Top End & Kimberley Outback Photography Tour – F.A.Q.

Always wanted to visit Australia’s famous Top End and Kimberley, but….

  • Not sure where the most spectacular parts are, when is the best time to visit or where to stay?
  • Dreaming of camping in remote areas and waking up to only the sound of bird song – but you don’t want to camp or travel on your own?
  • Just not got around to it yet?

and/or…

  • Love to improve your photography – whether it be via your mobile phone, compact camera or DSLR – and enjoy companionship and laughter with others with similar interests?
  • Interested in learning all about drones, improving your aerial photography, or want to fly your drone in some spectacular outback landscapes?

Well I have the perfect opportunity for you – and it is unique – so don’t let it slip by.

After a couple of decades of receiving requests to run photography tours to the kinds of places I visit as a professional photographer, now my sons are older, I’m delighted to announce the inaugural photography adventure.

Ord River, just below Lake Argyle – our 55km boat trip down the Ord to Kununurra will be one of the highlights of our journey.

Where?

We start in Darwin (NT) & our adventure concludes in Kununurra (WA).

Ten days travelling from the magnetic antbeds, crocodiles and buffalo of the Northern Territory’s Top End, west to the fat boabs and spectacular sandstone escarpments of the East Kimberley. En route you have the option to sleep under the most amazing canopy of stars you’ve ever seen. Straight after the wet season in 2020 (exact dates TBC).

Many favourite places are included that I’ve been visiting for more than 25 years.  I can’t wait to show you what an extraordinary part of the world this is. And I’ll help you capture stunning professional-standard images to remember this journey of a lifetime.  (Skip to the bottom of the page to see a summary of my credentials.)

Australia’s remote north-west has the ‘wow’ factor at every turn. Vast, unpopulated and varied landscapes, quirky vegetation and wildlife, dramatic weather extremes and distinctive people.  But being the furthest part of the Australian continent from capital cities, visitor numbers are low and other than the occasional TV documentaries and films, it remains relatively unknown. This makes this region all the more intriguing. You can wander through a silent sandstone chasm beneath towering fan palms, or ascend a boab-decorated outcrop to a magnificent vista, and feel like you are the first person to see it.

Boab trees at sunset in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia. This photography tour will ensure you’re in the right place at the best time to capture fantastic images, and Fiona Lake will be providing assistance with whatever camera you choose to use – whether it’s a mobile phone, drone, compact camera or professional DSLR.

When?

It’s pencilled in for just after the wet season in 2020; IE around April/May – dates TBC (contact Fiona Lake if you’d like more details).

What will the weather and landscape be like?

  • To help us capture the very best images we’ll be there at the perfect time of year – when waterholes are still fresh, tropical vegetation is lush and sheer escarpments still colourful after their annual wash by monsoonal downpours.
  • It’s also when the weather is usually perfect for photography, especially aerial photography – rain is rare, sunshine is usual – plus there’s no bushfire smoke or humidity haze, and relatively little dust.

What time of day will we be able to take photographs?

And as much as feasible – we’ll be at the best spots at the best time of day – in terms of light for photography purposes. I’ve been on so many tours to fabulous places that arrived far too late in the day to catch the best light, and too rushed and regimented to get the best from a stunning location. Worse, sometimes the tour has sped past a spectacular sight only to pull up for an hour at something virtually devoid of photogenic attributes. And typical tour scheduling makes worthwhile drone photography virtually impossible.

Whereas the primary point of this tour is to enjoy the fabulous landscapes and experiences, the company of others with similar interests, and the best opportunities to capture images you’re thrilled with. Regardless of your level of experience or what camera you’re choosing to use – this is a tour meant for everyone who enjoys the Australian bush and capturing a good photograph.

Purnululu National Park –  the massive ‘beehive’ domes of the ‘Bungle Bungles’, East Kimberley, Western Australia. I’ve been fortunate to visit the Kimberleys over many years. This is a favourite image taken more than 25 years ago with a film camera, at sunrise, from one of the few helicopter flights I have chartered. Towards the end of the tour there is the option to join a flight over Purnululu and see this spectacular national treasure from the air.

I’M NOT A PHOTOGRAPHY FANATIC & NOT INTERESTED IN LEARNING CAMERA TECHNICALITIES. WILL THIS TOUR SUIT ME?

  • I’ve been selling photographs since 1982 but I’ve never been a photography fanatic.  There’s likely to be a wide range of people on tour, including people who rarely take photographs. It is true that not taking photographs allows greater appreciation of surroundings.  No distractions – by shaking off the obligation to take photographs – means you are free to take in the smells and sounds not just visual information.
  • I have a very wide range of interests as I’m sure others on the tour will, so conversations will range across every topic under the sun.

Litchfield National Park, Wangi falls. We’ll be visiting some of Territory’s best waterfalls, such as Wangi, and there will be time for swimming, bush walks and photography.

SPECIAL FEATURES IDEAL FOR KEEN BUSHWALKERS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS:

  • The first two nights are in a Darwin hotel and the last night in a Kununurra hotel – but the rest of the time we’re camping at some special locations, right in the midst of fantastic landscapes. So we can choose to take a short walk to the best vantage points before sunrise if we want to, and on most days we’re able to take photographs until after the last sunlight disappears. No being dragged off to the confines of an impersonal city hotel right when we’d most prefer to be viewing the sunset over uninterrupted bush, or relaxing in a deckchair with a cold drink while watching the sun disappear over the distant horizon.
  • You can park your bed outside your tent and sleep under the best canopy of stars you’ve ever seen, if you’d like to – and take photographs while still lying down, when the sun comes up! (I’ve tested taking photographs while lying in bed outdoors, and also just lying there enjoying the atmosphere – and highly recommend both!)
  • While we do of course have set meal times you won’t have to choose between food and sunrise walks or photography! If you poke off to take photographs at sunrise, I guarantee that you will still receive something to eat for breakfast! Very different to most tours, which usually plant mealtimes right on the ideal time to take photographs – and if you arrive at the table late then there’s nothing left to eat. (Speaking from experience.) I like food as well as photography so this tour is more flexible than that, as far as practicalities allow.
  • As much as practical, during the middle of the day when the light is rubbish for photography purposes and it can be hot for walking, we’ll be enjoying lunch and travelling between photogenic places.
  • Numbers are limited to 15 so everyone receives personal attention and we’re not descending on peaceful places like a wildlife-scaring, intrusive horde. There will be plenty of options to head off on walks on our own or with others if we choose.
  • We do have a travel schedule to adhere to however there is a little flexibility en route to tweak it in response to specific passenger interests, weather etc.

WHAT IF I ONLY HAVE A VERY BASIC CAMERA? (OR JUST USING A MOBILE PHONE CAMERA)

I’ll help you get the best results from whatever camera you want to use – whether it’s a mobile phone, drone, compact camera or professional standard DSLR. Good photography equipment doesn’t = quality photographs, any more than fancy cooking gear guarantees tasty food or an expensive car guarantees talented driving. The skill is in the operator not the equipment. What’s impressive is making the best use of what you’ve got – and that requires observation and practice.

CAMERA CHOICES FOR KEEN PHOTOGRAPHERS:

  • Mobile phone cameras – my favourite camera, for many reasons.  I do recommend a later model, big-name smartphone if it’s the primary camera you’ll be using, as the later models have much better quality cameras than earlier models.  A good phone camera will do an acceptable job of most of what we’ll be seeing – except for night images (eg we hope to visit a flying fox colony at sunset and do some croc-spotting) and aerial photography (there’s an optional flight near the end of the tour).  Don’t know how to use the camera settings on your phone? This differs between models but is one of the things I can run through in detail, for anyone who is interested. Building sound photography skills on the ground is vital in order to produce good aerial images, and this foundation can be laid with a recent-model, good quality smartphone.  Samsung is my preference, but later model Iphones also produce good results.
  • Drones – I have a detailed blog post on What is the best drone to buy. If image quality is your primary concern, I recommend a Phantom 4 Pro V2 or a Mavic Pro 2 – the latter has superior portability. But you can have some fun with a Tello, for less than $200, on non-windy days. If you have any questions after reading the blog post, don’t hesitate to ask.  You are welcome to bring your sub 2kg drone if you have one, subject to some common-sense pre-discussed stipulations, such as abiding by CASA regulations. Otherwise, you’re welcome to have a turn flying one of my drones (see details below).
  • DSLRs – digital single lens reflex cameras. Actually if I was in the market for another DSLR I’d instead buy a mirrorless camera, as the quality has risen, the cost reduced, and they’re a lot lighter and smaller than SLR cameras.  Also – mirrorless cameras are better suited to overseas travel as they’re a lot more unobtrusive.  I’m often asked for DSLR recommendations but it’s basically a matter of: (1) decide how much you want to spend then (2) choose between one of the most well known brands. Like everything, you get what you pay for – but it’s pointless spending up big on a space rocket if mostly you’re just launching it at the supermarket.  (Instead spend the extra money you save on more travel – or keep it in the bank so you can upgrade faster, when a newer model of your preferred camera becomes available.) Note that this is the typical kind of advice you’ll hear from me on tour – practicality in abundance and none of the pretensions that plague some sectors of the photography and drone communities.
  • A quick trawl through Facebook ‘buy swap & sell’ pages reveals there’s more hardly-used technology being resold than you can shake a stick at. And I’ve been as guilty as anyone – I especially love gadgets (which often don’t get used). So resist the temptation to overspend. If you’re coming on the trip and thinking of buying some gear to bring, I’m happy to discuss camera purchasing with you.

MY PHOTOGRAPHY EQUIPMENT AVAILABLE TO LOAN/ASSISTED USE:

  • Tripods – I will have a couple of tripods suitable for DSLRs, for anyone who’d love to try long exposures for waterfalls, sunsets or perhaps a spot of astro photography.
  • DJI Osmo (gimbal) – available for use by for anyone who’d like to make some professionally-steady mobile phone videos.
  • Drone for an assisted test flight – I’ll also help each passenger who is interested, take my Phantom 4 Pro V2 for a flight.  (Weather & technology permitting, in suitable locations.)  I’ll also have a small indoor drone for test flights.
  • A few other bits and pieces that photographers are welcome to borrow, including a selfie stick and a lensball (told you I like accessories)

Classic landmark escarpment between Timber Creek & Kununurra (drone photography).
Each passenger on the Top End & Kimberley Photography Tour will have the opportunity to take a Phantom 4 Pro V2 for a fly (in specific locations; weather & technology. permitting).

WHAT WILL OUR ACCOMMODATION BE LIKE? IT ISN’T 5 STAR – IT’S MULTI STAR – CIVILISED CAMPING!

  • All meals are cooked for us – no slaving over a campfire or wood chopping, we’ll be too busy enjoying ourselves for that.
  • When not in a hotel, our facilities will be shared camping ground bathrooms. Clean & functional but not the Ritz. Shared on occasion with native wildlife, such as green tree frogs & geckoes – but these should be viewed as considerate photography model volunteers.
  • On some days we may be setting up our abodes around the middle of the day when it’s warm – but this means we can take our time doing it, then relax or take photographs around sunset. (Our tents are very quick and easy to set up, and we have a stretcher bed & sleeping bag each – which can be set up outside the tent, if you prefer to fall asleep while watching for meteorites & constellations. I know I do!)
  • Depending on this year’s wet season, there will be insects around and perhaps some dust.  But these things can be used to help enhance image atmosphere, no topic or detail should be ignored!
  • Evenings may be pleasantly cool but the days are likely to be hot and sunny.

WHAT WILL TOUR MEALS BE LIKE?

We’ll have good food but this isn’t a ‘foodie’ tour – most of our time is in remote locations where feasting on local produce is not an option. Instead we’ll be enjoying hearty camp breakfasts and dinners under the stars, amongst entertaining company. Most lunches are not supplied – and on some days the best option will be Australian-style hamburgers or steak at the roadhouse we stop at (with no alternative eateries within a couple of hundred km). We will have plenty of fruit with us and a few opportunities to try out some great specialties.

WHAT DO I NEED TO BRING ON THIS TOUR?

Personal items to bring on tour:

  • Standard travel basics are available at most roadhouses we pass by (EG headache tablets, bandaids).
  • A torch and spare torch batteries (but these can easily be purchased in Darwin, if desired).
  • If you enjoy swimming or like to cool off on a hot day, do bring your togs (swimmers, swimming costume, bathers) and a beach towel or sarong to dry off with or sit on.
  • Insect repellent, a good hat and sunscreen. I also recommend long sleeved shirts with collars for sun protection (9am to 4pm). But if it’s hot I often just put an open shirt on over a t-shirt just when out in the full sun.
  • Re-usable water bottle.
  • Strong shoes or hiking boots plus good socks that you can comfortably and safely wear on rocky tracks and steep slopes, and protect against spinifex, if you’re likely to be adventurous when chasing an extra-special photograph, or exploring.
  • A small backpack for exploring the bush (water, spare batteries, cameras or drones).  Or a travel vest with great pockets.
  • I can also supply everyone with a suggested packing list, explaining what will be useful and what is likely to be superfluous. Along with a checklist of recommended preparation (EG updating all software & making space on your phone).  But no pressure! This is an adventure, it can be as relaxed as you want it to be, the aim is to have fun.

If you want to take photographs while on tour- a camera of some sort. But note that a camera is not compulsory. You can just soak up the sights and atmosphere if you prefer – and I am certain you will still enjoy this trip immensely.

Photography-related items to consider bringing on tour:

  • It’s best to presume that photography, computer & drone-related items will not be available to buy, en route. I travel in remote areas regularly and personally prefer an extra spare, so usually have 3; EG at least 3 best-quality SD cards for different cameras, at least 3 portable hard drives for backups, and several spare cords to suit my phone & tablet.  But that’s because I’m usually being paid to take images so it must be absolutely fail-safe.  Don’t feel you need to bring a shop with you, just what you’re comfortable with.
  • If possible, a laptop to backup your images and free up SD card space.  Plus a USB stick for some of your favourite tour images.
  • Regarding power for devices – recharging will mostly be done between sunset & sunrise.  I recommend you bring a recharge powerbank for your phone, and any spare batteries or recharge units that you happen to have for any other devices. We will have some double adapters, powerboards, extension cords etc; but shared equipment will be a taking-turns arrangement, so if suitcase weight isn’t problematic, then cord/powerbank BYO/self-sufficiency gives you independence. I’ll be bringing a recharge bank for my drone batteries & recommend you do likewise, if you have one – so you spend more time relaxing rather than jumping up to check if the batteries need changing over.
  • All camera & recharging-related equipment must be clearly labelled, to avoid any confusion.

There will be the opportunity to fly a drone in a few places; subject to the weather and observance of CASA and other rules. Photo of Fiona Lake flying a drone (thanks to Townsville photographer, Cheryl Robertson).

WILL WE BE NEAR MANY SHOPS? NO – OFF THE BEATEN TRACK:

  • Most of the time we’ll be a long way from shops of any description and specialty items won’t be purchasable at all.
  • If you’ve wanted to do a bit of a mobile phone or social media detox, this trip will be handy because there will be times when no mobile phone reception is available.  There’s one spot where only Optus reception is available, but the rest of the time, Telstra is the only service provider.

HOW MANY PEOPLE WILL BE ON THIS TOUR?

  • This is a personal tour – no more than 15 passengers.
  • There will be plenty of window seats and room for our cameras and sneaky siestas when in transit, for those who choose to get up before the owls have gone to bed (and yes there are a lot of owls in the northern outback – particularly tawny frogmouths, mopokes and barking owls. We are bound to hear some, somewhere, and the eagle-eyed may spot them roosting during the day).

PROFESSIONAL QUALITY STANDARD PHOTOGRAPHS OF YOU, WHILE ON TOUR – & SOCIAL MEDIA TIPS:

  • I will be taking casual, non-intrusive photographs of everyone on tour, as we travel around. So no need to bring a selfie stick if you’re having trouble fitting it into your suitcase! Of course if anyone prefers not to be on the other side of a camera I quite understand, as many photographers feel this way (as do I, at times). I’ll be able to let everyone know on day one that you’d rather not appear in photographs. (It’s important to note – I have a solid ‘do unto others’ principle that means any unflattering photographs I accidentally take are deleted; never shared with anyone else.)
  • En route, happy to also help with enquiries anyone has about the big 4 social media platforms as well as websites and blogs. I have a couple of the largest ag/rural social media accounts in Australia and my website has been included in the National Library of Australia’s Pandora project (recording websites deemed to be of cultural significance, in perpetuity).  If you have any book publication, exhibition management and photography competition questions, en route, then don’t hesitate to ask.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE FEATURES WE’RE LIKELY TO SEE ON OUR PHOTOGRAPHY ADVENTURE?

WILDLIFE:

  • Lots of wallabies. VERY cute! And to a lesser extent – Australia’s coat of arms – kangaroos and emus. But they are not as prolific in Australia’s tropical regions.
  • A huge range of birds, all shapes, sizes, habits – and colours. From stately plain turkeys and brolgas to birds of prey and a myriad of fruit and seed-eating birds plus curlews and waterbirds, such as Jabirus and Jacanas.  And all the common northern Australian birds, such as cockatoos, corellas, galahs, rainbow lorikeets, rainbow beeaters, bowerbirds and blue-winged kookaburras. And a myriad of seed and insect eaters.
  • Keen bushwalkers will find plenty of reptiles – from small skinks up to ta-ta lizards and goannas.  There will be frogs about but the burrowing frogs are likely to be underground again by May.
  • Freshwater and saltwater crocodiles will be easier to spot if the weather is cooler, as they’ll be out on some creek and river banks warming up early in the morning. We’ll be in a good spot for evening croc-spotting with torches, on at least two nights.
  • There’s a raft of other animals that will be around us but spotting can require good observation skills and sometimes patience, such as turtles and echidnas.  Inland Australia is home to a huge range of native marsupials but I usually only see their tracks in sand and mud, because they’re nocturnal and anyway I’m too busy rushing about.  More patient wildlife stalkers can be rewarded with sightings.

ANTBEDS:

  • ‘Termite mounds’, for those who prefer technical terms – as they’re actually made by termites, not ants. Australia has many different species of termites, starting with the huge Mastotermes Darwiniensis, which we also have here in Townsville (they can eat the best part of a timber house within 3 months. They’ve also been known to chew through grader tyres and car battery casing.)  Mastos aren’t mound builders, however. We’ll see a variety of termite mounds on our travels, of which the most photogenic and spectacular are the ‘magnetic’ antbeds south of Darwin. We’ll be pulling up especially to inspect them up close.

Just one of the many different kinds of antbeds (termite mounds) that we’ll see as we travel through the Top End of the Northern Territory.

DISTINCTLY NORTHERN VEGETATION:

  • Boab trees – first and foremost – mighty in stature and often many centuries old. North Western Australia is the only place in the world where they grow, apart from Madagascar and Africa, where they are called ‘baobabs’. There are theories why boabs are found in Australia and not, for example, Indonesia – and they don’t even grow naturally in Broome – but nobody actually knows why. And why are boabs not growing naturally right across northern Australia? Nobody knows. Boab trees and boab nuts feature in East and West Kimberley indigenous culture and we’ll be hearing a lot about these majestic and mysterious trees and have many opportunities to photograph them.  (I produced postcards featuring boab trees in the mid 1990s, I absolutely love trees with character.)  We’ll also have the chance to buy boab nuts carved by local indigenous artists at Kununurra.
  • A range of other extremely photogenic plants such as quirky pandanus trees, towering livistonia palms, ancient cycads and grasstrees, ghost gums and golden-trunked Coolamon trees. Including these distinctive plants in photographs anchors images to their particular location.

Tropical palm sunset – with native Livistona fan palms and coconut palms. Away from pollution and skies interrupted by buildings and other man-made uglies, tropical sunsets are a sight to behold. Successfully capturing the colours on mobile phones can be difficult but this is the sort of challenge I can help with. (This is a mobile phone image.) I’ll also have a couple of tripods passengers are welcome to borrow for slower exposures, along with a DJI Osmo and some other photography equipment.

HIGHLIGHTS AND LANDSCAPES:

  • So many! Hard to choose my favourites, but here’s several – relaxing at sunset above the vast expanse of Lake Argyle – home to thousands of freshwater crocodiles; exploring the striped sandstone domes of Mirima National Park (Hidden Valley), driving alongside the spectacular escarpment of the Cockburn Range – sprinkled with boab trees; enjoying a meal while the sun sets over Darwin’s Fannie Bay, seeing the extraordinary tides at Wyndham’s historic port (tides of more than 8 metres!), seeing a bat colony take flight at dusk, Top End waterfalls, relaxing on the boat cruise down the Ord River and the surprise of the farming oasis surrounding Kununurra – beautiful geometric shapes that are an aerial photographer’s dream.
  • The welcome dinner and last evening, when we enjoy a special presentation and some awards.
  • There’s also a number of great surprises that I haven’t listed!

WHO WILL THIS TOUR SUIT?

  • Is this just a tour for photography fanatics? Absolutely not! In fact, I don’t like to only see the world via a camera and some of the locations we’re visiting are just so awe-inspiring that I recommend taking the time to relax and truly soak in the atmosphere. I have a huge range of interests so you can be sure conversations will range across many topics.
  • All ages however a reasonable level of nimbleness is vital in order to safely traverse terrain that may be stony, rocky, sandy, uneven, steep or slippery. We will very rarely be walking on concrete pavements.
  • Couples and solo travellers welcome – no single supplement.

Lake Argyle Resort, infinity pool overlooking Lake Argyle. Photography is NOT a compulsory part of this tour – in fact I encourage everyone to spend time just soaking up the magnificent sights and experiences. Which includes enjoying views such as this one, which changes during the day as the sun shifts and the cliffs move in and out of shadow.

I LIVE IN ANOTHER COUNTRY, WILL THIS BE A GOOD TOUR FOR ME TO GO ON?

  • This tour is a great opportunity for residents of more densely populated countries to experience one of the most sparsely settled regions in one of the most minimally populated countries on earth.
  • This low population density makes it an especially enjoyable experience for drone pilots, especially drone pilots from densely populated regions.
  • Get to know a variety of Australians, from different regions.  It’s common for people on specialty tours to end up with a life-long friend or two, as specialty tours attract people with a foundation of common interests.
  • The Australian exchange rate is currently quite low in comparison with some other currencies – eg the US & UK. This means it’s particularly good value for visitors from these countries.  (If you have any queries about exchange rates and the cost in your local currency, don’t hesitate to ask.)
  • Tipping: for many years Australia has a solid minimum wage payment award for service staff and thus it is not customary to tip anybody. Thus you do not need to add the cost of tipping onto your estimate of tour costs.

TAX DEDUCTIBILITY:

  • Photographers (including drone pilots) currently earning a reasonable level of income from photography may be able to claim tour costs as a tax deduction. Check with your accountant, as everyone’s circumstances are different.
  • One of my tasks is to keep a detailed diary en route, and a copy can be provided to photographers wishing to claim travel expenses.

A SUMMARY OF MY CREDENTIALS:

  • 35 years of outback photography experience, across Australia; which includes 30 years of aerial photography.
  • Fully licenced drone pilot (RePL, ReOC, AROC, night certified) with many hours of flight time on several drones, in a number of regions.
  • Multi-award winning  professional & multi-strand small business entrepreneur – which includes publishing books and cards, commercial photography, high-profile exhibitions, 40+ radio interviews, several TV appearances and 25+ years producing national magazine articles – etc.
  • Many years of presenting workshops – see the most recent events on the ‘dates away’ blog post. My next presentations are at Avalon Airshow, the southern hemisphere’s most comprehensive airshow; and at the Commercial UAV conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
  • But the bottom line is – I love rural and remote Australia and travelling while helping people by passing on what I’ve had to learn via ‘trial and terror’. Encouraging great conversations and lots of laughter along the way.  I take my work very seriously, but not myself.  Every time I run a presentation I’m not just imparting knowledge I’m learning as well – it’s an enjoyable reciprocal process for all involved.
  • This is a unique tour – designed to be a lifetime-memorable experience for everyone – and a lot of fun!

ITINERARY DETAILS AND THE COST:

  • Some more photographs of what we’ll see on tour can be found on the Top End & Kimberley Photography Tour summary page.
  • For details on the cost, exactly what is included, itinerary and booking details, please send me an email via the website contact page or ring me on (07) 4728 4922.
  • Once bookings are open don’t delay, as once 15 passengers have booked, no more bookings will be taken.
  • If you’d like to be added to the Travel Newsletter mailing list so you receive updates several times a year as well as travel tips, contact Fiona Lake

Boab trees are only found in the remote North-West corner of Australia; in the Northern Territory’s Victoria River District and the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Just like people they’re similar when young but develop character as they age. Boab trees are waiting for you! Contact Fiona Lake for a copy of the itinerary & booking form.

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