Archive for June, 2016

3 Ways to Simplify and Learn Photography Faster

30 Jun

It’s not always easy to be a photographer, seeing all of the great photo opportunities around us, and wanting to capture them all. Recently, I was working with a student of mine, and she wanted to know how to handle changing settings quickly from one situation to another.  Her example was trying to go from photographing landscapes, to trying to focus on a bird or other wildlife that may quickly enter the scene. While some seasoned photographers may be ready for a situation such as this, it’s certainly not easy, and for someone just learning, I would argue that it shouldn’t be attempted at all.

24-120mm. Shot at 120mm, 1/160, f/4, ISO 1400. Knowing how the lens behaves at both ends of the zoom, I knew I could use this lens for wide angle shots in close, but zoom in as the flower girl was coming down the aisle and still get an interesting shot.

24-120mm, shot at 120mm, 1/160, f/4, ISO 1400. Knowing how the lens behaves at both ends of the zoom, I knew I could use this lens for wide angle shots in close, but zoom in as the flower girl was coming down the aisle and still get an interesting shot.

While many of the camera manufacturers want to make photography sound easy (anyone remember “So advanced, it’s simple”?), the fact is, photography is a craft, that despite the advances in technology, takes some time to master. Different photographic situations call for different settings, different lenses, or even a completely different approach to the subject matter. If you’re a hobbyist with only one camera, it can be impossible to be ready for all of the possibilities as they happen.

So here are three ways to keep it simple while you’re learning photography, and stop the overwhelm.

#1 – Focus on one subject at a time

I’m a strong advocate for keeping things simple. First off, if you’re planning to photograph landscapes, wildlife, or portraits, stick with that one goal.  It is easy to get distracted by other subjects that come along. Those opportunities can seem like gold when they pop up, and they can be, but if you’re already set up to shoot a landscape photo at ISO 100, f/16 aperture, and 1/20th shutter speed, quickly switching to settings suitable for capturing a bird in flight is not an easy process. It will likely end in you being frustrated, capturing photos that don’t quite meet your expectations, or worse, don’t come out at all.

Even now, 20-plus years after beginning my photography career, I try not to do too much at once with a camera. I focus on what my goal was when I first decided to pick up the camera and head out. If I’m planning on photographing a landscape at sunset, that’s what I do. The only time I will try to be ready for two separate subjects, is when I have two cameras. For instance, if I’m photographing a landscape, but there are waterfowl nearby and I want to be ready for that, I have a second camera set up with a telephoto lens, so I can grab it and try and get the shot. Even this requires me to at least temporarily put my initial subject, the landscape, aside for a bit.

Wildlife image taken using a fast shutter speed and a telephoto lens.

This shot of the blue heron was taken with a 400mm lens, using continuous AF, and 1/1250 shutter speed.

The image of the waterfall (below), and the image of the great blue heron (above), were both taken at the same location.  However, for the shot of the waterfall, I needed to use a neutral density filter to slow down the exposure. There is no way I’d have been able to remove the filter, and be ready to photograph the heron, even if both shots could have been captured with the same lens. Not only would my shutter speed have needed to be drastically faster to stop the flight of the heron, I would also have needed to use continuous AF to capture its flight sharply, while I always use one-shot AF when photographing landscapes.

Knowing there may be wildlife nearby, I mounted a Nikon 80-400mm lens on one camera (on a strap on my shoulder), while I had a second camera with a shorter lens, set up on a tripod to capture the waterfalls. If I only had one camera, I would have needed to choose between one subject or the other, and then move on. Rare is the occasion when you can jump so quickly from one subject to a completely different one using only one camera.

Landscape image using a slow shutter speed and wide angle lens.

This shot was taken with a 16mm lens, using one-shot AF, and a 0.6 second shutter speed.

If you’re working with only one camera, don’t try to do too much.  Pick one subject and work that until you feel you’ve accomplished what you wanted, then move on to another subject. Yes, it’s difficult to be set up to catch a sunset and watch a beautiful snowy egret land nearby and start fishing, leaving you itching to try and catch it, but chances are it will fly away again while you’re still fiddling with your settings. Meanwhile, the sun is still setting, the color is fading, and you’ve likely missed a shot or two there as well.

#2 – Use only one lens

Back when I took my first photo course in college, my professor was adamant that each student use only a 50mm lens. I didn’t understand why at the time, but I do now. It’s important to understand how your lenses behave, so you’ll know which one is right for the job. As photographers, many of us become gear collectors, always wanting another lens, to allow us to photograph the way we saw another photographer do it. But before you start collecting lenses, it’s important to recognize what each lens can do for you, and to truly understand that, you’ve got to use each lens extensively.

Wide angle lenses expand perspective.

Using a wide angle lens, I was able to emphasize the ice in the foreground, while pushing the bridge to the background at the top center of the frame.

I currently have seven camera lenses in my kit right now. At any given time, there may be four or five in my camera bag when I’m out photographing, depending on what my planned subject is, or what contingencies I want to be ready for. But, as usually happens, it’s rare that most of those lenses will see the outside of my bag once I get where I’m going. While each situation is different, I often find that one lens will usually handle what I want to do when I get to a location. So unless it’s one of those rare times when a situation calls for both a telephoto and a wide angle look, usually only one of those lenses gets mounted on the camera. While in the above example I broke this rule and used two cameras with two different lenses, that is not usually the norm for me.

When you pull your camera out of the bag next time and select lens to use, stick with that one lens. Really get to know it. If it’s a zoom, shoot at only one end of it. The next time you use it, use the other end. Learn how to make that lens really sing. Find out what it’s really good for, and what it’s not good at. Do this with every lens you own, if you own more than one. When it comes time to purchase new glass, you’ll have a much better understanding of where your kit comes up short, and what you need to buy. In addition, you’ll also be building on my first point, focusing on one subject. Too often, new photographers miss opportunities because they are busy changing lenses because they think they need one over another. If changing lenses is not an option, you won’t waste time with it, and can focus on making great photos with whichever lens you find on your camera.

Telephoto lenses compress perspective.

Telephoto lenses compress perspective. Want to make the sun or moon look really big in relation to a building or structure? Back away from your subject a bit and use a telephoto lens to compress the perspective and distort the size relationship.

In the two images shown above, the same bridge can be found in both, and both shots were taken from roughly the same spot. One was taken with a 16mm lens, and the other, with a telephoto lens at 290mm. Wide angle lenses expand perspective, emphasizing the foreground and pushing background objects back, while telephoto lenses minimize foreground and tend to flatten perspective. Using only one focal length will also help you to compose more effective images. Zooms can at times make you lazy. Zooming from a wide angle to a telephoto lens changes the image profoundly, and it’s important to understand what effect that can have on your image.

Telephoto lenses compress perspective, while wide angle lenses enhance it, and each perspective communicates something different to the viewer. There are reasons to use both wide and telephoto lenses, but only working with them extensively will help you recognize the situations where each is most effective.

#3 – Don’t accessorize

For the lighthouse image- Shot at 16mm, f/16, 15 seconds, ISO 64. I simplified my composition down to two elements, the reflection in the foreground, and the lighthouse in the background. Knowing the lighthouse would be there regardless of where I stood or how I zoomed, I focused on getting the reflection right, and letting the rest of the composition fall into place.

Shot at 16mm, f/16, 15 seconds, ISO 64. I simplified my composition down to two elements, the reflection in the foreground, and the lighthouse in the background. Knowing the lighthouse would be there regardless of where I stood or how I zoomed, I focused on getting the reflection right, and letting the rest of the composition fall into place.

One of the great things about digital photography, and today’s technology, is the many cool new tools available to help with your picture-taking endeavors. It’s great to be able to connect to a camera from your smartphone, and do things such as time lapse or long exposures, but often times, these accessories are one more thing that can go wrong, or distract you from actually taking photos.

There are only three accessories that I use regularly. One is a time controller that plugs into my camera directly, second is a tripod, and finally, a set of neutral density and graduated neutral density filters, used to help control exposure. I didn’t even begin using the filters until a few years ago, more than 15 years into my photography career. Both images below used nothing more than a remote shutter release. In the case of the Milky Way image, on the right, I set my camera to manual for a 15 second exposure and used the remote release as I would the shutter button, simply to avoid touching the camera. For the image on the left of the star trails, while that becomes a bit more complicated in processing, in reality, it’s just a lot of 30-second exposures. I simply set my camera to continuous drive, and locked the shutter button on the remote down. Simple.

Minimize accessories

Even for images such as these, the only accessory I used was a time controller, with only the shutter button locked down.

It’s important, when learning photography, to focus on the basics – aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, and understand how they affect your images. It’s too easy to get caught up in all the bells and whistles and how cool they are, and forget that the end result is what matters. In my mind, if the accessory isn’t contributing in a way that affects the final image, then I don’t need to use it. I’m not saying that accessories are bad, or even unnecessary, but if you aren’t sure how to achieve a proper exposure yet, put off purchasing that shiny new toy, and really learn your camera.

I would even advise you to stay away from the special modes on your camera, such as HDR, or star trails mode (I do that manually in post-production), or multiple exposure mode. Yes, they can look cool, and do great things, but again, understanding the basics of exposure is paramount. If you don’t understand basic exposure, using the bells and whistles won’t help you make music.

I find that simplifying the process as much as possible helps me come away with the best images possible. What do you do to help simplify your photographic process?

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Wildfire picture wins £3000 international Environmental Photographer of the Year Award

30 Jun

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The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) has announced the winners of its Environmental Photographer of the Year awards and given out £6000 (approx. $ 8000) in prizes as well as a job. The winner of the £3000 overall award is Swedish photographer Sara Lindstrom for a picture of a forest fire taken in Alberta, Canada.

Luke Massey took the £1000 Young Environmental Photographer of the Year award for pictures of a peregrine on a balcony in Chicago, and the Environmental Film of the Year, and £500, went to Sergiu Jiduc for a film called ‘The Karkoram Anomaly Project, Pakistan’ about dramatic climatic conditions that effect the Balti people in Pakistan.

SL Kumar Shanth from India won the Atkins Built Environment award that includes a year-long position of Photographer in Residence with design and engineering firm Atkins, while the Changing Climate award and £500 went to Sandra Hoyn and the People, Nature and Economy Award and £1000 went to Pedram Yazdani.

The winning images will be included in a 60-picture exhibition that will be held at the Royal Geographic Society in London from 29th June to 19 August 2016. The exhibition will then tour to Grizedale Forest, supported by Forestry Commission England, from 3 September 2016 until 1 January 2017. For more information on the exhibition and the awards visit the Environmental Photographer of the Year website.

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DxOMark confirms Canon EOS 1D X II sensor advances

30 Jun
This is how the EOS-1D X Mark II’s sensor compares. Its performance sees it rank joint 21st with the Nikon D3X, putting it just ahead of its closest rival, the Nikon D5.

DxOMark has rated the Canon 1D X II’s sensor, and it looks very competitive for its class. Strong low-ISO dynamic range and impressive high ISO performance earn it a score of 88 – tying with the Nikon D5 despite having an edge in both these areas.

These results echo our own findings, which showed the latest generation Canon chip offering greater low-ISO DR than previous designs: enough to out-perform the Nikon D5 (whose own performance isn’t particularly good by modern standards).

However, while it performs well for its class, these numbers are only enough rank it 21st in DxO’s overall sensor score chart, which sees the high-resolution chips in the Nikon D810 and Sony a7R II significantly out-perform it in terms of low light performance, dynamic range and the ability to distinguish between colors. Of course, what these other sensors can’t do is shoot continuously at 16 frames per second, but it’s interesting to see the image quality hit that you currently have to pay to get that high-speed performance.

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Google Earth and Maps updated with higher quality satellite imagery

30 Jun

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Google has updated both Google Earth and Google Maps with higher-quality satellite imagery using images mostly taken by NASA and the USGS’s Landsat 8. According to the company, the refreshed imagery provides truer colors and greater detail in comparison to the previous content captured by Landsat 7, helping provide what Google calls its ‘freshest global mosaic to date.’

The company pored over more than 700 trillion pixels’ worth of Landsat images to choose the clearest photos. Before this imagery refresh, Google’s mapping products included satellite imagery captured, in same cases, nearly two decades ago. Google has rolled out the new images to all of its mapping products; the content can be viewed on both the ‘satellite’ layer on Google Maps and on Google Earth.

Via: Google Lat Long Blog

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Beast of a Bicycle! Mechanical Modification With a Spider-Like Walk

30 Jun

[ By SA Rogers in Art & Sculpture & Craft. ]

strandbeest bike 1

This bizarre new take on the Strandbeest bicycle isn’t going to get you from point A to point B much faster than a casual stroll, but it’s fun to watch, with the rear mechanical mechanism ‘walking’ in spider-like motions. Borrowing from the wind-powered kinetic sculptures pioneered by Dutch artist and engineer Theo Jansen, this new creation by Californian collective Carv is half bike, half beast with a front wheel, three functional legs and over 450 handmade components. The designers started with a simple blueprint of Theo Jansen’s rod-linking technique, which he describes as “skeletons which are able to walk on the wind.”

strandbeest bike 2

strandbeest bike 4

It took Carv a whole seven months to develop and build the bike, with the assembly of the rods alone taking three days. Whereas Jansen’s walking sculptures use sails and wind to generate movement, the bike uses pedal power. The designers used a single-speed bike from Walmart as the base and added the rear linkage. Get the technical details here.

An earlier version of the ‘walking bicycle’ by Hanno Smits also uses pedal power, but takes out both wheels, opting for a full walking mechanism that seems to navigate a little more smoothly. The Panterragaffe, a third version, is a two-person pedal-powered walking machine conceived as a public performance piece.

strandbeest opt

It’s hard to deny that Jansen’s original sculptures are just plain cooler and more interesting, though, no matter how many hybrid knock-offs people try to make. Still tempted to try it, or just want to know more about how they work? Jansen sells a few books as well as DVDs and miniature ‘beasts’ on the Strandbeest website.

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ZTE nubia 11 features optical image stabilization and plenty of storage

30 Jun

Chinese manufacturer ZTE has launched its latest flagship-level device, the nubia Z11. Looking at its specifications the new model has the potential to be a serious alternative for mobile photographers for several reasons. On paper, the camera module looks very similar to the one on the recently unveiled OnePlus 3 and comes with a 16MP Sony IMX298 1/2.8″ sensor that offers on-chip phase detection and a pixel size of 1.12 micron. The lens is protected by a sapphire glass element and  comes with a fast F2.0 aperture and an optical image stabilization system. The front camera captures 8MP images on a sensor with a 1.4 micron pixel size. The lens on the front module covers a wide angle view of 80 degrees and features a F2.4 aperture.

Photographers and frequent video shooters will also like the generous on-board memory. The Z11 comes in two versions, either with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, or 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. On both models storage can be further expanded via a microSD-slot.

Photos can be viewed and edited on a 5.5-inch Full-HD display that is protected by Gorilla Glass 3, and inside the Android 6.0 OS is powered by Qualcomm’s current top-end chipset Snapdragon 820. A fingerprint reader increases security and the 3,000 mAh battery supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 standard. The high-end components are built into an elegant looking all-metal case with extremely thin display bezels. In China the nubia Z11 will be available from July 6 at approximately $ 375 for the model with 4GB RAM and $ 525 for the higher-end version. No information on availability in other markets is available yet.

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Sony delays 70-200mm GM lens until September

30 Jun

Sony has said that the FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS lens for its E-mount cameras is to be delayed until September. When the lens was announced in February this year the company expected to be delivering the tele-zoom to stores this month. No reason is given for the delay, but the statement thanks users for their patronage and apologies for the inconvenience.

Along with the zoom the company will also push back the release of the two tele-converters that are supposed to go with it – the SEL14TC 1.4x converter and the SEL20TC 2x converter.

The FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS is part of a new G Master range of lenses designed with the company’s full frame a7 series of cameras in mind – though they are also compatible with the APS-C models. Other GM lenses announced along with the 70-200mm F2.8 are the FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM and the FE 85mm F1.4 GM.

For more information see the Sony website.

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How to Create a Dramatic Cinematic Style Portrait Using Photoshop Color Grading

30 Jun

Cinematic style portraits are personally one of my favourites. What I like the most about them are the desaturated colours and the dramatic ambience.

Before we start the tutorial on colour grading, I will give you some of my best tips to achieve this cinematic look:

  • Use a large aperture, something between f/1.4 and f/2.0. If you have a long lens then you can also use that. The idea is to have a nice background bokeh (when things in the background are blurred). You also want to have nice separation between the model and the background.


  • If you’re shooting indoors with strobes, then try to add ambience by adding shadows to the model’s face. You do not want flat lighting, it is boring.
  • If somehow you can’t get the dramatic lighting, don’t hesitate to enhance the contrast with some dodging and burning in Photoshop.


  • If you’re shooting outside, the I recommend shooting right after sunset. You will get nice soft light on the model’s face, and you will also have city lights behind them, to really get a cinematic feel. This only works with a large aperture, and it adds another point of interest.


  • Your model should have a strong expression on their face, especially if it’s a male. Cute smiling images do not really work that well with this style.
  • Leave some space in the frame. You do not want your model to take up the whole frame, so leave some space around them, to add context to your image. You can get better results if the viewer is able to locate the spatiotemporal context of your image.


  • Your model should not wear something too flashy (something like pink or yellow), limit their clothes to sombre, subdued colours.
  • Try to use complementary colours as much as possible, it creates nice depth to your images. Usually in movies, the actor is either in blue and the background in yellow/orange, or vice versa. Try to keep your actor in a range of cold colours and your background in warm colours, it works the best. The opposite also gives you good results.


  • The most important thing is that your model should look like a character. Try to add accessories, clothes, or poses that make the character look credible. You can discuss with the model or stylist before the session, the look you want to give to your images, and have a look together at the wardrobe.
    IMAGE 6

Color Grading in Photoshop

For the colour grading tutorial I am going to work on this image:


This image was taken on a Canon 6D, with an aperture of f/1.8, on a 50mm lens. This was taken during a short film where I was the photographer. There was a lighting behind the window aiming at the model, we added some fog to create this 1945 look.

What we’re going to do with this image is bring it back to life, by enhancing the contrast between the yellows in the highlights, and the greens in the shadows. We’re going to have a colour scheme based on analogous colours, going from green to yellow.

Let’s start with some basic exposure correction on Lightroom, this will depend on your image, so adjust accordingly.


Do basic adjustments in Lightroom, or your program of choice, first.

After the basics are done let’s move the image over to Photoshop to start our colour grading. If you are using Lightroom just right click and choose Edit in Photoshop.

First, duplicate the layer in Photoshop so that you won’t do any destructive editing. You can always go back to the original layer if you don’t like the results.



Make a duplicate layer.

The first thing we’re going to do is to create a new layer adjustment, go to: Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color Lookup…

Screen Shot 2016 06 23 at 2 08 13 PM

Pick filmstock_50.3dl and reduce the opacity of the layer to around 20%. You need to reduce the opacity otherwise the effect is going to be too strong.



Next thing we’re going to do is create a curves layer and redo the contrast. This will really depend on your image, so adjust according to your taste.


Adjustment layer Curves to add contrast.

Then create another curves layer, go to the blue curve and lower the top right extreme of the layer. This will add yellow to your shadows.


Add yellow to the shadow areas using this curve adjustment

Next step is to play around with the colour balance (make another new adjustment layer) to enhance to greens in the midtones and the yellows in the highlights. Once again just the sliders to add green and yellow to both the highlights and the midtowns.


Select Midtones from the pull-down menu and add green and yellow.


Select Highlights from the pull-down menu and add green and yellow.

Right now, we are basically done with colour grading. Lastly is to quickly dodge and burn, to enhance the light coming from the window, and to darken the image and the background. We are basically doing a manual vignette.

To lighten up the image, create a curves layer, make it brighter, and add a black layer mask (CMD/CNTRL+I to invert the layer mask). Call the layer Dodge, and paint with a white brush (because the mask is black) in the spots where you want to brighten up the image. Pick a brush with an opacity around 40% with and edge hardest of 0%

To create a dark layer, we will basically do the same thing but darken up the curves layer and paint over the spots in the image we want darker.


This Curves adjustment layer is for dodging or lightening areas of the image.


This Curves adjustment layer is for burning or darkening areas of the image.


Rename your layers to identify them easier.


This is the final result:



Cinematic portraits rely heavily on great colour grading – but the lighting, model, camera settings and ambience should not be neglected. It all starts with a great image and ends with Photoshop to enhance your vision.

Enjoy the art !

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Peruse Your Illusions: 21 Mind-Bending Urban Works of Art

30 Jun

[ By SA Rogers in Art & Street Art & Graffiti. ]

illusions main

Optical illusion art brings a bit of magic to the streets, using paint, paste-ups or photographic tiles to transform urban surfaces into massive sinkholes, bizarre portals and mysterious doors offering entrance to places unknown. Three-dimensional objects seem to float in midair, people walk across vertical surfaces and entire buildings seem to be melting beneath the sun in these fun works of large-scale urban art.

Graphic Wormhole Mural by Astro

mural astro 1

mural astro 2

astro 2

astro 3

A huge, boring side wall of an apartment building in Loures, Portugal just got a lot more fun to look at with the addition of a massive optical illusion mural by the street artist ‘Astro,’ who made it seem like a blue abyss. The artist has completed similar illusions in other spots, like a patch of concrete beneath an overpass.

Melting Facade in Paris

mural illusion facade

mural illusion facade 2

mural illusion facade 3

A mural added to the entire exterior of a building in France makes it look as if the structure is melting like a Dali clock. Imagine walking down an alley while under the influence and then looking up to see this. It’s disconcerting enough as it is.

Mind Your Step by Erik Johansson

mural mind your step 1

mural mind your step 2

Pedestrians crossing Stockholm’s Sergels torg square either dangle dangerously close to a giant sinkhole or appear to miraculously walk right over it while interacting with an amazing street art illusion by artist Erik Johansson. ‘Mind Your Step’ was created off-site and assembled using large printed sheets, with a yellow platform indicating where passersby should stand to make the illusion come together.

Skrapan Illusion by Erik Johansson

mural skrapan

mural skrapan 2

Equally fun is Johansson’s ‘Skrapan Illusion,’ commissioned in the summer of 2012 for a Stockholm shopping center. The artist’s rendering of a city as seen from a perilously high vantage point is so realistic, you could get a bit of vertigo standing on the ‘edge.’

3D Portals by 1010

murals 1010 1

murals 1010 2

murals 1010 3

Surprisingly colorful inner layers of exterior walls seem to have been peeled away to reveal the pitch blackness inside, making it seem as if each building contains some kind of intriguing mystery. Germany-based street artist 1010 started with small framed paper cuts and then realized he could achieve the same effect with paint on a large scale. “I call them holes, abyss, passage or portals, names that leave enough space for interpretation and projection for the viewer.”

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Peruse Your Illusions 21 Mind Bending Urban Works Of Art

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Macro Maven: An Interview with Ithalu Dominguez

30 Jun

Whenever we scroll up on an Instagram from @itha_mar, we *marvel* at her amazing knack for snapping super close-up macros, of Mother Nature’s handy work.

She’s no professional with a fancy bunch of gear, and specially trained bugs that stay extra still.

Ithalu shoots mostly with her phone. A phone! Just like that one you’ve got right there.

So, we caught up with her to find out all her secrets (in hopes of mastering bug-ography ourselves).

Read the rest of Macro Maven: An Interview with Ithalu Dominguez (745 words)

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