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Off-Camera Flash

Lesson 83 from: Fundamentals of Photography 2016

John Greengo

Off-Camera Flash

Lesson 83 from: Fundamentals of Photography 2016

John Greengo

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Lesson Info

83. Off-Camera Flash


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Welcome to Photography


Camera Types Overview


Viewing Systems


Viewing Systems Q&A


Lens Systems


Shutter Systems


Shutter Speeds


Choosing a Shutter Speed


Shutter Speeds for Handholding


Shutter Speed Pop Quiz


Camera Settings


General Camera Q&A


Sensor Sizes: The Basics


Sensor Sizes: Compared






Sensor Q&A


Focal Length: Overview


Focal Length: Angle of View


Wide Angle Lenses


Telephoto Lenses


Angle of View Q&A


Fish Eye Lenses


Tilt & Shift Lenses


Subject Zone


Lens Speed


Aperture Basics


Depth of Field


Aperture Pop Quiz


Lens Quality


Photo Equipment Life Cycle


Light Meter Basics




Histogram Pop Quiz and Q&A


Dynamic Range


Exposure Modes


Manual Exposure


Sunny 16 Rule


Exposure Bracketing


Exposure Values


Exposure Pop Quiz


Focus Overview


Focusing Systems


Autofocus Controls


Focus Points


Autofocusing on Subjects


Manual Focus


Digital Focusing Assistance


Focus Options: DSLR and Mirrorless


Shutter Speeds for Sharpness and DoF


Depth of Field Pop Quiz


Depth of Field Camera Features


Lens Sharpness


Camera Movement


Handheld and Tripod Focusing


Advanced Techniques


Hyperfocal Distance


Hyperfocal Quiz and Focusing Formula


Micro adjust and AF Fine Tune


Focus Stacking and Post Sharpening


Focus Problem Pop Quiz


The Gadget Bag: Camera Accessories


The Gadget Bag: Lens Accessories


The Gadget Bag: Neutral Density Filter


The Gadget Bag: Lens Hood and Teleconverters


The Gadget Bag: Lens Adapters


The Gadget Bag: Lens Cleaning Supplies


The Gadget Bag: Macro Lenses and Accessories


The Gadget Bag: Flash and Lighting


The Gadget Bag: Tripods and Accessories


The Gadget Bag: Custom Cases


10 Thoughts on Being a Photographer


Direct Sunlight


Indirect Sunlight


Sunrise and Sunset


Cloud Light


Golden Hour


Light Pop Quiz


Light Management


Artificial Light




Off-Camera Flash


Advanced Flash Techniques


Editing Overview


Editing Set-up


Importing Images


Best Use of Files and Folders




Develop: Fixing in Lightroom


Develop: Treating Your Images


Develop: Optimizing in Lightroom


Art of Editing Q&A


Composition Overview


Photographic Intrusions


Mystery and Working the Scene


Point of View


Better Backgrounds


Unique Perspective


Angle of View


Subject Placement


Subject Placement Q&A




Multishot Techniques




Human Vision vs The Camera


Visual Perception


Visual Balance Test


Visual Drama


Elements of Design


The Photographic Process


Working the Shot


The Moment


One Hour Photo - Colby Brown


One Hour Photo - John Keatley


One Hour Photo - Art Wolfe


One Hour Photo - Rocco Ancora


One Hour Photo - Mike Hagen


One Hour Photo - Lisa Carney


One Hour Photo - Ian Shive


One Hour Photo - Sandra Coan


One Hour Photo - Daniel Gregory


One Hour Photo - Scott Robert Lim


Lesson Info

Off-Camera Flash

All right, so it's now time to take our flash off the camera. And I know that's a scary point for a lot of people, because, what's going on now? Because a lot of times we're gonna wanna start taking manual control of the flash and that weening people off of the automatic setting, that's kind of a big step, but it's an important step, and we'll be doing that soon. Not quite yet. So one way to hook up your camera to the flash is what's called a PC cord, and this has nothing to do with Apple and Microsoft, okay, that's not the PC we're talking about. It's a prontor-compur connection and it's a very traditional connection that's been around for decades. And a lot of flashes on it, and medium to professional end cameras will have a PC connection so you can connect up different light sources. And it's a very simple direction, fire the flash now. It's just a timing connection between them. And having that hard wired is really nice because there's all sorts of problems that can happen with wir...

eless systems as we all know. And it's very manual and simple which is very nice in many situations. Now the next step is a TTL cord, so this is a solid connection, and this is a little bit more sophisticated of a cable because there's lots of communications and it allows the camera to fire, the flash to fire, and the camera to read what's going on. And so you can have the flash separated. The problem is that this cord can only be so long before the signal doesn't work anymore. So you can't buy a 200 meter cord. They're typically about one meter, which is about arm's length away. So that's where this automatic TTL cord will work. Perfect if you happen to have a flash bracket system. Which is enabling you to get the flash a little bit further away but it's still a contraption that you can hold and move around and get a variety of photographs on. So this is gonna be better than having your flash straight on the camera. You get this very solid connection in here, good controls going back and forth. It's still limited distance as to how far away it is from here and how much you can shoot with it, and it does cost more money than a PC cord, but these are pretty durable and they'll last you a long time. What I've done for some of the event photography that I've worked with, is I have a flash bracket like this and I like it cause it's got wooden handles, kinda nice on there, and I mount my camera and my TTL cord and my flash up like this. Now the beauty of this system is that this is a rotating bracket, and so if I wanna shoot a vertical, I can rotate the camera like this, and the lens stays directly below the flash whether I'm shooting a horizontal shot, or a vertical shot. And so keeping that line straight up and down, that light is in the same position no matter how I'm composing my shot. If you want, you can add a bounce reflector. And this increases the size of this system. And I know this looks like a fairly large system here, shooting verticals or horizontals, but let me tell you, when you walk around a room with one of these, everybody stands out of your way. They know you are the photographer in charge. And so it's where you are basically walking around with your mini studio, not quite, but almost, so that you can get nice clean shots whether you're shooting horizontals or verticals, you have the power, you've done everything that you can to have in a portable system. And so it's about as good as you can get in something that you can walk around and carry with with no assistants helping you out. If you got assistants then they can be carrying lights and doing things for you. All right, so in the vertical position, an example with that, notice we are getting that shadow down below the chin. When we add the bounce reflector, that shadow below the chin is a little bit softer than it was without that reflector. And it's a subtle difference, it's not huge, but it is subtly making the photo better and better and that's what we're doing through this whole series, is just taking those little steps to improve the photograph. And so anytime I shoot weddings or events where there's lots of people, something that you gotta have, makes the situation a little bit better. Another option is to go with a wireless option. And this is something that is on many of the new cameras, especially all the new Canons and Nikons that have the built in flash, like Fuji has it and I think Sony has it, it's something that, kinda the de facto thing that you have to have if you have a built in flash, the ability to trigger another flash and fire it off remotely. And so this can be really convenient because there is no cords. I am sick and tired of cords. I can't wait until the day we get rid of all the cords for everything. However, there's a lot of little problems with it. It's a limited distance that you can put these away. They don't have a very strong signal. It's a line of sight, so if you put it inside of a softbox or around a corner, it may not see the light that's happening and so it's not going to fire. One of the biggest problems is that there is a slight shooting delay, because what happens is when you take a picture, the flash sends a signal to the other flash unit, and then it fires. And what happens is your subject sees this light, and I have tried using this on some subjects. I was doing head shots in a situation where I needed to shoot head shots for about 10 people, and a few of the people, I don't know what the percentage are, but three of them, 30% of the people, were what I call blinkers. They have an unnatural ability, they have no control over it, as soon as they see a bright light they blink. And so they were blinking off of the first light, and there eyes were still closed for the actual photo that I was taking. And they literally could not keep their eyes open for any of the flash shots. And so this is an unsuitable solution for a professional photographer because of that. You're gonna encounter blinkers that, I mean you can say I'm gonna take a picture, don't blink. And they're, ah, I can't stop myself. Unnatural controllers, it's just natural blinkers. All right, so in order to get rid of that system you can get into a transmitter radio receiver, so that the signal is a radio signal that they can't see and they don't know when to blink on, and these are really nice because these are just much more robust than the line of sight signals on the other ones. And so we have a very large working range that can work over hundreds of yards, there's no preflash, so there's no delay which is great, but they do cost a little bit more money, and they do need their own batteries to run too I guess. And so once you're able to get that light off the camera, you're suddenly able to do a lot more interesting things. There's a lot of little simple devices to mount your basic on camera flash onto a simple little light stand, you can buy umbrellas for about $ if you wanna get just a small basic umbrella. And now you have a much larger light source, which is gonna give you less harsh shadows. And so as soon as you have this light stand, you can start investing in upping the anti into all the different tools that you can to get more power or specific control of these lights. Now these lights are not gonna be automated lights. These are manual setting lights that you are gonna set a particular power, full power, half power, quarter power, things like that. And once you have one light, then you're gonna want to get two lights, and you're probably gonna wanna get three lights and have different ways of adjusting the power and spreading the light out. So there's kind of a never ending spectrum that the studio can grow in. And so having that large light source just gives you more control over what the light and the shadows are gonna be on your subject. However we can run into quite a bit of cost and quite a bit of equipment, which we're just touching on here, we're trying to keep things fairly simple. So I got myself a couple hundred dollar flash unit, got myself a basic light stand, $20, $30, $40, $50, something like that, a little adaptor, so I can put it on there, and I'm triggering it with just a PC cord. $10, $15 on a PC cord, so I'm dealing with very little money here, and here you can see a little catch light in the eyes over in the right hand side. And so very simple little system. We can see a little bit of shadow, come in over here on the nose because I've added a little bit of light over here to the side, it did take me a couple of shots to get this set up, cause I wanted to get the power of the flash set properly. I didn't want it too much power, I didn't want it too low. I wanted the amount of spice in my Indian food to be just right. And so sometimes that takes a few shots which is great on digital because you can judge that out in the field very easily. And so I simply have a light stand over to the right hand side, adding in a little bit of light, and that background is far enough away that it's not receiving any of that light. So that works out pretty nicely for our portrait. Just one light as an assist. Cloudy day, and that highlights just giving us a little bit of spark to that photograph. Here in a back lit situation. Pretty easy to see where the light source is, off to the left hand side. And so we have this nice backlight which give us a nice highlights on the hair, but that light just off to the side is filling the face with some nice sidelight. Inside, with a single light source, trying to match that a little bit with the ambient, natural lighting of the room. And so very simple set ups, and because this is really simple set ups, these are not like high power strobes, these are basic on camera flashes. They are not far off camera. They are probably not more than six feet. From where she is. So they are relatively close. And so if you want to get into this, check to see if your camera has a PC socket, either on the side of it, usually it's on the left hand side as you're holding the camera, and you can hook up these basic PC cords. Now, photographers who've worked in the studio will tell you they swear and hate these cords because they do fall out and they don't stay connected. It's a simple solution, I wish we had a little bit, higher tech better system for a solid connection but this is basically what we have. Some cameras have ways of screwing them in. A number of low end cameras do not have a PC sink on the camera. Which, my first camera had that, and I remember I was in school and I went to my instructor and he goes, well just plug it in. I go, there's no place to plug it in. Sure there is, there's something to plug in on every camera. And he looks at it, ah, you need an adaptor. So that's this hot shoot to PC adaptor. If you're camera doesn't have it, you can add that, it slides on to the top, hot shoot the camera, and you can hook any camera to work up in the studio. But then your flash is also gonna need it as well, which typically only the higher end flash units have that plug in on it. But of course there's adaptors for it. So once you got this connected, you are in the world of manual flash. So you are gonna control the power of the flash yourself. So this is where it helps to have a flash that has manual control. If you're flash does not have manual control, this whole system is not going to work very well. So you're gonna wanna play around with setting it at half power, quarter power, depending on your set up. The next set up is to add a little bit of light reflected rather than directly on your subject. This is gonna make for a more even light source, which is probably gonna be better for portrait photography. So you can see the umbrella reflected in her eyes, and you can see the shadow on the side of her nose is not as distinct and harsh in this photo. Because I'm using just an on camera flash off camera, it's not super powerful. Very close to our subject, and when you bounce it into a light, you are lowering its ability to reach very far. Because it hits that large light source and the power is diminishing very quickly. And that's why photographers like having more powerful lights, so they can put them further away from their subjects. Or at least have the option to do it. And so outside in a backlit situation, you can see the umbrellas in the eyes. Very simple set up, one flash just off to the side, I think I was just using a PC connection between the camera and the flash so that I had a manual connection between the two of them. But you get some very nice lighting, looks very sophisticated but it's with relatively cheap equipment. Working inside, with the flash, real nice to do family photography, get the lights all set up, nice little stool, cycle everyone through, sit on the stool, all the lights are in the same spot. What about adding a second flash? So if you can pick up a second flash, a second stand and a second umbrella, that's gonna give you more options because now you're gonna have a main light and a second fill light to fill in the second shadows. And so under worse lighting conditions you may want more lights. So I'm gonna have one light to one side, one on the other, but I'm gonna power them a little differently, so that one's a little bit more than the other, so that it gives me a little bit more shadows. In a backlit situation, you can see that I have the light on the left side at least as we're looking at it a little bit more powerful than the one on the right hand side. But I'm able to fill in the shadows on that right hand side a little bit more easily. Now I am getting, the sun is actually my third light, that's my back light in this case, adds some nice highlights, especially in that hair blowing in the wind. So one light off to the right, little bit lower power, the light off to the left, a little bit higher power. And this is not what any studio photographer would say is very sophisticated lighting. This is very simple, because I'm using very simple equipment it's not that powerful and I'm trying to do it with the least amount of gear possible. All right, you wanna get fancy, we can add a third flash. So we're mimicking the backlit situation but this is a cloudy day, and so I'm using a light in the back that does not have a umbrella on it, kinda mimicking the sun in case I wanted that hair light back lit look, I can add that in with my own flash unit. But we have nice, even lighting on the face, we have a few shadows, which gives us a little bit of texture because we have the lights a little bit off to the side, and some nice hair light coming in on the back side. Taking that same set up, working it on the inside, where we normally have absolutely terrible lighting, we have some now much more interesting lighting than trying to use our on camera flash. And this is once again with not too much equipment. Not too much money being spent. Having that one flash in the back, having our hair light in the back, a little bit of separation between our subject and the background. And so if you do wanna get into a two light set up, the PC sync cord is a simple, cheap way of working the situation. If you have the radio triggers, that's a better system, but what you can do here if you have a PC sync to the first one, you can get something called an optical slave and what happens is that it can sense any sort of bright flash from the first light and it will automatically trigger the second one instantaneously. And because light travels so fast, it happens at essentially exactly the same time. So all you need to do is connect up physically to one light, the other light can be working remotely. And this optical slave doesn't need any batteries. It'll work on its own and trigger the other flash. And so it's a very simple system. And this is where you're gonna wanna get in to the manual controls on each of these flash and start playing around with the lighting ratio. So setting one of them to full power, one of them to half power, for instance. I typically don't like to set my units to full power, because if I set them to full power, it takes a long time for them to recharge. It usually takes about 10 seconds for them to get a full charge again once I've taken a picture. So I prefer by default to set these at about a quarter to a half power, and then move the lights so that I can work with them at that range. Now if you wanted to get into just a really simple system, you can buy flashes for as little as a hundred bucks a piece that have this connection. And maybe you're gonna get three of them, so you got $300 there, light stands are not too much money, and umbrellas are not too much money, if you're talking about bottom of the line basic items. And these are one of the things where you can have a cheaper umbrella and you're not gonna see it in the final photograph. A better quality umbrella that might be larger, that might be nice, it might be better built and last you longer. And so there's a lot of ways that you can go a little cheap and it's just not visible in the final photograph here. And so you're gonna need a few different accessories for mounting things up and making sure everything connects properly, but you know, depending on the prices a little bit, you're talking about $500 to end up with a mini studio little system. And comparing to a price of a lens, this is a basic lens. Not a real nice lens, but a basic lens. And so for the price of a basic lens you can end up with a portable, mini studio outfit which would be very very helpful if you're doing a lot of portrait photography. So let's do a review slide. Inside, all right, so we don't wanna use natural light sometimes because we have too slow a shutter speed. We don't wanna bump our ISO up too far because we get those noisy looks. So when we start adding flash, the built in flash is pretty harsh. If we can bounce the light, I like the wall bounce, that worked out pretty good. If you have a nice white wall or light colored wall close by. And then using one, two or even three flashes makes it much better in many ways. And there's a lot you can do with one light, two lights gives you a little more opportunity for playing around, and three lights gives you quite a bit. Going outside on a cloudy day. Natural light is not bad, using a reflector looks pretty nice though. And this is where adding a little bit of flash is very helpful but you wanna be careful about going with full TTL flash. This is where you wanna have a little bit of exposure, flash exposure compensation, dialing that power down a little bit. And if you're willing to take out a light stand and umbrella you can get some really nice smooth lighting out there in that situation. In a back lit sunny situation, nice even lighting on the face, the reflector is gonna help add some light in there. Adding in the flash once again, play with that flash exposure compensation on your camera. Do a test. Do a portrait shooting at minus one, minus two, minus three, and judge what your own camera does and what your results are. And then playing around with the variety of different lights whether it's one, two or three, whether it's with an umbrella or not. So I shoot a lot of running, and running, you're out there, sports, it kinda has a similar look to all the shots. And so I wanted to see, could I get some running shots using flash photography. Not where you would normally expect flash photography, and so granted you're probably not doing running photography but we're talking about applying lights to things that you may not first consider in order to get another look at them. And so the set up that I thought, is I'll have my camera, and I need to have a trigger so that I can trigger the other flash, and I only had a radio remote and a receiver. So I was gonna trigger the first flash and then it was gonna send the signal to that first radio receiver, it would fire the flash, and then that would trigger the second flash to fire. And I figured this was a pretty simple system and I just needed two flashes out there. And I got some pretty interesting results, because I had a race I was shooting at night time. And I was able to illuminate the runners. The problem I had is that second signal going from the first flash to the second flash, was blocked by the runners and sometimes it wouldn't trigger both flashes at the same time. And so I had to set up two flashes, each with its own radio trigger on them. So that when I fired a picture, they both fired and it didn't matter how many obstructions I had. Now well before the runners come, I set the flashes and then I would do a panning test shot, so I would pan along the background to see what this is gonna look like to try to get the exposure set right. And I'm setting my shutter speed and my aperture to try and balance the lights and get the right look on this. Then, as the runners would come through, I would get some nice light on the runners with just a little bit of light on the background. And so in this situation, I've got a trigger on my camera and I've got a trigger on each of the flashes, when I fire a picture, it sends a signal to both radios and tells the fires to flash simultaneously, and I can get the lights in a nice position, firing at just the right time. And so I was able to get some uniquely lit shots for this type of activity. And one of the things I love about cross country running is that you can get really close to the athletes out there and you can put your flash units out there. This is not possible in football photography. Or in basketball photography it's very difficult. But I was able to get some very nice results, and one of the things that I'm doing here, is I am using a slower shutter speed to blur the background as I am panning the camera. And so when you get this nice mixture of a little bit of flash to freeze the action, because remember, flash fires at a thousandth of a second, stopping the action, but I'm using a slow shutter speed to also get some slower action. So I took this out, to shoot some bicycle races as well. Lights on either side, include the light in this shot here, using some very slow shutter speeds. So I'm dragging the shutter, you might say, and getting some very interesting results. Now there's a lot of these I'm throwing away, I gotta admit to you. A lot of things I have to throw away, cause they just didn't look right, but the ones that come out looking really good really have a sense of speed, but you're still able to see who's riding the bike, the facial expressions and what's going on. And so it's a fun way to experiment. This is what it looks like, one of my flashes did not fire. So this is just what it kinda naturally looks like to your eyes, but when the flash fires, pops out from the background and you can see it really, really easily. Can you talk a little bit more about the viewing angle of the infrared sensor on an off camera flash? Are there limitations of where that needs to be to communicate? Right, so the signal that the other flashes are receiving is not an infrared signal. It is looking for just a straight light. I guess the best analogy is back in the old days, like in world war two, when one ship wanted to communicate with the other ship, they would sometimes do it by lights. Flash lights back and forth. Well that's how these flashes work, they kinda flash lights, and it has a sensor, usually on the front of the flash, and I don't know what angle of view it has. It's probably about a 45 degree angle of view I guess. And it's just kinda looking out in front of it to see if it sees a bright light. And if that portion of the flash is turned in the wrong direction, it won't see it unless it catches the light bouncing off of a wall. So if you have one of the flashes that has one of the parts that rotate, you may need to get that flash adjusted right so that it sees where that signal is coming from. Great, thank you. So John, I have a question. When you're dealing with flash, either on camera or off camera, you mentioned shutter speed and aperture, but you did not mention ISO. So I'm guessing ISO will be dropped down to a hundred, or that's just not... Well, my default position is always the lowest solid number, which is usually 100. And so generally I'm gonna keep it there. And if I can make everything work at ISO 100, I'm good. Now if I had a situation, let's say I was trying to eliminate you right now, and I just didn't have a powerful enough flash, my flash units were not powerful enough, then I would probably raise it up to ISO 200, or raise it up to 400, so the ability to raise up the ISO is a bit of a shortcut for not having a powerful enough flash. And so when you're looking at your flash units, and you go down to the store and you're thinking, well this one's nice, and this is a really powerful one, but costs four times as much money, you could probably just raise your ISO one to get there. And you'll have to compromise as to which one works for you. Got it, thank you. Sure. John, did you have any problem blinding the runners with your flashes, or your bicyclists? I didn't ask them. (laughs) But there was a lot of other people shooting flash along the course, and so it's something fairly typical. That is a concern in other sports, for instance gymnastics. Where being hit with a flash could cause a problem there. In that type of an event, it's common in that environment. It's just that I was controlling two flashes and most people had one flash on their camera when they're firing, but good to be aware of something like that. Thanks for that question actually, somebody online had asked that online. So people are concerned. All right, one more, can you just talk a little bit more, this is from McKay and Jay Stambu, can you talk a little bit more about when to use flash compensation versus exposure compensation? What goes through your mind? Well, exposure compensation is something that you use in program aperture priority and shutter priority, when your picture is overall a little too light and a little too dark. Flash exposure compensation deals specifically with the power of your flash. And in almost all cases where you are using flash with people, I recommend powering that down to about -1. Exposure compensation, which is the overall exposure, you normally leave it at zero, unless the scene is overall brighter than average or darker than average, and so the two are very different but they are related and it can get a little confusing, and I may not have the answer for a specific situation where you're shooting a portrait of a person, but the whole scene is a little dark but the face is a little bright, things can get a little complicated there. But I think it's a good time at that point to get into manual exposure and just be adjusting the shutter speeds and apertures as necessary. In virtually all cases you will not be using exposure compensation in manual. You take direct control of shutter speeds and apertures yourself at that point.

Class Materials

Free Download

Fundamentals of Photography Outline

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Learning Project Videos
Learning Projects PDF
Slides for The Camera Lessons 1-13
Slides for The Sensor Lessons 14-18
Slides for The Lens Lessons 19-31
Slides for The Exposure Lessons 32-42
Slides for Focus Lessons 43-62
Slides for The Gadget Bag Lessons 63-72
Slides for Light Lesson 73-84
Slides for the Art of Edit Lessons 85-93
Slides for Composition Lesson 94-105
Slides for Photographic Vision Lessons 106-113

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Love love all John Greengo classes! Wish to have had him decades ago with this info, but no internet then!! John is the greatest photography teacher I have seen out there, and I watch a lot of Creative Live classes and folks on YouTube too. John is so detailed and there are a ton of ah ha moments for me and I know lots of others. I think I own 4 John Greengo classes so far and want to add this one and Travel Photography!! I just drop everything to watch John on Creative Live. I wish sometime soon he would teach a Lightroom class and his knowledge on photography post editing.!!! That would probably take a LOT OF TIME but I know John would explain it soooooo good, like he does all his Photography classes!! Thank you Creative Live for having such a wonderful instructor with John Greengo!! Make more classes John, for just love them and soak it up! There is soooo much to learn and sometimes just so overwhelming. Is there anyway you might do a Motivation class!!?? Like do this button for this day, and try this technique for a week, or post this subject for this week, etc. Motivation and inspiration, and playing around with what you teach, needed so much and would be so fun.!! Just saying??? Awaiting gadgets class now, while waiting for lunch break to be over. All the filters and gadgets, oh my. Thank you thank you for all you teach John, You are truly a wonderful wonderful instructor and I would highly recommend folks listening and buying your classes.


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