Street Photography 101: "Charmed Life"

Oct 22, 2006
Tripping the light fantastic
A few months back I started doing what is called "Street Photography", at the time I did not even know there was such a thing as "Street Photography" I thought I was just taking cool pictures of people in Toronto's streets, doing their thing. Well since then I have learned a few things

"Defining street photography might do injustice to it's free, liberated and completely non-uniform nature; however, I am so frequently asked about it that I decided to give it a try despite the possible disservice.

Simply put street photography includes any photograph made anywhere in public places. Some people narrow it down to urban settings and some people think there must be people present in these kinds of photos. But the bottom line is that each street photographer will find their own meaning and approach therefore whatever definition they might arrive at will work just as well.

The purpose of street photography will again vary from one street photographer to another. Some photographers are interested in simply and honestly documenting life as they see it, at times adding their own interpretation to the scene. Some want to make artistic photographs of available street scenes and others basically enjoy taking pictures and do it purely for the pleasure of it. (That's me, I enjoy taking the pictures and sharing them with other people)

And so clearly street photography has no need for any set of rules and guidelines on HOW IT SHOULD BE DONE, and better be independently created and elaborated by the photographer." (from No rules Street Photography )

Street Photography can be addictive, looking for the best picture. Taking a picture which seems to be an invasion of privacy at time can certainly be daunting - but rewarding once you start getting over your shyness and/or lack of courage/guts self imposed fears and/or barriers. Not everyone can do it, I have met only, well, less than a handful of people in Toronto who do what I do without hiding behind a big telephoto lens...

The first few pictures you take of strangers your heart pounds, your palms get sweaty and then after a few days it just becomes easier, and easier, after a few weeks it becomes second natures.

"You will always miss 100% of the shots you never take" -Wayne Gretzky ... (Yea, I am a true Canadian, quoting a hockey player but you'll have to excuse the poor English, I am a French Canadian ... I was living in Toronto at the time and now I am in Montreal for a little while...)

What is street photography? Some people have cornered it stating there has to be something unique to the picture; it must say something or stand out. I beg to differ, to me street photography is a little like poetry, I will have a different experience looking at my pictures than you will have – to you it will have a different meaning and different photographer walking down the same street will see different shots and take very different pictures.

I am an extremely shy person and I like to watch people – as such taking snapshots of people is great as I try to capture the emotions the individual has at the moment – or try to take a picture of a stranger for the hell of it sometimes. Just make sure the laws in your corner of paradise allows you to take pictures of people without their consent.

There is certainly a thrill in doing something a lot of people will not do as they don't think they could get away with it. About the pictures well, sometimes I like it when the subject looks at the camera, it makes for an interesting picture, as such I do not hide and I am not sneaky about it. When you see a shot, take it, don't be shy about it, this coming from me…

I get so much more out of a person's picture than I will ever get out of taking a picture of a building, car - whatever else, it just has so much more, a building is a building – it can't express how it feels with a facial expression but taking any great picture even a car picture can be very rewarding.

Street Photography is a little like whale watching – there will be another opportunity in a minute, so no harm done if you miss a shot, there will always be another one.

One thing I soon learned after starting is to take the picture - don't ask, you don't need to. If you ask - you don't get the natural look and emotions, expressions I like so much.

The art of Street Photography is - to me – the capture of the emotions or expression on the person's face at that moment… or just to capture a moment in time with a person in it, catching the human element, even without a person for some pictures - at times some picture can be without a person in it and still have the human touch I crave for my images.

At time a fantastic subject (a person) will present itself and seize your guts - DO NOT LET IT GO UNTIL... well until the person leaves or catches you taking the pictures. I see it before the opportunity happens it is like all else is out of focus and this person for what ever reason grabs all of your attention - SP 101 - take as many pictures as you can as you don't know when this will happen again - if ever. When opportunity knocks if you don't seize it - it will never happen again - ever. Take the shots! Rmember when a door closes a window opens.

This is as good as it gets, right now, when it happens - live in the moment, seize the day!

Carpe Diem

When all is said and done all you have to do is conquer your fears - be bold, dare to be bold, and point the camera in the right direction, press the shutter release button, don't ask in most instance - don't ask! Just take the pictures

Keep in mind the camera did not take the pictures by itself - the camera you use doesn't matter - it is how you use it, but - you have to use it.

Someone sent me a link when I first started which contains interviews with street photographers: "Street Photographer Interviews" - I am by no means their equals - I am just running with this to see what I can do with it, as well as gaining confidence in approaching strangers. I do take their pictures after all and at times I am not 2 feet away from the people I take pictures of.

The link which contains interviews with street photographers: Street Photographer Interviews

I will answer the questions from the interviews found in the link above as I make this on-line introduction with pictures...

PPI: How long have you been doing street photography?
About six and a half month ago, I always wanted to take pictures of people however with a small point and shoot people may think you are a "prevert" ;-)

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When I started with a point and shoot I'd seldom take pictures of people - and when I did it was mainly from behind and I never really liked those pictures but they have their place in Street Photography - a basic entry level Digital SLR looks a tad more professional as such it makes what I do easier...

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Like having a person pose for the picture as soon as I point it up... People will do strange things for the camera!

PPI: What got you interested in Street Photography?
Well - I didn't even know there was a term and style for it, I did live a very sheltered life, I have seen pictures of people taken in the street in the past but was totally unaware there was such a thing as street photography... Okay to answer the question, I love watching people, try to decode their emotions, intentions... I try to figure out what they are feeling or could be thinking, I am very very bad at reading people, the best example I can give is when a woman is interested in me I have not one clue until she kisses me or says it without any games. I want to be able to capture this with my street shooting. The babes are a by product, they just happen to walk into a frame and... As any man would do, I press the shutter, Ha ha ha...

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That's an easy picture to decode - happiness/fun but what about the background... ha!

PPI: Who are your big photographic influences?
I don't have any but now that I know there are people who have great work in street photography I will certainly look up Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank since I can remember those names... Honestly I don't want to emulate anyone - I just want to go out there as often as I can and do my thing - perhaps I can develop my own style. I try to see what other people see when they are with me and what they think would make a great shot, this makes it interesting.

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I would never have taken this picture before but a friend of mine who is into street photography (my fault, I took him along one day and he got hooked...) he takes pictures of things and people - this picture still has a human element in my opinion.

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And this one well a ton of bicycle, literally..!

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Not too far down the street - free from bicycles bicycle stands.

PPI: Do you try to be "invisible" when you shoot, or do you approach people and ask to take their pictures? Either way, how do you handle approaching people and taking their pictures?
At first I was just taking the pictures from far away, then I started to ask which I still do from time to time but after talking to "Helena" a girl who also likes taking pictures of people on the street - she said, "Don't ask, when you do, people are self conscious, just take the pictures." Now I rarely ask - however I still do at times, common decency dictates you ask in some instances. Handling approaching people is simple, I smile lift the camera point and shoot then keep smiling. Strangely at times when people see me with the camera they wave and smile. When friends come along, five or six did so far, they are really surprised how positively people react, most people don't mind at all at having their picture taken. I am far from invisible, I am right in the open with my camera and I don't try to be sneaky about it, I just make sure my fly is not open before I head out and start taking pictures of women on the street... It is difficult being invisible when you are 6'2" and 215 pounds.

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Nice stolen kiss - I live for pictures like these.

PPI: Have you ever been stopped by someone you've just photographed? How did you handle that situation? Got any good anecdotes?
A few months back my answer was, "I haven't taken enough pictures of people yet to have been stopped by a subject I just took a picture of but I have had people asked if I wanted to take their pictures, usually those who ask want something in return... Just beware of the people who ask." Okay so 7 months and about 28,000 - Yes that's twenty-eight-thousand! Wow, shoot that's a lot of pictures, so 28,000 pictures later I have been stopped a few times one woman even asked me for my business card and wanted to see the pictures I took of her. I could have handled it better but she was the first person asking to see their picture - being nervous and shy that took me off guard and it was a strange experience to say the least...

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Sometimes people ask me how close do I get to people, well close enough to smell their breath - I pointed the camera at her and waited for her to turn her head my way she looked straight at me ... then...

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Then she posed for this shot as I was walking away, this bring to question the posed vs. non-posed pictures... Well non-posed are better, truly candid pictures but some posed pictures are fun to capture as well.

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She was getting ready to pose for her boyfriend in front of Union station in Toronto - I lifted my camera and "Ka-Klung" took the pic - she started laughing out loud, "Oh my Gawd! He just took my picture! Ha ha ha ha." When you see an opportunity take it. Too bad I stopped shooting after this picture was taken and that it is out of focus. An image of her laughing would have been great.

PPI: Has someone ever seen themselves in one of your pictures? Did they demand payment?
Hummm lemme think - NO! He he he I just started a few months ago. I lost track of time. But there was this strange guy who asked me to take his picture and then asked for some spare change... Of course I am a suck and gave him a dollar, that's why I say beware of people who say, "Wanna take my picture!?" - just say "no" ...

One great thing is that being out on the street I see a lot of other people taking pictures of stuff...

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But seldom do they take picture of people - I have yet to see one do it... Unless a street performer is involved then they take pictures of the street performer.

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I do take pictures of stuff still but a lot less than when I only had a point and shoot camera and that's all Rahul's fault! The friend I got into Street Photography.

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I thought this one was a great composition seen from this angle.

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And at times I catch things simply by looking at what people are looking at - if their "looking" seems out of the ordinary, no one looks at a regular street car the way they were looking at the one coming their way so I turned back and...

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Sure enough this one was coming our way!

PPI: Do you sell your SP work? If so where/how?
Sure - you can get them for free of the Internet for personal use and by e-mailing me - I'll send you the electronic file, JPEG format - print away - but if you want to pay for them, e-mail me and I will be glad to take your money as I sure could use some right now - those DSLR are not cheap!!! Plus I have kinda sorta been sent to early retirement so ... Which print would you like, I have an extensive collection of pictures... Okay okay I am working now. Call me Mister! I have an Executive Director Position.

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I can read his mind, "Hummm I wonder if she is going to finish her sandwich..."

PPI: What's your day job?
I actually don't have a day job, some people have asked me how do I have the time to do this... I was between evening jobs in the summer and now that I was recruited and relocated to Montreal for an Arts Marketing organization, I work weird hours six days a week at the time as such I'll see what happens... I take the writing and photography as a serious job now and the Call Center Management gig is a great way to meet new faces and get people to where they want to go. Managing a call center is very rewarding and enriching,been doing for 10 years, managing call centers that is. If I keep at it for 2 to 4 years, the photography that is, I hope to be able to make a very decent living at it. Photography is my passion and who knows where I will be one year from now. I want to live the life less ordinary and meet people, this is what I like to do as such all I have to do is figure out how to get paid for it! I am so working on that!

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One of those picture you think twice about taking - I saw she saw my camera in my hands and looked worried but I liked her glasses and facial expression - when I first started I would just have walked by without taking the shot a few weeks later I did take it. I am happy I did as it was yet another confidence builder and liked the way it turned out.

PPI: What are your 5 favorite places to shoot street photos? (Be specific--street corners/intersections/etc., if possible, not just "London" or "New York.")
At the corner of Yonge and Dundas in Toronto - lots of traffic and always a few street performers busking for a living. Great place to take pictures of people. The stretch of Queen Street West between John and Spadina. And a little while ago I discovered a new spot, Euclide and College, west of Euclide - little Portugal, great place. And there is always the Kensington Market in Toronto and Chinatown, the big one on Spadina - on a Sunday it is abuzz with activity. Harbour Front is always great on the weekend. Montreal, well - St-Catherines and Crescent, the best time to do it is during the Montreal Grandprix Weekend as Montrealer are less receptive to having their picture taken than the people of Toronto. This has forced me to move my picture taking indoors and work with performers and artist as there is a Law in the Province of Quebec which makes it illegal to publish pictures of people taken in pulic spaces without their consent.

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I took so many pictures in Montreal this past summer on a short visit - I still have to go through 650 pictures I took on my last day of Street Shooting... Back in July, augh! I lose interest quickly in my old pictures I have not gone through when I have new ones and I tend to have new ones every day - I am sure I will find some gems in the pile sometime down the road.

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I call these shots the half busted shot when one person totally sees me taking the picture and the others in the frame haven't seen me yet. They make some of my favorite pictures.

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Just a fun picture. The 3 pictures above were taken in Montreal.

PPI: What photo books do you have on your bookshelf? (choose your favorites)
Well ... Do magazines count? My father has been giving me gift subscription to "Playboy" magazine for the past, oh... about 15 years. I think he does it to try to win their yearly sweepstakes contest. Every time you give a gift subscription you get a chance to win a Jaguar or a trip to the Playboy Mansion or something like that... Funny thing is that when I moved on Riverdale avenue in Toronto last November - I haven't received any - forgot to do my change of address for the magazine. All I have, is one left, the one with the Owen Wilson interview... Okay, okay I don't just look at the pictures I also read the interviews and the jokes, however you can see the influence Playboy has had on my life - there is a theme to my street photography, nice looking women. Well, if I have to chose between a guy and "an easy on the eye" creature... being a man, the choice is easy for me.

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I do take pictures of guys...

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...and couples...

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One of my favorite pictures of all times. She saw me with the camera in my hands as she walked past me. The light was red, she stopped at the corner and I pointed the camera with the flash up at her turned back and waited until she looked back at me and "Click/Flash" turned out to have been a great shot IMHO. I got much better at anticipating people's reaction and "predicting what they'll do" I can read them if you will better than I ever did. (Sadly I have better pictures than these but some I like for special reasons)

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Half busted shot wearing a wig...

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One of my great pictures - so I'd like to think...

PPI: What camera(s), lenses, film, etc. do you use?
>No film, I am currently using a Nikon D70s and the 18-70mm lens which came with it. I have a 1 gig card in it and just shoot. I used to have a Konica/Minolta G500 which was a great point and shoot. I sold the G500 to a friend for $60 and a beer... That was less than the price of the memory card in the camera... I recently bought a Nikon 50mm F1.8 lens which is a great little prime lens but not for street photos.

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This here is the picture which started it all - taken with the Konica/Minolta G500. Justin, a guy in California, a true gentleman saw it on the Internet and asked me if I would do an interview with the Bag Piper, gave me a budget and the rest as they say is history in progress. One of the few pictures of people I took with the Konica. (This is the only picture taken with the Konica in this series.)

PPI: How many pictures do you shoot a week? A month? A year?
I used to shoot 250 pictures a day on average - in Montreal that went up to 800 a day over 3 days last summer. Now I shoot in RAW+Jpeg basic format, it takes longer to do my post process so I shoot about 80 to 110 pics a day. 300 pictures on a good day - 50 on a bad day, 10 on a terrible day... The beauty of digital is that you can take a chance on a bad frame, if it doesn't turn out later - just delete it. Plus I am mostly always shooting on continuous shutter release. 3 frames a second, if someone blinks in the shot - DELETE! Well I used to shoot about 5000 pictures a month now I want to shoot about 2000 however work on the pictures a little more, try to get better compositions. But seriously I'll get up to 250 pictures a day shortly soon, I just love taking pictures. I am out there everyday and I can take 150 pictures in less than 1 hour. The thing is that I used to get 33% of usable pictures I considered good enough to share but now I am above 60% consistently sometime more than 8 out of 10 pictures are what I think are good pictures but if I have 10 or 1000 good pictures it doesn't matter as I am after the great pictures. I am still working on that and I am seriously thinking of taking a photography class.

PPI: What advice would you give someone who is interested in trying street

Make sure your fly isn't open, don't take pictures of kids. Be nice, smile - people actually like having their picture taken. The only thing you have to fear is your shyness. Doing this will actually improve your confidence. Go for it, the secret is that it is actually a rush at times taking pictures of people as you just did something you were to shy and fearful to do before. It just makes you realize the only thing stopping you achieving whatever you want to do in life is you, your fears of what you can and cannot do. Let me assure you, you can do whatever you set your mind to.

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Full busted shot... Huh oh...

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Parades are gold mines of opportunities

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See what I mean by looking at what and where people are looking or staring at...

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Keep your eyes open and observe.

PPI: What's the most challenging aspect of street shooting?
Overcoming your fears, contrary to popular belief I am an extremely shy person, and going out there each and everyday even on a bad day isn't always easy. Even after having taken more than 28,000 pictures in the past few months sometimes I still hesitate and miss a shot, well I probably miss more than 20 shots a day because I hesitated for a second too long.

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No hesitation for these...

PPI: What's the best part of it?
Besides getting a great picture no one else took and will ever be able to take again, meeting people and at the end of the day sharing your pictures and getting both positive and negative feedback.

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I thought that was an interesting picture...

PPI: Do the skills you've developed as a street photographer help you in other areas of photography?
Yes, I was at a "car show" this summer and it helped me really look at the shot and dare to remove barriers to take better shots of the vehicles without asking and no one called me on it as I acted like a professional, with confidence. A few weeks back I did a shoot to help an upcoming Australian artist and I even got on the stage to take close ups during the performance and I took pictures in a Jazz Bar recently which are my best so far. Without the confidence and skills the amount of pictures I took gave me, I would not have gotten these great pictures and probably an interview with one of the performer. I am also after the story behing the images.

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Just a guy sleeping on a bench.

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Two of the said Jazz Bar pictures - the result of all these pictures, practice, playing with the camera settings as well as the novelty of using a prime lens which really forces me to compose the picture better. It took me a while to figures things out on my own and the learning curve was slow, but now I feel I am getting there and I am glad I figured outafew things on my own along the way, just wish I had found out about this place earlier on. You get to see the beginning until my very best and last pictures in this post. To say I used to shoot JPeg only is not a bad thing cause it is great but to say I resized all of these except the last two using Microsoft paint should give you an idea of how long it took me to start using my tools, i.e. Nikon Capture, properly. But then again I thought that was the fastest way for me to do it.

Smile because at the end of the day when all is said and done, if you don't share some of your time with a loved one or friends - you messed up. I listened to Diana Krall "Charmed Life while preparing this post. I am doing what I enjoy doing at the moment, all I have to do is figure out a way to get paid for it and I'd have the holy grail of employment.
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Guest the shots of the streets...makes me want to leave work right now, grab my camera and start taking some photos. Very interesting to read all that you wrote....can't wait to see more of your street photography!

Rick Waldroup

I am a street shooter and have been for over 30 years. It is about the only type of photography I do. Documentary photography is also very closely related. About 90% of what I shoot is in B&W. I still shoot in B&W even though I have now gone digital. You made some nice observations about street shooting.

For some other street and documentary shooters, check out Sebastio Salgado, Gary Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, Robert Doisneau, and others. A guy who is currently shooting is Fred Askew based out of New York. Google his name and you will find his website. His stuff is excellent.

There are a lot of street shooters but not as many as there used to be. It is an art that is very misunderstood and under appreciated by a lot of photographers. I think it is probably one of the hardest types of photography to do and do it right. I see the word 'snapshot' tossed around by so many photograhers when it comes to streetshooting. In a really, really good street shot, it is exactly that snapshot quality that makes the shot work. What appears on the outset to be a random snapshot is really a very well composed photo that makes the viewer examine the shot and in turn makes the viewer think. And to me, if I can do that, the shot has served its purpose. Composition is one of the key elements in street shooting- it may be the most important element.

I am on the streets at least 3-4 times a week. I shoot a lot and I feel really lucky if I come home with just a couple of shots that work. And as far as really nailing a shot, I feel lucky if I get a dozen or so a year. To me, that is how hard street shooting is. It is very nice to see someone who is new to street shooting and so enthusiastic about it. Keep up the good work. If you are interested, check out my pbase account for some of my street work. Good luck on shooting.
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Oct 20, 2006
Stgo de Chile
thx for the trouble to go through such a fun and thorough writeup - made for a good reading ....

on the other hand - most of your pics dont "do" a lot for my personally (I am talking about me decoding your pics, not about their quality) ...

aint pluralism a great thing? ... there is so much in there for anyone

bye and keep em coming (and have a great time while doing it)!

Removed User 2

Good write-up but the pictures are not there yet... Since you seem to have passion, keep it up. As another person wrote, true keepers range from 1 to a dozen yearly.

Here's a "one in a lifetime" shot, as you put it, I've been waiting 16 years to shoot (or ever since I started photography seriously) :smile:
Mar 31, 2005
Toronto Canada
What a superb and diverse collection of shots of my/our city! Rich colours and great captures. A feast for the eyes, thanks for sharing this.


Awesome thread, great post, even better pictures. Some are awesome, and some aren't and that's what is so great about street photography. Dont scrap any pictures ya take, just come home load em up and see what ya got. Oh and give the 50mm 1.8 a chance as a street lens, its great!
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Apr 7, 2006
SF Bay Area, CA
Thanks for a great post. I like going to SF downtown and just do people-watching, especially on workdays. But I never have the courage to take pics because I don't know how others will take it. Your post and links make me re-think that. Thanks.
May 15, 2005
Real Name
Thanks for the terrific writeup on street photography and your experience with it. And for sharing your pictures!

I've tried it on several occasions, and I fully agree with you on that one has to fight his/her own shyness to do it.

Your post is a real inspiration on SP.

Again thanks!


Wow, thanks for taking your time to make such a quality post.

I've always been a fan of street photography, and am starting to get into it myself. If your intested, one of my new favorite photographers is Marcus Hartel. He has some great info and tutorials on his site, well worth looking at.
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