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Skull Creek Studio: Hartinger’s photography hobby blooms into full-time portrait career

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Emily Hartinger was born and raised on her family’s ranch north of Osage, snuggled on the bank of Skull Creek, where she grew up the middle child of three girls, working alongside her parents Mary and Marlin Geier and their hired men.

From a young age, Emily was actively involved in 4-H, FFA and rodeo, as well as year-long ranch work raising hay and cattle. She got her start in the cattle business by purchasing cattle to send to the feedlot with money she saved from selling 4-H steers.

“I had a couple of good years doing that and a couple where it was a good thing my dad helped cover some bad investments,” states Emily. “But, those feedlot calves helped me build up some credit and purchase breeding stock as well.” 

Today, Emily lives on a second ranch her parents purchased on Skull Creek between Newcastle and Osage with her husband Shane and her 10-year-old daughter Kori. 

“My parents are still on the home place, and Shane works with my dad to keep the ranch going. I help when I can,” she explains, noting she still runs her own breeding cow herd. 

“We have center pivot irrigation and haying to keep us busy in the summer, and we feed calves in our backgrounding feedlot in the winter,” she continues. “Before I started full time into my photography gig, I was working full time on the ranch.” 

Pursuing a career in photography

In addition to her passion for agriculture, Emily notes she also fell in love with taking pictures as a little girl, especially of scenery around the ranch. 

“As a young kid, I would often steal my mom’s film camera and fill up a roll of film on the same sunset,” she shares. “But, I didn’t really get into it much until after college.” 

After returning to Newcastle with an associate degree in farm and ranch management, Emily started helping Katie (Riesland) Cummings, an old friend from high school, in her photography studio.

“I mostly just edited and did bookkeeping for her, but she taught me a lot about the art side of photography as well,” Emily says. “She was an amazing, well-respected photographer in this region.” 

Emily notes in 2012, Katie tragically passed, so she helped Katie’s family finish up some of her projects. 

“I had still been taking pictures for fun up until that point, but after she passed, it felt a little traitorous to pursue it any more seriously,” Emily admits. “However, Katie’s family was very supportive and encouraging, so I decided to give it a try.” 

She continues, “I struggled with a lot of guilt, like I was taking advantage of Katie’s passing somehow, but now it just feels like a way I can still connect to her. In fact, I frequently have dreams of her encouraging me.” 

Later, Emily had the opportunity to work as a second wedding photographer under Tanna White, a college friend from Hot Springs, S.D., and spent summers learning even more about the trade. 

“What started as a fun little hobby taking pictures of sunsets and animal, really morphed into a full-time portrait career,” she says.

Skull Creek Studio 

Today, Emily operates Skull Creek Studio full time, offering everything from family portraits, senior portraits, newborn portraits, maternity portraits, wedding and engagement photos and photos of every milestone in between. 

She is also the official photographer for schools in Newcastle and stays busy taking school portraits and sports team’s team and individual portraits. 

“The school job keeps me pretty busy most of the school year, but I suppose I do more family photos than anything,” she remarks. 

Building her business from the ground up has been one of Emily’s greatest sources of pride, but it hasn’t come without its challenges. 

“The biggest challenge is just juggling my time,” she notes. “I have a hard time telling anyone no, and I actually really do enjoy being busy and working hard. But, there is always a trade off  – I might miss watching my daughter at a rodeo because I already had a wedding scheduled and stuff like that.” 

However, Emily says she is finally at a point in her career where she doesn’t have to grind so hard, and in the end, these challenges have been worth it. 

“My favorite thing is the relationships I have built because of this career,” she shares. “I’ve met so many new people I call friends now because of it. I also enjoy finding a new scene and turning it into a captured piece of art.” 

Emily adds, “Also, my daughter is a pretty cool kid who is super kind, smart and creative. She’s following in my footsteps and likes taking pictures too, so the fact I haven’t messed her up by working too much is an accomplishment as well.”

Emily further notes her business venture would not be possible without continued support from her family and the values they instilled in her at a young age on the ranch. 

“The life my parents have provided me with through their ranch and hard work is something I try to never take for granted. Their support means everything to me and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them,” she says. “Sure, I’ve put in the work too, but they laid the foundation. They taught me how to work hard through their example, and I feel so incredibly blessed to be able to call this my career.” 

For more information on Skull Creek Studio, visit

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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