A Kayak Aerial Photography Method – a behind (and above) the scenes look!

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||||||||||| Large panoramic prints also available – CLICK for more info! |||||||||||

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What is the single most distinguishing feature of South Florida? It’s not tourists, not retirees, nor the humidity. It’s the flatness – this country is incredibly flat. In many ways, living down here is a lot like living in a kind of Flatland (remember that story?). Consequently, like for so many,  my photography was also seemingly trapped in just “two dimensions”.  In the never ending quest for a new angle, I have gone to some heights to bring back images from the third dimension. Think of it as low altitude with high attitude!

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Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole Little Rabbit Key everglades 360 Florida Bay Flex Maslan canoe kayakfari.com camping ENP Keys Bird's-eye view panorama panoramic camp fish fishing

Birds-eye view from the third dimension.
Little Rabbit Key in Florida Bay.

After seeing my Aerial VR Panoramicslarge format prints and unique birds-eye views of the Everglades, people are always asking me  how I do it. I’ve always answered somewhat vaguely that “I’m not Polish, but I am a pole photographer”. While I certainly did not invent the pole idea, I have however developed & perfected my own technique.

As far as I’m aware, I may well be the first to apply this type of aerial photography to the outback Everglades and especially from the seat of a kayak!

So why am I sharing this info with you? It’s a big world .. and I’d like to see where others can take this, using similar methods for low altitude photography with an attitude!

:)

Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

In the middle of the Everglades with a 6 foot monopod and dslr/fisheye.

Using what I already had, at first I started with a 6 foot monopod and a DLSR cam with a fisheye lens. This produced some interesting enough results that I decided I needed more ALTITUDE !

Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole winterfest birds eye flex maslan kayak

Kayaks in the Ft Lauderdale Winterfest Boat Parade. Monopod with DSLR and small flash.

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Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole dslr everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

Older DSLR with Samyang 8mm fisheye wrapped in plastic.

Doing some research, I looked at kites, balloons,  even Drone Copters .. well there are many ways to get high. My criteria were simply that it be cheap, portable, reliable and safe. Between all the factors, like cost, size, choice of cam, risk of crash, etc .. I decided to carry forward the principle of the monopod, but on a much longer scale.

Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

On a beach, preparing to set up the BIG pole.
But first .. we joust! ;)

Kites and balloons will go as high as you care, but then your pics will all start to look a lot like Google Earth closeups. In terms of height, a pole could be 15, 25 even 35 feet tall. My method then, is very much low altitude, yet enough attitude to convey that elevated feeling. :)  Then .. it also relies on quite a bit of post processing to get the best results, so it may not be for everybody!

Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

With a pole planted on the ground, even aerial night shots are sometimes possible!

Aerial VR Panoramics

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:WARNING:

I am describing to you my method and only what has worked for me. Use any and all information at your OWN RISK! If you decide to try some aerial photography, know that what goes up must come down.  Use common sense and be mindful of your surroundings and aware of the situation you are in! There is a real risk of TOTAL equipment loss!

Think, twice – no three times before deciding to do anything like this in a populated area and watch out for power lines and trees!

Your flying camera can seriously hurt you and/or other persons and property – PAY ATTENTION!!

:WARNING:

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A typical DSLR cam with a fisheye lens is a combination that can weigh 4 to 5 lbs. That doesn’t sound like a lot, until you hang those 5 lbs on the end of a stick 25 feet away – that’s when leverage comes into play. I eventually moved on to a small mirrorless cam with fisheye, which weighs only a fraction of that.

Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

Big pole, 25 ft version for DSLR/fisheye.

Regardless of the cam, one thing that quickly becomes apparent, is that the longer the pole, the more leverage and torque will need to be exerted to raise/lower and keep steady. It’s just simple physics and there needs to be a counter-weight at the base. Keep in mind that even with the counterweight it’s always a handful, sometimes very difficult to handle if there’s wind!

The downside to a heavy base foot is that it tends to sink into the soft mud! I had a real close call this one time in the middle of nowhere just as I was raising the BIG pole, when all of a sudden the force pushed me down into the soft mud to my knees! I was stuck! Pole over the shoulder with a camera dangling 25 feet away and no way to move. As I contemplated my options, the foot suddenly kicked up, which meant that the top went down, and so the cam just ever so “kissed” one of the many sea water puddles in the low tide mud flat. At that point I knew I had to act fast and pushed against the pole, prying myself out of the mud, racing to the dunked cam, fearing a “kiss of death” total loss. Well it did get wet, but by chance hit the back lcd screen. Clearing off any liquid, I rubbed some hand sanitizer alcohol gel into the buttons. Camera was acting spastic, going though menus all by itself, it was shorted! That was the end of that session!

In a desperate effort, I later actually re-wet the back of the cam with some fresh water & after more alcohol and several drying cycles it works perfectly to this day. Moral of the story?

Watch your STEP and need MORE counterweight! ;)

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Aerial VR Panoramics

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To actually take the pics, the cam is set on a timer that takes a pic every few seconds.

Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

Setting the intervalometer function on the cam.

As the cam keeps taking pics, supporting and stabilizing the pole becomes the primary objective. It’s actually a good amount of work and I feel less a photographer and more like a technician gathering the data points ..

Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

This muck can suddenly disappear from under your feet and you will be down to your knees!

Above, standing on First National Bank raising the BIG pole. Result is below!

Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

Result from above: Aerial birds-eye 360 panoramic of First National Bank in Florida Bay.
CLICK for VR 360 aerial panoramic!
Large panoramic prints also available!

On my 20 ft sea kayak, the pole sections just fit on the foredeck and are light enough not to effect anything significantly. The heavy counterweight foot rides at the bottom of the back hatch, nicely also lowering overall CG and stability feel in 4 – 6 foot seas that I’m willing to paddle in!

Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

The Banana Boat easily carries the BIG poles on the deck, then again, she’s 20ft long!

The BIG pole now stands at 34 feet (10 meters) which is pretty damn tall!

Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

Raising the BIG 34 footer version.

I am looking to get even higher! Eventually it’s gonna top out at just over 40 feet tall which I feel will be the final “safe” limit – stay tuned!

Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

At work, with the 34 foot BIG pole.

The BIG pole is always used planted on the ground, so it’s much more stable than the hand held versions.

Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

Pole on the rocks on Biscayne Bay.

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Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

Sometimes you get a surprise shot accidentally as the cam keeps taking pics .. until you turn it off.

Aerial VR Panoramics

Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

The BIG pole at 34 ft (that’s 10 meters!!) is close to the practical limit for handling, portability & safety.
Photo credit: Russell Van Riper

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Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

Shark Point chickee aerial done with the BIG pole.

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:WARNING:

I am describing to you my method and only what has worked for me. Use any and all information at your OWN RISK! If you decide to try some aerial photography, know that what goes up must come down.  Use common sense and be mindful of your surroundings and aware of the situation you are in! There is a real risk of TOTAL equipment loss!

Think, twice – no three times before deciding to do anything like this in a populated area and watch out for power lines and trees!

Your flying camera can seriously hurt you and/or other persons and property – PAY ATTENTION!!

:WARNING:

.

Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole dslr everglades birdseye canoe East kayak Flex Maslan

Kayak aerial photography self portrait over the Eastern Everglades.

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Another type of pole I made can easily be deployed right from the seat of the kayak!  It’s the one I used for those really cool birds-eye panoramics of the Eastern Everglades Expansion Area and the Shark River Slough trips.

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Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole dslr everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

Setting up the pole on the Shark River Slough in the Everglades.
Photo credit: Robert Carew.

Seat of the kayak view vs. birds-eye view..

shark river slough everglades river of grass aerial pole photography sawgrass panorama camp kayakfari kayak canoe kayakfari.com birds-eye

Result from above: Sweeping aerial panorama of paddlers on the River of Grass!
CLICK for VR superwide aerial panoramic!
Large panoramic prints also available!

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Oyster Bay kayakfari everglades chickee camp kayak canoe panoramic wilderness waterway flex maslan paddle

Oyster Bay chickee at foot level.
CLICK for VR superwide panoramic!

From the same spot .. dramatic example of perspective change from foot level (above) to tree-top level (below) – about 18 feet up.

Oyster Bay kayakfari everglades aerial chickee pole camp kayak canoe panoramic wilderness waterway flex maslan paddle

Oyster Bay chickee at bird level.
CLICK for VR superwide aerial panoramic!

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Aerial VR Panoramics

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Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

Setting up medium pole on the Taylor Slough.

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Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

Setting up for aerial in the Bill Ashley Jungles in the Everglades.

Result below from approximately 18 feet above the water.

Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

Result from above: Aerial panorama in the Bill Ashley Jungles (Herman Lucerne backcountry).
CLICK for VR 360 aerial panoramic!
Large panoramic prints also available!

Since the pole is sectional, I can adjust the height to what works best in a given situation.

Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

At work in a Cypress Dome in the Everglades, standing on a Sit On Top kayak.

Big thanks to “Kayak Erica” of  www.allamericankayak.com  for these great pics of me in action!

Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

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Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

Result from above: Aerial birds-eye Cypress Dome panoramic from maybe 22 feet up!
CLICK for VR 360 aerial panoramic!
Large panoramic prints also available!

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Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

Setting up the pole on the Crooked Creek chickee in the Everglades.

Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

Result: aerial view of the chickee and crooked Creek!

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Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

Aerial night shot from probably 17 feet.

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Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

It gets HOT out there and smells quite FISHY, I tell ya!

Eventually I worked this pole up to over 20 feet and at that length it’s real sketchy to deploy it from a sea kayak (talk about hip flick!).

Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

Setting up just off Rattlesnake Key in Garden Cove, Florida Keys.

Wading in the low tide above. The result is below from about 28 feet!

Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

Jonathan Seagull’s view of Upper Sound Point on Rattlesnake Key in Garden Cove, Key Largo.
CLICK for VR superwide aerial panoramic!
Large panoramic prints also available!

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Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

Retrieving the head (cam) from some dead wood.

Below: Result aerial panorama over Bradley Key from about 28 feet up!

Bradley Key Aerial kayakfari Florida Bay kayak Everglades Flex Maslan canoe panoramic 360 panorama Guy sky Flamingo low tide sea turtle grass Audubon warden

Aerial birds-eye view of point on Bradley Key point in Florida Bay, Everglades National Park (just a couple of miles west of Flamingo).
This key is named in honor of Guy Bradley, an Audubon Warden shot and killed by bird poachers about 100 years ago – one of the defining moments that led to the establishment of Everglades National Park!
CLICK for VR 360 aerial panoramic!
Large panoramic prints also available!

Aerial VR Panoramics

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Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole dslr everglades birdseye canoe East kayak Flex Maslan

Kayak Aerial Photography over the East Everglades Expansion Area.
CLICK for interactive panorama!

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Above & below:  Bird’s eye view  vs  Canoe level view.

Big thanks to Vivian Oliva for capturing me in action from the same spot!

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Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole dslr everglades birdseye canoe East kayak Flex Maslan

Kayak Aerial Photography
Photo credit: Vivian Oliva

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Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole dslr everglades birdseye canoe East kayak Flex Maslan

Kayak Aerial Photography
Photo credit: Vivian Oliva

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Your choice of camera will dictate how high you can go. Action cams like the GoPro series are very light & would seem like a good choice, but they are really meant for filming. For stills, they, along with camera phones aren’t the best choice if you want to make large prints and do post processing. On the other end full size DSLRs will give great image quality at the cost of size & weight. The newer breeds of the “mirrorless” cams with a matching fisheye lens hit the sweet spot. I’m using the Pentax Q which gives excellent results and is the lightest smallest cam that accepts a dedicated fisheye lens. It’s also real fun to use and surprisingly versatile!

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NEW sister site @  www.AwakentheGrass.com

Aerial VR Panoramics

Fisheating Creek everglades hike aerial photography awakenthegrass Okeechobee hike camp kayak wma kayakfari Palmdale Flex Maslan awakenthegrass.com backcountry environment camping canoe paddle outback florida

At Fisheating Creek with my “hiking” pole and cam of choice: the Pentax Q with fisheye!

This is the shortest pole I have and the only one I paid for. It’s a painter’s pole from a hardware store.

Pentax Q 03 fisheye lens aerial everglades kayakfari flex maslan photography

The Pentax Q is a tiny mirrorless cam pictured with the 03 fisheye lens.
It’s an excellent choice for aerial photography! :)

The Q is the “little cam that could!”

The Pentax Q is so tiny, it’s smaller than your iPhone and lots of times people don’t even notice that there’s a camera at the end of that big ol’pole.. ;)

Fisheating Creek everglades hike aerial photography awakenthegrass Okeechobee hike camp kayak wma kayakfari Palmdale Flex Maslan awakenthegrass.com backcountry environment camping canoe paddle outback florida

Result with pole above, aerial view of Fisheating Creek campground in Palmdale, Florida.
CLICK for VR superwide aerial panoramic!
Large panoramic prints also available!

Aerial VR Panoramics

Fisheating Creek everglades hike aerial photography awakenthegrass Okeechobee hike camp kayak wma kayakfari Palmdale Flex Maslan awakenthegrass.com backcountry environment camping canoe paddle outback florida

Bird’s eye view aerial of Fisheating Creek at Ingrams Crossing in the dry season.
CLICK for VR 360 aerial panoramic!
Large panoramic prints also available!

The yellow pole is automatically an instant conversation starter wherever and whenever people are around!

Big Cypress aerial awakenthegrass pole photography flex maslan everglades hike Addition Lands awakenthegrass hiking camp kayakfari backcountry environment camping outback florida

In the Looney Big Cypress .. photo combat~
Photo credit: Carlos Atomic JohnBob

Actual hiking with the pole in practice means carrying it much like one would a long spear! I bet I could fight off a bear with it, or at least take it’s picture~ ;)

Big Cypress aerial awakenthegrass pole photography flex maslan everglades hike Addition Lands awakenthegrass hiking camp kayakfari backcountry environment camping outback florida

Woodpecker’s eye-view of hikers in the Big Cypress Addition Lands.

This pole goes up to 16 ft with a super light tip. When walking with it, I feel that maybe there should be a flag up there too.. que no?  ;)

Big Cypress aerial awakenthegrass pole photography flex maslan everglades hike Addition Lands awakenthegrass hiking camp kayakfari backcountry environment camping outback florida

Walking the pole over a flooded Big Cypress old ORV track.
Photo credit: Carlos Atomic JohnBob

Eye-level perspective vs. birds-eye!

Big Cypress aerial awakenthegrass pole photography flex maslan everglades hike Addition Lands awakenthegrass hiking camp kayakfari backcountry environment camping outback florida

Aerial view of hikers on same ORV trail in the Addition Lands of Big Cypress NP.

Aerial VR Panoramics

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If you do decide to try some of this out, please post a link below -

I’d love to see it! :)

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Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

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:REALITY CHECK:
Sometimes, despite best care, it’s the little unexpected things that will get you. Recently while doing my aerial pole photography thing in another part of the world, everything was going great until I stepped off a 3 foot boulder which then unexpectedly shifted, causing me to step off the wrong way and nearly breaking my ankle. That hurt really bad (but I expect to recover fully – T.G!). In the middle of the incident I let go the pole and my Pentax Q hit the rocky ground – breaking the rear LCD glass.

Kayak Aerial kayakfari photography cracked pentax q broken pole everglades birds eye flex maslan canoe

The Pentax Q “patient” is alive .. but awaits an LCD glass transplant!

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Enjoy and keep it SAFE friends!

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:WARNING:

I am describing to you my method and only what has worked for me. Use any and all information at your OWN RISK! If you decide to try some aerial photography, know that what goes up must come down.  Use common sense and be mindful of your surroundings and aware of the situation you are in! There is a real risk of TOTAL equipment loss!

Think, twice – no three times before deciding to do anything like this in a populated area and watch out for power lines and trees!

Your flying camera can seriously hurt you and/or other persons and property – PAY ATTENTION!!

:WARNING:

.

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© 2013 Flex Maslan / kayakfari.com / awakenthegrass.com. All original photographs, artworks and music in this portfolio are copyrighted and owned by the artist, Flex Maslan, unless otherwise noted. Any reproduction, modification, publication, transmission, transfer, or exploitation of any of the content, for personal or commercial use, whether in whole or in part, without written permission from the artist is strictly prohibited.

All rights reserved.

DISCLAIMER:: The maps and images on this site are not intended for navigation, I am not a guide; use any and all information at your own risk! Your mileage may vary .. so use good judgement before venturing out!

With that said.. Blessings friends!

:)

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Scott
    May 30, 2013 @ 15:26:42

    Great training blog on your technique. Thanks. I have tried the kite bit, but you can’t count on the wind for help. I have used a GoPro with a pole; but between bad batteries and not enough practice, NOT MUCH.
    – THANKS, Scott

    Reply

  2. quietsolopursuits
    Jun 05, 2013 @ 00:43:15

    Wow! Great idea! I thought about doing something like that to get closer to birds in the tree tops, using a remote control to fire the camera.

    Reply

  3. Kayak Ericaa
    Sep 04, 2013 @ 09:53:00

    Flex once again well said and a great series of pics..

    Reply

  4. Paul Mitchell
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 14:31:01

    I put a Nikon 7000 on a 12 foot painters pole. Attached to the camera is a small box that plugs in and transmits an image from the camera to a small wireless viewer that is effective quite a distance away. Seeing what the camera see is a big advantage when taking the pics. The viewer also can trigger the camera to take the picture.

    Reply

  5. Paul Mitchell
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 21:28:38

    Also curious about your pole that is lightweight yet rigid enough not to be bouncing around with the camera attached. Also I use a Pole Pixie to attach the camera to the painter pole. If you dont know what that is its an aluminum piece that has a coarse broom thread on one end and a 20 thread on the other end to attach a tripod head to. It then attaches to your camera
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    Reply

    • Kayakfari
      Apr 10, 2014 @ 21:46:35

      Hi Paul, thanks for your comments. Your setup with a DSLR sounds interesting especially if you’re not using a fisheye or ultra-wide lens. I’ve found that with the fisheye aim isn’t critical, just need a lot of overlap. I have something similar to the pixie adapter that I use with my shortest pole, it works good. This brings me back to weight – I moved on to the lightest setup, including the cam, lens and angle head. I’m preparing a follow-up story on the technical aspects, look for it here shortly!

      Reply

  6. Paul Mitchell
    Apr 11, 2014 @ 22:26:12

    Thanks for your reply. I also have a couple GoPro 3 cameras and putting one on a very tall pole similar to yours would be pretty easy. What is your pole? Its more than a painters pole so Im curious how I can purchase one. Here is the problem. I want something I can set up. I found a 12 foot pole is the maximum one I can easily handle. Longer than that and its difficult to set it up. Over the 12 or even 15-18 foot length and Im baffled. Id like something that will close down to about 6 feet in height and telescope out to 30 feet (would be nice). Is that possible with your pole?

    Reply

  7. Ondřej Valenta
    Jul 25, 2014 @ 04:41:08

    Very good universal tripod! http://www.industrialrev.com/ultrapod-ii.html

    Reply

    • Kayakfari
      Jul 25, 2014 @ 11:13:05

      Thanks man! Neni to ale trochu moc kratke?! ;)

      Reply

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