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Food Shutter Bug Club (Part 1)


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The problem is that your using flash at all. Food never looks as good under flash as it does under natural light. Just get a tripod and set the shutter speed to very low and your food will come out much, much better.

Are you sure about that? I have a friend with a fancy fill flash. He inserts colored pieces of plastic to vary the light. It may just be that a standard flash has the wrong color light for food.

Maybe a photographic expert could explain this.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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I don't necessarily buy the tripod-and-natural-light advice for customers shooting plates of food in restaurants. Setting up even a tabletop tripod is not practical in most dining situations, and without either a tripod or a far superior camera and lens to what most consumers possess, you're not going to get good natural light shots in the darker restaurants.

I also don't buy in to the "flash is evil" school of thought. It depends on the purpose of the photography. Most eGullet Society members are shooting for "informational" purposes, not with the intention of publishing in Art Culinaire. In informational photography, it's okay to lose some art value in exchange for detail and clarity and that's what you get with flash. It's not as though none of the top professionals use artificial lighting either. Natural light food photography is a current trend in Saveur and its ilk but commercial food photography is almost always lit artificially and so is much of the photography in culinary books.

I would recommend that, if it's not disturbing to other guests, people with point-and-shoot digital cameras do use flash for quick, in-restaurant plate photos. I also agree that leaning back from the plate and zooming is the best technique to reduce flash glare. Also shooting at a good angle to the plate (this will vary with plate shape) will prevent too much reflection. Really fill the frame with the food, to prevent bad metering. Hold the camera steady all the way through the shot, because point-and-shoot digitals have a lag and you're never quite sure at what point it's taking the shot. Using this approach may not yield photos you can sell, but it will yield photos you can post and it will preserve your culinary memories with great accuracy.

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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The problem is that your using flash at all. Food never looks as good under flash as it does under natural light. Just get a tripod and set the shutter speed to very low and your food will come out much, much better.

Are you sure about that? I have a friend with a fancy fill flash. He inserts colored pieces of plastic to vary the light. It may just be that a standard flash has the wrong color light for food.

Maybe a photographic expert could explain this.

I'm assuming that nobody is going to be setting up light boxes and meters in a restaurant. In this context, flash means the flash you get on a consumer grade, P&S digital camera.

PS: I am a guy.

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When you consider all the problems, the one piece of equipment that should work best is a high resolution SLR with a low signal to noise ratio at very high ISO, 1600-3200. And attach an image stabilising lens with good f/2.8 performance in the 20-50mm range.

That's asking a lot, but it is available, from the two major players, Canon and Nikon. Some of the high end 'all in one' cameras may duplicate most features, except for the low noise level at very high ISO's.

In our Shutterbug thread, Eleanor recommended using a 50mm F/1.4 lens (about $400, or less used)

for low light restaurant shots. This is a neat solution, obviating the expensive f/2.8 zoom,IS,and expensive L or ED glass. With this lens used at f/1.4, you could shoot almost all restaurant plates in available light, unobtrusively, and there will be a narrow depth of field, apparently popullar with food editors.

Edited by jayt90 (log)
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My wife and I have an extended weekend trip to San Francisco scheduled the first weekend of June.

I have stacked a massive schedule of restaurants and would like to photo-document our dining experiences for egullet.

I have tried on occasion, very unsuccessfully, taken photos of meals in restaurants http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=79589 (SiseFromms pics were posted from what we could salvage from my work).

The problems I have are a combination of perceived nerdiness, and difficulty with taking photos without a flash in low light situations.

I feel terrible snapping flash photos in restaurants with other folks around me and my party.

I have a really good micro size digital camera that takes great photos when all things line up.

Anyone have any instructional experience, advice on protocol and the mechanics of getting a few good non obtrusive snaps during dining?

Shaun

What I do, and it works great if your camera has this feature, is turn on the "rapid fire" mode (called "continuous mode" on my little Canon), turn off the flash, turn on the macro mode (if you are shooting close to the plate), and fire away. Just hold the camera as still as possible and hold the shutter button down until you get 5 or 10 shots in rapid succession. I guarantee that at least one will be sharp. I do this for all the pictures on my website (see sig or profile).

Have fun!

-Chris

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That Food Photography blog was indeed a great link. However, after looking quickly at the examples I don't know if it answers the question about photographing food in a restaurant, at least on an informal and impromptu basis.

I have gotten over my inhibitions. I just snap away with a small Olympus digital camera. Nobody pays any attention and they don't know you. I use a 3X zoom and try to get the camera as far away as possible and zoom in so the flash will not burn out the subject. The camera I have has a "cuisine" setting option that is suppose to make the food look better. So, I generally take two pictures, one with the normal setting and one with the cuisine setting for each shot. Generally the cuisine setting looks better but not always.

I have been photographing deep-fried breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches this past year for fun and the pursuit. I managed to throw together a web page photo library of them that you can double-click on individual photos or view them all as a slide show. Hey, I am just an amateur photographer but you can see them here...

http://www.porktenderloinsandwich.com

The sandwiches look very good. Can you tell a little about how they're made? Don't mean to go off topic.

ChefCrash,

At http://www.porktenderloinsandwich.com you will see two other sites you can then click and go to. One is my BPT_Tutorial where I do describe in great detail how I make the sandwiches and the other is Nick's_Kitchen, a photo tour of the restaurant that started it all in 1908.

I spent $20 to get that porktenderloinsandwich URL address because the real URL address is difficult to remember. That was just a little luxury expense for myself. I'm strictly an amatuer hobbyist having fun with the pork tenderloin pursuit. No expensive cameras. No tripod. Pictures are for informational only. Most of those on the website had been posted on the 4 year old message thread discussion on pork tenderloin sandwiches at Trackforum.com. It's a Hoosier thing centered around the Indy 500. After some 2,700 messages I thought I would try to organize my pictures than hunt back through the messages.

I think I might try Chris' rapid fire approach on the next one and see how I do.

Davydd

It is just an Anglicized Welsh spelling for David to celebrate my English/Welsh ancestry. The Welsh have no "v" in their alphabet or it would be spelled Dafydd.

I must warn you. My passion is the Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich

Now blogging: Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Blog

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The camera I have has a "cuisine" setting option that is suppose to make the food look better.

No kidding? I would've never thought a manufacturer would get that specialized. What's the camera make/model?

It is a 2 year old Olympus Stylus 500 Digital. It has several shooting modes you can select and Cuisine is one of them. The current model is the Stylus 600. Here is a review of that camera.

Olympus Stylus 600 Digital Review

I'm not sure exactly what Cuisine setting does but it is one of 26 pre-selected. Others are shooting behind glass, sunsets, fireworks, nightscene, portrait, etc. I assume it locks in preset settings. Kind of a dummy's point and shoot camera. I think most of the Olympus Stylus brand cameras have the Cuisine mode. It does seem to give more intense coloring to the picture.

Davydd

It is just an Anglicized Welsh spelling for David to celebrate my English/Welsh ancestry. The Welsh have no "v" in their alphabet or it would be spelled Dafydd.

I must warn you. My passion is the Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich

Now blogging: Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Blog

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My wife and I have an extended weekend trip to San Francisco scheduled the first weekend of June.

I have stacked a massive schedule of restaurants and would like to photo-document our dining experiences for egullet.

I have tried on occasion, very unsuccessfully, taken photos of meals in restaurants http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=79589 (SiseFromms pics were posted from what we could salvage from my work).

The problems I have are a combination of perceived nerdiness, and difficulty with taking photos without a flash in low light situations.

I feel terrible snapping flash photos in restaurants with other folks around me and my party.

I have a really good micro size digital camera that takes great photos when all things line up.

Anyone have any instructional experience, advice on protocol and the mechanics of getting a few good non obtrusive snaps during dining?

Shaun

I really don't care to see pictures of your food from your trip especially if it involves impinging on the attempts of other diners to have a nice meal without distractions. If you attempt to photgraph next to me, I now have management make a decision, stop the photography or lose a customer in the middle of his meal. Societal restraints against imposing on others have been rapidly lost . Individuals feel free to impose unwanted distractions on others and don't consider whether they might be annoying others. Of course if you are eating at McD's, go ahead and shoot, because I won't be there. -Dick

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My wife and I have an extended weekend trip to San Francisco scheduled the first weekend of June.

I have stacked a massive schedule of restaurants and would like to photo-document our dining experiences for egullet.

I have tried on occasion, very unsuccessfully, taken photos of meals in restaurants http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=79589 (SiseFromms pics were posted from what we could salvage from my work).

The problems I have are a combination of perceived nerdiness, and difficulty with taking photos without a flash in low light situations.

I feel terrible snapping flash photos in restaurants with other folks around me and my party.

I have a really good micro size digital camera that takes great photos when all things line up.

Anyone have any instructional experience, advice on protocol and the mechanics of getting a few good non obtrusive snaps during dining?

Shaun

I really don't care to see pictures of your food from your trip especially if it involves impinging on the attempts of other diners to have a nice meal without distractions. If you attempt to photgraph next to me, I now have management make a decision, stop the photography or lose a customer in the middle of his meal. Societal restraints against imposing on others have been rapidly lost . Individuals feel free to impose unwanted distractions on others and don't consider whether they might be annoying others. Of course if you are eating at McD's, go ahead and shoot, because I won't be there. -Dick

From his post, it is clear that Shaun does not want to be an obvious distactor, and wants to avoid flash. He may need a camera upgrade for low light situations, more than a stern neighbour.

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I have a Olympus Stylus 800 which I think is the current model. I've had it for about 9 or 10 months. I'm never happy with the photos taken using the Cuisine setting so I don't use it. I also have a Sony Mavica CD500 which I like better than the Olympus for taking food photos. It is much bigger than the Olympus. Not convenient to carry around. I have a small table top tripod as well as a floor model and I use them both at home.

I got hooked on taking photos of food about 3 years ago. But mostly just my own. I never think to take the camera with me to restaurants. Most of my photos are a hit and miss but I did recently start to adjust the White Balance which has improved some of my photos and I never use the flash. Ever.

I'm going to play with some of the suggestions here. Thanks.

Ann

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The problem is that your using flash at all. Food never looks as good under flash as it does under natural light. Just get a tripod and set the shutter speed to very low and your food will come out much, much better.

Are you sure about that? I have a friend with a fancy fill flash. He inserts colored pieces of plastic to vary the light. It may just be that a standard flash has the wrong color light for food.

Maybe a photographic expert could explain this.

I'm assuming that nobody is going to be setting up light boxes and meters in a restaurant. In this context, flash means the flash you get on a consumer grade, P&S digital camera.

This is a handheld fillflash that attaches to his digital camera. I don't know if he uses it for food shots. I'll have to ask him. I'm assuming that the filtered flash could help improve the color of food.

It's less bulky than a mini-tripod. Equally annoying as the flash on a point and shoot camera.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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I really don't care to see pictures of your food from your trip especially if it involves impinging on the attempts of other diners to have a nice meal without distractions. If you attempt to photgraph next to me, I now have management make a decision, stop the photography or lose a customer in the middle of his meal. Societal restraints against imposing on others have been rapidly lost . Individuals feel free to impose unwanted distractions on others and don't consider whether they might be annoying others. Of course if you are eating at McD's, go ahead and shoot, because I won't be there. -Dick

Why does somebody taking a picture at the table next to you distract you so?

Sure, it's a momentary flash, perhaps, but why would you not think "ah, there's somebody so into food that he's taking a photo - how great", as so many food lovers around the world do?

I was dining at the Michelin 2-Star "Le Cerf" (having their truffle dinner for the second time in a week, and I asked the Chef Michel Husser and his wife, if I might take photos, and they said "but of course - absolutely!"

So I came away with photos like this:

open-truff.jpg

And nobody minded.

Another time I was having stupendous meals in other restaurants in France, and took photos like these, by simply raising the camera when the plate was presented, and snapping:

open-sandre.jpg

faude-chop-fixed-hr.jpg

open-fg.jpg

In fact, at that last place, quite fancy at that, when the meal was over, a formidable woman marched over to my table and asked me, in German "are you Germans?", and we replied, "No, Americans". So she replied to us in English, "Ah, Wonderful, Wonderful !!! It's good to see people taking such an interest in their food, especially Americans !!!!!!"

Now, I could see if little kids were running rampant in the restaurant and knocked into your table and spilled your wine, getting annoyed, and certainly if somebody at the next table lit up a cigar during my meal I'd feel that they were impinging. As to why you feel a photo being snapped at the next table impinges, I can't imagine. Surely if it were an anniversary and somebody asked the waiter to take their photo, would you care?

Here's a photo we took recently at the table at Lupa in New York. I have to say, I've never met anybody anywhere that's minded.

pigeon-2.jpg

There are lots more of these in the link in my signature. One of us holds up a Canon ES 20D with a hooded flash, (that'd be my partner), and if I think it calls for it, I hold two small white cards just out of range on either side of the plate to bounce light on the sides.

And unlike a photo of a dining companion, where the flash would actually hit anybody behind them, or the photo where the waiter takes your camera and stands with it and calls attention to himself, you lift the camera quietly from your side, point it down at the table, and that's it. If you're doing it quietly and compactly, what could anybody object to?

The rest is done in post-production in Photoshop.

I hope this helps you go for it! As I say, anybody there for the love of great food shouldn't mind, or never has in all the times I've done it around the world.

Edited by markk (log)

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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I really don't care to see pictures of your food from your trip especially if it involves impinging on the attempts of other diners to have a nice meal without distractions. If you attempt to photgraph next to me, I now have management make a decision, stop the photography or lose a customer in the middle of his meal. Societal restraints against imposing on others have been rapidly lost . Individuals feel free to impose unwanted distractions on others and don't consider whether they might be annoying others. Of course if you are eating at McD's, go ahead and shoot, because I won't be there. -Dick

Goodness, this seems a bit harsh and overreactive.

Edited by dimsum (log)
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  • 1 month later...

Hi All,

I'm fairly new to eGullet, so I'm hoping that adding this reply to the original message was the right thing to do... also, I'm hoping folks don't mind me linking off to another site for the photos. Feel free to guide me if I'm doing this all wrong!

Anyway... I'm hoping to get some good, constructive critical feedback on my food photography work. Feel free to tell it like it is. For some context, I'm completely amatuer at this point, although I do have hopes that I might do more than that someday. But, I realize that I have lots of work to do before I get there.

I'm shooting with a Canon20D, and tend to gravitate towards my 100mm 2.8 and 50mm 1.4, always on a tripod. My shooting location is a nook off of my kitchen, so I use natural light when I can... but on most of these I am using a couple of Tota halogens (generally there is natural light leaking in as well)... and I'm using a Mole Richardson mini-mole spot in a couple. I haven't moved to strobes yet.

For most of these photos, I did everything soup to nuts... recipes, cooking, stying, shooting, etc. I'm really looking for more tips on the photography itself, but if you have styling feedback, that's ok too.

A small sampling of my photos are here:

http://flickr.com/photos/laraferroni/sets/72157594181896104/

Feel free to leave feedback here, or on the individual photos on Flickr.

Thanks!

-L

http://www.laraferrroni.com/

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I love the photos of the sesame noodle salad, the chanterelles, the yogurt pops (great composition!), the red sauce with the egg and the steam coming up in front of the pan handle (Babbo's eggs), the glass of white wine with asparagus soup and toast, the stacked up cinammon rolls, the spoonful of ice cream, the goat cheese ice cream with a tongue of it facing us, and the mint iced tea, and there are great things about some of the rest of the photos (e.g., the beautiful arrangement of the red onions in the salad and crisp focus in the foreground of "21 Steps"; the beauty of the rhubard scone cake and interesting interplay of diagonal planes in the photo; the colorful fingernails and vivid strawberries in another photo). The question I'd ask you is what effect you're trying for when the subject of your photo is cut off or cropped. For example, in the photo with the painted fingernails and strawberries, I'd like it better if the woman's left hand were fully visible. The composition of the rustic cherry pie photo is interesting but seems tense to me. I look at the composition of photos with the same eye I use to look at compositions in paintings, so I find compositions like the goat cheese ice cream sandwich tense and lopsided, much as I would if it were a painting of an incomplete circle of one color on a background of another (the composition actually reminds of the Legers). The lopsidedness is intentional, but do you intend tension? To me, a harmonious composition has a feeling of completeness, which is why I find the photo of Babbo's eggs so appealing. The pan is cut off, but the composition is balanced, with fascinating interplay between the center line and the sides, and between the light and dark areas of the photo.

I only wish I were 1/5 as good a photographer as you, but if my reactions were of any use to you at all, that would make me happy.

Edited by Pan (log)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Michael,

Yes! Very helpful. Thank you so much!

As for the cropped out composition thing... it is mostly intentional, but as to the theory behind it, um, I really don't have one. It's something I've seen in other photographers photos that I like, so I've given it a try to see how it goes (ie, that's my very typical way of learning). Most of the time, though, I kind of like the tension from only telling part of the story. To me, it often adds energy... and helps the viewer to see the food differently.

That said, the fact that not all the hands were in the photo? That was a mistake... I hadn't noticed the problem until working the photos later. I definitely agree that the full hands (but not necessarily the face) should be in the shot.

Thanks again for the detailed feedback! It's great and definitely gives me something more to consider as I shoot!

-L

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I agree that it's good not to have the woman's face in the shot of the strawberries. I'm glad my comments are of some use to you.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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  • 6 months later...

I've been food blogging a while, but just got my first digital camera a few weeks ago. It's what I'd call a basic consumer model (an Olympus Stylus 710, which lists for about $250).

I've started including food photos in my blog (here). If you look at a few of the posts, you'll see that most of the food photos are just barely passable. A few have turned out well, but I'm not able to do it consistently.

Like most digital cameras, mine has a ton of options. I've played around with different settings: flash, or not; fully automatic, or not; high ISO, or not; manually adjusting the brightness, or not. I've found several sites that specifically recommend against using flash, but this has been no guarantee of success.

Although I enjoy being able to take photos for my blog, I don't want photography to become so all-consuming that it interferes with my companions' or other diners' enjoyment of the meal (or, for that matter, my enjoyment).

Does anyone have any suggestions?

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Good photos are, to a large degree, about light. You might want to look at a thing called a "Lowelego" Its a self contained digital imaging light. I have one and I like the results.

Good shooting,

Jmahl

The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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Get a mini tabletop tripod. Never use a flash. Turn the camera so you can adjust the manual settings and manually set the exposure and use a macro setting if the camera has one.

The problem with most indoor dinner type photos is you are dealing with low light. As a result you need to have a long exposure. If you don't have a tripod it will be blurry and out of focus as the camera is moving around.

John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

--

I feel sorry for people that don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day -- Dean Martin

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Good photos are, to a large degree, about light.  You might want to look at a thing called a "Lowelego" Its a self contained digital imaging light.  I have one and I like the results.

It's absolutely true that good photos are largely about light. Also true that the Lowel Ego is a cool little light, but not so good for schlepping to restaurants!

http://www.lowelego.com/

If you're mostly shooting in restaurants, my tips would be to try to sit in the best-lit area, there's an amazing range in some places. I would generally NOT use the flash, it's not bad for just getting a shot, but it tends to give a pretty clinical, blown-out, soul-less photo. And it annoys other people in the restaurant, including me. DO use as high an ISO setting as you can. That will often make for grainy images, but grainy is better than blurry, and a high ISO setting will allow you to use a faster shutter speed, which should reduce the odds of blur. Additionally in the fight against blur, prop your elbows on something, use the optical viewfinder (if your camera has one) just because holding the camera up to your face provides another point of stability, and squeeze the shutter REALLY gently. It sometimes helps to use the camera's shutter timer, which delays the shutter after you press it, that way you aren't in the process of pressing the camera, which can shake it, as the shutter opens. Put it on delay, press it and hold very still...

If you don't feel too self-conscious about it, a tiny little tripod can really help too, although it's sometimes hard to get the right angle/elevation like that. This one gives you great flexibility, but is not very subtle!

http://www.joby.com/

Another thing to keep in mind is to pay attention to your white-balance. If your shots are coming out with a blue or yellow cast, the camera was set to the wrong white-balance setting. Many cameras have auto white balance, but they don't always get it right. Most have manual settings where you can specify whether you're shooting under incandescent, florescent or natural sunlight conditions, each of which have different weighting of the various color components of white light.

Additionally, don't be afraid to move the plates around a little, it only takes a second, and won't embarrass your dining companions ALL that much! I'm (only a little) reluctant to admit that I've physically dragged my table into a better pool of light, put plates up on a nearby windowsill, and exchanged plates with table mates in order to get a better angle or lighting. Just pay attention to where there's light and get the plate there. You can't always do it, and sometimes you might just have to bail out or live with a mediocre photo. But sometimes there's a solution available with minor physical moves of the plate. And look at how the light is falling too: directly overhead or behind you is reliable, but sometimes dull-looking. If the light can come in from an angle, that can be more interesting.

But I think the biggest tip is to do some tweaking in a software photo editor. Photoshop is the most commonly used, and the basic Photoshop Elements, which sells for under a hundred bucks, is excellent, and has most things you'd need. The basic iPhoto that comes free on new Macs is surprisingly versatile, its adjustments panel has gotten much better. There are plenty more that will work fine. No software is going to save a really crappy shot, but it can vastly improve a mediocre one. Much magic can be achieved by tweaking the "levels" adjustments, not just brightness, but color-balance too. Mess around with it, there's always the "undo" command...

You're not in bad shape: your shots are pretty good right now. And as already noted, you'll just get better as you get more comfortable with your camera too.

Hope that helps...

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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