Capturing beauty in the Badlands

Capturing beauty in the Badlands

Growing up on a cattle ranch in the Badlands of South Dakota, there are certain paths in life you can expect to follow. Photography isn’t a typical one, but for Elsie Fortune, a camera is every bit as important as checking on newborn calves or fixing fences. It’s a balancing act Elsie has learned to master – and she wouldn’t have it any other way.


Fifth-generation rancher turns photographer

If there’s such a thing as a ranching gene, the Fortune family has it. Elsie and her brother Rolly are fifth-generation ranchers, living on the property near Interior that their grandparents bought to expand their operations. Even though her closest neighbors – her parents – are two miles away, Elsie admits living in the middle of nowhere has a certain appeal.

“I live on top of a hill overlooking a beautiful Badlands scenery,” she says. “That’s the reason I picked where I live. I sat up there and watched the sunrises and sunsets, and I was like, yeah. This is it.” It’s no surprise that someone who appreciates natural beauty would be drawn to photography. Elsie attended Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming, to study photographic communications before transferring to Chadron State College in Nebraska for business and marketing.

Though she participated in rodeo events such as breakaway and team roping, her heart was set on opening a photography business of her own. Immediately after graduating in 2017, she did exactly that – and it didn’t take long for Elsie to attract her clientele.

“The first few years of my photography business, a lot of people took chances with me when I was still learning,” she recalls. “I’ve been super fortunate that way. Most of my business, I would say, is people I know or personal recommendations. That’s been really cool.”


Capturing memories is special

Elsie Fortune Photography offers a wide variety of services. With weddings and portraits being the most popular, other assignments include headshots, livestock sale photos, commercial photography, and more.

“All the random things!” she says. Having a photography business in a rural area, Elsie explains, means you’ll end up doing a little bit of everything. Social media has played a significant role in helping spread the word about her business. The off-the-beaten-path location also contributes to her success.

“There’s so many people that are traveling to the Badlands National Park or just passing through that want family photos in such a beautiful area,” she says. “I do a lot of family photos for tourists and elopements for people from all over the world.”

Family and engagement photo shoots are her favorite sessions.

“I love getting to go to peoples’ places and see where they live and see what’s special to them,” Elsie explains. “You feel more connected to them after you do their family photos and you’re a part of the family in a sense, like you were there for some of their big moments. It’s pretty special to be able to capture people’s memories.”


Inspecting livestock brands

While Rolly plans on taking over ranch operations when their dad retires, Elsie contributes when she’s not tied up with photography sessions, especially during calving season. Her love for agriculture led her to also serve as the local

livestock brand inspector, a role she finds fun and rewarding. She travels around the area to confirm lawful ownership before or after transport and following sales transactions.

“It’s a good way to make connections with a lot of people in agriculture,” she says. “And it’s very busy in the winter season, so it’s a good off-time, seasonal job for me to tie in with the photography.”

Being a brand inspector involves more paperwork than Elsie expected – all handwritten in paper ledgers. But for Elsie Fortune Photography, the internet is crucial. She is thankful for the great service Golden West provides.


High-speed internet is crucial for business

“My business relies on having good internet,” Elsie explains. “I offer all my clients an online gallery, so everything is through the internet. I don’t send a USB of the photos; they receive the photos over an online gallery.”

That’s where her Golden West fiber-optic connection proves its worth. Once she was upgraded, she noticed the difference immediately.

“It was incredibly fast,” she recalls. “After I was done shooting and selecting images, it would only take 15 minutes to upload photos compared to hours before I had fiber.”

When asked about her future plans, Elsie doesn’t hesitate. “I love my life,” she says. “I want to keep doing photography and living out in the middle of nowhere. Things might change, but for right now it’s working great!”



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