Gallery Spotlight: Linda Stager
Linda Stager’s evocative local photographs have been gracing the pages of Mountain Home for years. And since the Mountain Home Art Gallery opened a little over two years ago, her images have graced our walls as well. Early on we dubbed her “The Suncatcher,” and, figuring it was about time to give her her own show, this April and May we will be showcasing all of her work (or as much as the walls will hold!), and you can meet her at the gallery at 87-1⁄2 Main Street in Wellsboro on May 3 beginning at 5:00 p.m. for the town’s First Friday kickoff. In the meantime, Mountain Home asked her a few questions about the hobby that is quickly becoming her legacy:
How much time do you spend each week on your art?
I love being retired, so I have many interests. Photography is but one of them. So finding the time for it is always difficult. If I had my way, I’d be out with camera in hand for sunrise every morning. And I would stay out until mid-morning when the light starts to get harsh. I find that starting the day somewhere for sunrise is so good for the soul. And carrying my camera so that I record the moment just tops off the experience. But the reality is that if I can get out a couple of times a week, it’s a good week, since other responsibilities take away from that time in the field. And the luxury of wandering with the camera is just that, a luxury, since my art isn’t just my photography hobby. I am also the author of The Pine Creek Rail Trail Guidebook, so time during every week is spent in book-related activities including speaking engagements, marketing, and sales.
What are your top photography subjects, and what makes them your favorites?
I carry a landscape camera and a wildlife camera with me all of the time. And I often do both wildlife and landscape scenes simultaneously. If the wildlife is out, that’s what I’m doing. My favorite subjects to photograph are eagles, osprey, warblers, elk, deer, owls, foxes, and bears. Basically, if its wildlife, I love the exhilaration of the stalk: Setting up a blind, wearing camouflage, staking out a spot, getting photos without stressing the wildlife—they are all a part of the challenge. Knowing your subject is important too, so I spend time researching my subjects. I am quite an expert on bald eagles now. Wildlife photography is such a technical trial. The right settings on your camera, often done on the fly and under pressure, are critical. Focus, exposure, ISO, and shutter speed are a lot to handle. So anytime I am successful in photographing wildlife is a moment of pride for me. But plenty of times it is all about stunning lighting and trying to capture the scene my eye sees and my soul feels. Landscape photography is often quick. It’s based on the light, which is so often fleeting. But it’s also tricky, especially night photography: Long exposure work on a tripod is not only technical, but it requires stamina and not being afraid of the dark. My favorite landscape photography subject is Tioga County. I really, really like showing the beauty of the area in which we live. There is so much that is stunning to see. Main Street in Wellsboro is my favorite subject. But so are the Pine Creek Gorge and especially the Pine Creek Rail Trail. If I can encourage someone to come to Tioga County to see and share my experiences here, I will have done what I have set out to do. And I like flying my drone and taking aerial photos. The difference in perspective is fascinating to me. WindDancer is my drone’s name, and it often takes me to scenes I would not be able to see otherwise. Flying for me is scary. It’s a lot of equipment that only flies well when I think well. But it’s well worth doing it.
Do you prefer film or digital photography?
I remember film work. I was a terrible photographer and I didn’t get many “keepers.” Photographers used to take twenty-four or thirty-six shots on a roll of film and send the roll of film in for processing. After a week’s wait, prints and negatives would come back. And I was usually disappointed with the number of viewable prints in the envelope. Digital photography changed all of that. I can take as many shots as I want and keep only those that are good enough, especially important in wildlife photography because the “keeper” rate is still pretty small. With the advent of post-processing software like Lightroom and Photoshop, the possibilities for artistic license expand greatly. I tend to be pretty impatient with any post-processing effort. I use free software on my iPad Pro and a finger swipe is about the extent of my skills and efforts. A little cropping, sharpening, and exposure tweaking does the trick for me. My “snow globes” prints are a good example of taking a photograph and creating something different with a simple app.
What would your dream photo shoot be?
Ohhh, what a thought...I would start at the diner on Main Street in Wellsboro and I would work my way up Main Street and marvel about how Norman Rockwellish our town’s historic district is. I would shoot photos up high and down low. The lighting would be blue light, just before dawn. And I would be there to watch the sun rise and to watch the light tones change from blue to red to yellow. There are moments on Main Street when the lighting is fantastic, especially early in the morning. Then I would head to the Pine Creek Rail Trail and I would ride my bike with my camera on the back of my bike in my rear “trunk.” I would look for wildlife along the way, stop and meditate along Pine Creek at times, chat with other folks on the trail, and watch the sun slowly creep into the bottom of the canyon. I’d listen for the ghosts of the canyon’s past and I would dream of glorious times, past and future. I’d be thrilled to see any of the eagles in the canyon and I would stop to watch, perhaps for an hour or so. The beauty of riding or walking the trail is that time almost stands still. There is so much time to think and dream. I’d end the day by going back out for evening photography. I’d set up in the country to watch the Milky Way appear around 10 p.m. I’d enjoy the dark, the stillness of the night, and the vastness of the universe. And I would think and dream.