I would love to see where YOU started out. Like some of your photos from your first couple years of being a photographer. It's inspiring to be reminded that everyone had to start somewhere."

No joke, I used to be a terrible photographer 😖

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I never set out to be a photographer. In high school, I wanted to become a horse trainer or a music teacher/performer. I ended up getting a Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Minnesota. I intended to become an opera singer, but my passion for performing waned by the end of college.
I wandered around various careers, from Worship Pastor, to Apple Computer Technician, to Design Software Support Specialist, to Communications Director for a large construction company.
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I finally started my own business in 2002 as a freelance website designer. My clients needed photos for their websites, so in 2004, I got the very first 6.3 MP digital rebel with a crappy kit lens and started to teach myself photography.
Mind you, this long was before social media and online courses. There were some forums and email lists where you could ask questions and get feedback, but it was sparse. I was generally on my own to figure it out.
I remember my first paid Equine shoot. I showed up, and the farm was in a valley, which meant I should have arrived much sooner if I actually wanted light to work with. 🫣😬 I completely forgot I could change my ISO, so I muddled through and even used my on-camera flash a few times.
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I covered up my lousy technique in those early days with heavy Photoshop editing. This was when selective color and glow were "in," so people thought these images were cool. 🙈 (And by people, I must include myself. 😂)
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In 2004, I even did what is maybe one of the first equine black background images (hey, I didn't say it was GOOD! 😂)
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Despite being bad at photography, I didn't give up. I kept at it, and slowly my skills started to grow. In 2005, I hit a turning point with this image.
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This one made me FEEL something. The soft light, the moment, the connection; I knew I wanted to do more of this. Capturing the bond between horses and people became my passion.
In 2006, I started teaching Equine Photography Workshops. Gosh, I cringe a bit now at how bold that was. I knew just enough to help others, but I didn't know much! 😂 But I had been to a life-changing workshop earlier that year and wanted to do the same for others. Teaching is in my heart and soul. ❤️
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Along the way, I was shooting more and more weddings across the US and Mexico, and even one in Cartagena Columbia. Because of the huge variety of challenging situations I faced during a wedding day, I pushed hard to become a skilled photographer. I upgraded my gear, learned off-camera lighting, and got a lot of feedback and critique from mentors.
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In 2007, I took a workshop with Australian Photographer, David A Williams. Part of that workshop involved a 1:1 portfolio review. He saw something in me, in the work I was creating, that gave me confidence that I could be an exceptional photographer.
I always made leaps and bounds after a critique. You don't know what you don't know, and even though sometimes my ego took a hit (what do you mean I'm not perfect?), I don't regret a single one.
It wasn't until 2010 that I was consistently creating images I can look back on and feel proud of. That same year, I was featured in an ad for Mpix that ran in major photography magazines and started representing photography companies like Millers and Zenfolio at trade shows and speaking at photography events.
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If you're keeping count, it took six years. Six years of working diligently, seeking out mentors, investing in gear, networking, and believing I could do this.
I believe you can too.
To sum it up, the ingredients for "overnight success" are patience, practice, and perseverance. You also need a heavy dose of believing you can do this, focusing on your goals, and not measuring your success by what other people are doing.
I will add it may not take you six years. The learning curve is much shorter these days due to far better equipment and access to free and paid instruction online, like my Wings Equestrian Photography Mentorship, which just wrapped up this week. 
One of my main goals in doing mentoring and education is to help photographers like you skip the trial and error I went through and shorten your learning curve so you don't have to struggle as much as I did.
I would like a few of of this year's participants to speak for the effectiveness of the mentorship… 
“Now that I've completed Wings, I feel ready and capable of working through a successful equine session, both horse and rider as well as black backgrounds. I have ideas that I'm inspired to try. Even thought I may continue to fail, I'm not as discouraged now. I have the tools to keep learning, growing, and improving my craft. Thank you Shelley!” ~Jan Bezzo
“The 3 months went by so fast and I feel like a completely new photographer. Ready for whatever location a client throws at me. Shelley built me a foundation to work off of, now I get to be creative!” ~Mikayla Reis
If you're interested in being part of a mentorship experience like this, you can learn more and join the waiting list.




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I tried very hard to launch my new app in March but ran into a snag with the Apple Developer program because my corporate name isn't Shelley Paulson Photography (It's Summerset Studio, Inc., which was the name of my web design company back in the day and is still our Corporate name.) But it's all sorted out now, and I'm working on getting this baby into the App Store and Google Play Store in the next week or so. 
If you want to be the very first to know, sign up here:


📘 Read
The Gift by Barbra Schulte
Have you ever read a book that made you want to highlight nearly every passage? That's what this book has been like for me. It's about horses and horse training, but there are many parallels to photography and life too.
aPhotoEditor Blog: "How Much Do You Make?" Series
Photographers of all genres anonymously share financials and an overview of their business. Fascinating stuff!
🎧 Listen
Exploring the Uses of ChatGPT and AI for Your Horse Business from The Leadline Podcast (True story, after listening to this, I went to ChatGPT to come up with a name for my app, which I've been wrestling with for a YEAR. On the second regeneration, it suggested EquiCapture. PERFECT!)


I sincerely hope you are enjoying the Pegasus Journal. If you know of another photographer you think might benefit from these emails, would you consider sharing it email with them? Thank you!


And, as always, if there's anything I can do to help you grow as a photographer, please reach out by hitting reply to this email. 😊


Until next time…




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