December 20, 2009

Must-Get Christmas Pictures Before the Tree Comes Down!

The Christmas tree can provide an excellent background for some really unique photos- here’s a tutorial on how to get some great shots before that tree comes down.

Christmas Tree Bokeh - Top Christmas Pictures to Get Before the Tree Comes Down!

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1. The Christmas Tree Classic Bokeh

Canon 85mm 1.8
1/40 sec
1600 ISO

To get those big, beautiful, blurry lights, use your lens with the lowest aperture- For this picture, I used the 85mm 1.8, but the 50mm 1.8 or 50mm 1.4 would also work nicely.

Place your subject as far away from the tree as possible- we moved some furniture around so Howie could be about 8 ft away from the tree. The farther away the subject is, the bigger, and better, the lights will look.

To take the picture, get as close to the subject as possible. You know how you can be so close to the subject that the lens won’t focus? I found that if I got that close, then scooted back just enough so that the lens would focus, the lights looked better. I have no idea why that is- I just preferred the ones that I took like that! :)

Christmas Tree Custom Bokeh - Top Christmas Pictures to Get Before the Tree Comes Down!

2. The Christmas Tree *Custom* Bokeh

Canon 50mm 1.8
1/15 sec
1600 ISO

Meep!! Little Howie surrounded by Christmas Hearts! :) Custom Bokeh is my favorite new technique. No, I don’t have little heart-shaped Christmas lights on my tree… and I didn’t have to buy any special lenses or filters to get this look, either! All I had to do was use a little tape, scissors and paper- all the stuff I already have in my scrapbook room. And the best part is, you can have custom bokeh in any shape you can cut out. Hearts, stars, mini Christmas trees.. I even tried a snowflake. You want to see something cool? Try this out. The original photo doesn’t change shapes.. Only the lights are affected! Come on, I’ll show you.


Supplies You’ll Need

1. SLR Camera
2. 50mm 1.8 lens
3. Black cardstock
4. Removable adhesive
5. Scissors / decorative shape punches
6. Pencil
7. Tape


1. To begin, take a strip of paper and form a ring around your 50mm lens- tape the paper together so that it fits snugly around the lens.

2. Take the ring off the lens, place it on a piece of black cardstock and trace a circle around the ring.

3. Cut out the circle

4. Cut a square in the middle of the circle. I used an Xacto knife, but you could just use scissors. It doesn’t have to look pretty!


5. So, now you have a ring and a circle with a square cut out of the middle. Tape them together like pictured above to form a “hood”. For the benefit of the picture, I put the tape on the inside so you can’t see it, but you could tape it on the outside instead. It’s easier and it works just as well.


6. Now it’s time to cut out your shapes! You can use scissors or an Xacto knife (or even a die cutting machine) to cut out any shape you can imagine. I had these little punches that made it really easy.

7. Cut out your shape, being sure to leave enough room on the edges so you can attach it to the “hood”. I used removable adhesive so I could easily switch between shapes on the hood.


8. Attach the shape to the hood and put the hood on your lens- when you’re all done, it should look like this.

Of course, I used a heart punch for the picture of Howie. I did have to use a tripod to take the custom bokeh pictures. Using the hood lets in less light, so you have to set your shutter speed slower to compensate- in my case, too slow to hand hold. But you don’t have to have a tripod. You could set your camera on a coffee table, tv tray, chair, bench, ottoman, whatever! Anything steady you can get your hands on.


Canon 85mm 1.8
1/8 sec
800 ISO

I loved how the snowflake punched turned out! Unfortunately by this time my models were thoroughly uncooperative, so I just had to take pictures of the tree. :P

To get this look, focus on something close to the lens, like your hand, with the tree blurry in the background. Then move it out of the way and take the picture.

Christmas Tree Bokeh - Top Christmas Pictures to Get Before the Tree Comes Down!

The size of your cut-out will affect size of your custom bokeh- so play around with different shapes and sizes for all kinds of neat looks.


I even tried punching out the letter “B”. The possibilities are endless! :)

I would LOVE to see your Christmas Tree Bokeh pics!! :) Leave me a link to your pics in the comments- or share with me on Facebook. I would love to leave a comment for ya!

Thanks for looking! :)

See More Posts About: Photography Tutorials


Casie December 20, 2009 at 7:46 am

So, then do you just take the picture of your subject “through” the little shape hood that you cut out? And the subject will come out lighted and clear and just the Christmas tree lights will be a different shape? Like your first two pictures? Did you use any special lighting to light up your subject? Since the shutter has to stay open so long, how did you get Howie so crystal clear (I would figure he would move too much). Thanks!


Hopeful Housewife December 20, 2009 at 7:48 am

WOW! Could you make me long for a “good” camera any more? Any pointers for those of use using point and click digitals?


silke December 20, 2009 at 7:49 am

I’m wondering also, how you got Howie so crystal clear and how to get many of blurry hearts if you have only ONE on your lens???

thanks for the tip, I’ll try it!!


Marissa June 22, 2012 at 3:20 pm

The heart that she made changes the shape of the bokeh, which is the out of focus circles (or hearts in this case) from lights. Bokeh is usually shaped in circles, but with the little hood she made it changes all of the Bokeh, so it will all look like hearts, or snowflakes, butterflies, whatever you like. The little hood just alters the shape of circles, so you only need one shape to make many. I hope that makes sense.

Also, Howie is clear because of the aperture Amanda used. If you’re not familiar with aperture, this is what makes the picture more focused, depending on how wide it is. Amanda changed her aperture to focus on Howie, but to have the background out of focus.

Hope I helped

Buckeroomama December 20, 2009 at 7:54 am

Thanks for the tutorial. I can’t wait to try these out! :)


Susan Dingess December 20, 2009 at 8:04 am

Thanks so much for the bokeh tut. I can’t wait to try later today.


Lauren December 20, 2009 at 8:09 am

Definitely giving this a try later on this week! I’d seen this before but your tutorial is really great for breaking it down–thank you!


Sandy_in_MD December 20, 2009 at 8:41 am

Awesome effect! Thank you for sharing how you made the custom bokehs!


Kim H December 20, 2009 at 9:01 am

You must be the most creative and imaginative person on this planet. Where do you come up with all this? You had me fooled though when I saw the hearts on the tree :) Howie is adorable and you are one major talent. Merry Christmas.


Jessica December 20, 2009 at 9:03 am

Hmmm…now I need that lens…lowest aperture I have is f 2.8. Wonder how that will work? I may try anyway. Love these pics!


Aliy November 28, 2010 at 1:58 pm


2.8 will work! did you figure it out? You just need to get as close to your subject as possible. If it doesn’t come out then move your subject farther away from the back ground. Aperture (1.8 v 2.8 etc) is not the only factor in Depth of field.

Maureen Feist December 20, 2009 at 9:20 am

You definitely have a new fan! Just had your blog passed along to me this morning! Look for an explosion of new followers! Can’t wait to try this technique.


Courtney December 20, 2009 at 9:46 am

That’s a really cool tutorial…thanks for sharing! I’m hoping I get a new camera for the new year! :) Crossing my fingers!!


creole wisdom December 20, 2009 at 10:08 am

You’re just about the smartest Christmas cookie ever. Thank you much for this. I’ll be making mine this week :)


Rachelle @ "Mommy? I'm Hungry!" December 20, 2009 at 10:13 am

That is so neat! Great tip for the little shapes. What kind of other lighting did you have in the room? Also you don’t use the flash, right?


Tracy December 20, 2009 at 10:14 am

Even though I have no motivation to actually DO that, it was WAY cool to see the pictures and seeing how you did it!!! Thanks for sharing!! (I’m crossing fingers for FONTS for 2010?:)


Nancy Hunter December 20, 2009 at 10:24 am

THANK YOU!!! I so appreciate you sharing this wonderful information. I can hardly wait to try it out. Makes me want to keep Christmas lights up in the house all year long! Have a fantastic holiday with your family and give your sweet little dog a hug from me!
XO Nancy


Muriel McHugh December 20, 2009 at 10:47 am

This is so cool!! You are truly imaginative! I’m going to work up the courage to try. Thanks


Maria December 20, 2009 at 10:51 am

WOW, fantastic photos, great tutorial, thank you!!!

For those, who ask how is Howie so crystal clear… it is not a long exposure photo. The shutter is not open for a long time, 1/40 is a 40th of a second, quicker then a blink. That is why Howie is so clear. When U use huge aperture (low f-number), lots of light goes into the camera so U don’t need too much time to make the shot. That is why the dog is not blurry


Pati December 20, 2009 at 11:33 am

Very Cool and fun tip! Thanks for sharing it Amanda. The lowest f/# I have is 3.5. I may play with it to see what happens otherwise I’ll keep tip this in case Santa brings me a new lens : )


Lee December 20, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Cool! I’ll have to give this a try. Thanks!!!


Carla Cavellucci Landi December 20, 2009 at 12:36 pm

Amanda, you find always ways to be more “utopic” for me (just kidding, you know!!!!). Loved the ideia, I’m not sute I’ll be able to do it but I’LL TRY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thank you so much!!!!! Happy Xmas!!


Ali December 20, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Very cute tutorial – a “must try” for sure!!!


Becky December 20, 2009 at 12:58 pm

I’m toooo amazed to say anything. Love the pics but thinking the heart shaped one would be cute for valentine cards. Merry Christmas week.


Southern Gal December 20, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Love this! I got a similar effect with my point and shoot. I held up pair of cheap glasses that make lights look like snowflakes in front of the lens to take a picture of the multi-colored lights in my son’s room. It worked beautifully. But this? This is awesome!


Heyoka Lynn December 20, 2009 at 1:46 pm

I LOVE THE TUTORIAL ABOUT THE BLACK PAPER AND THE LITTLE CUT OUTS, THANKS SO MUCH, you kids are so clever, Been a photographer for 35 years, even had a pro studio in the ’90s and never, ever, thought of this one…oh, we had some tricks of the trade, but hadn’t seen this one and thanks, I am trying it for fun…heyoka lynn


Kris(wholarmor) December 20, 2009 at 2:48 pm

This is awesome! Thanks for sharing!


Randa Pospisil December 20, 2009 at 2:58 pm

NO WAY!!!! Had no idea what a bokeh was! This is really awesome. You must have read my big whiny comments on your facebook post about Christmas tree pics ;)
I will take a whack at it, even though, like many of the others I have only a 4.5 aperture…we’ll see what happens!


Anne December 20, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Lovely pictures! Very clever


TwoHeartsTogether December 20, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Those look awesome! I love the heart one the best!
I always wondered how people did that…
thanks for sharing :)


Debra December 20, 2009 at 5:37 pm

what an amazing creative idea??? Thank you so much for this fabulous tip:) Merry Christmas!


mindy December 20, 2009 at 7:30 pm

This is a great idea! I will certainly try it this week!


Emmy December 20, 2009 at 7:59 pm

That is amazing!! I did not know you could do that, I am definitely going to have to do that


Samantha December 20, 2009 at 8:01 pm

Wow, how neat is that? Thanks for sharing!


Rasha Gardner December 20, 2009 at 10:27 pm

Wow that is awesome. You’re so Creative!


Veronica December 21, 2009 at 1:20 am

Thank you SOooooo… much Amanda!! I LOVE this technique . I will have to try this! Thanks so much for sharing your expertise! I luv your blog!!!


Betty Bake December 21, 2009 at 1:42 am

thanks for a lovely idea with good instructions – i will have to give it a try :) so as a few of the people commented before – do you just shoot through the star shape and howie is perfectly still and the lights come out in stars? have a great day :)
Betty Bake


Kristen December 21, 2009 at 4:01 am

WOW! I love this and must try it soon!!!


Susie S. December 21, 2009 at 7:15 am

Wow! Wow! Wow! Merry Christmas Amanda!


Deidre December 21, 2009 at 7:32 am

This was super cool! I love it! I am going to try and see how this works for myself! It could end up disasterous though. lol

Thanks for sharing!


Deana December 21, 2009 at 10:48 am

I think you are the coolest chic ever! Where you come up with these ideas is beyond me! :) Thanks for getting the creative juices flowing and for being a source of inspiration! I’m totally giving this a try. :) Thanks and Happy Holidays to you and your family!


Peg Graham December 21, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Thanks so much for doing and sharng this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Love it!!!!!!!!!


Lauren December 21, 2009 at 3:14 pm

And I always figured it was a photoshop trick! I will be trying this tonight! Thanks for sharing!


Coleen December 21, 2009 at 3:46 pm

great tip! I’ve been a pro photog for 20+ years; I own all kinds of screens, etc. but never thought to do this .. so fun! I love learning new things… thanks!

do you ever post pix on flickr? these bokeh pix would be such a hit!!


Terry D December 21, 2009 at 6:28 pm

Thanks! I can’t wait to try this! Happy Holidays!


Liza G December 21, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Oh I love this and i love that I can make it myself!! I’m hoping Santa bring me a new Canon to replace my Nikon D40!


Star December 21, 2009 at 9:46 pm

I just bought a kit from because I just don’t have all the stuff I need to make it myself, but your tutorial was great!

Do you know if it will work with greater than f 1.8



Sarah.Elizabeth December 22, 2009 at 12:31 am

ahhh.. you never cease to amazing me. thanks for posting this! gotta try it as soon as possible. :]


Sarah.Elizabeth December 22, 2009 at 12:32 am

oh dear… have to apologize for the dumb grammar errors.. i’m OCD about it.. so i have to correct myself.. “you never cease to AMAZE me.” :P :]

p.s. merry christmas! :D


Trix December 22, 2009 at 6:37 am

Thank you so much for this cool tutorial. I had a lot of fun trying to recreate your photo. I love taking photos of my pooch, Charlie but she really got a bit sick of the whole process on this occassion. Never mind, I’m pretty happy with the results and am looking forward to my next doggy photo shoot. Once again, thank you very much!


Lori December 22, 2009 at 4:56 pm

The only punch I have is of a teddy bear. Teddy bear BOKEH! It looks so cute!! I will just have to get brave and cut out other shapes myself. Thanks for the tutorial!


Shelly December 22, 2009 at 7:43 pm

Thank you for this wonderful idea! My subject is dark though. What did I do wrong?


Maria December 22, 2009 at 8:24 pm

Hi again:) I had to try this out. My husband made the hood for me, we did not have the punches, so he cut them out freehanded :) Here is the ling to the results: my blog is Hungarian, sorry about this, but I put the credit up as my inspiration :)


Lauren December 22, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Okay, I tried it. And got great results without a subject, mediocre ones with a subject. Let me know what you think!


Tammy Eastlick December 23, 2009 at 11:25 am

I love the tutorial. Like many others my lowest is f/4.5. I will definitely try it though and see what I can come up with. I’ve also got to put the bug in Santa’s ear so who knows what will happen. :)

Please keep the tutorials comming. you are an amazing photographer.
Thanks for sharing your love of photography with us all.


Lori December 24, 2009 at 10:00 pm

I posted the pictures I took from this tutorial! They are on my blog. Love it. :)


Tina December 25, 2009 at 5:59 pm

I tried the photo tutorial, but it didn’t work for me. I am bummed. I so wanted photos like that.


marsha j December 25, 2009 at 7:04 pm

thanks for the tutorial on this. i loved it. my husband and i tried it and after trying to take a pic of just the tree i went back and read the instructions and then we focused on a subject in front of the tree and that worked. LOL if all else fails read the instructions, my husband and i took a pic of each other then also the dog. the dog we put on a coffee table in front of the tree as we have a table tree. the dog did really good. anyway i will post pics somewhere here or at ck magazine.


Jami December 25, 2009 at 9:12 pm

Awesome! Thanks and Merry Christmas!!


Diane {} December 25, 2009 at 9:31 pm

What a creative idea, my point and shoot canon is in for repair(really bad time for a camera to break don’t you think?) I hope to get an SLR in Jan. I will have to remember this!
I recently found your blog and love it!
I’m going to follow you on twitter too. I’m @createdbydiane


LolaT December 25, 2009 at 10:33 pm

I loved your tutorial and your cute doggie photos are such a great motivator to try it out. I have more than enough dogs already (four) but it makes me want your dog!
Here’s a link to my attempt -all I could find was a flower punch for these quick shots of my kids in their new Christmas home-made pajamas. Thanks!


Carla Cavellucci Landi December 26, 2009 at 1:45 pm

I got a 50mm for Christmas!!!
My first attempt!

Thank you again!


Ladynred December 29, 2009 at 10:26 am

Wow! this is fantastic tut. I’ve been trying to get that 50mm 1.4 last week online but there was a problem so now I really need that lens.


Stephanie December 29, 2009 at 6:57 pm

Thanks for the great tips!!! Did you see your pic of Howie over at the pioneer woman’s?


jen December 29, 2009 at 7:08 pm

So cool to see Howie on the Pioneer Woman’s blog … congrats! Love your pics. : )


Sarah M December 31, 2009 at 11:09 am
Helena January 1, 2010 at 2:03 pm

I never heard of this! Amazing!


Rachel January 1, 2010 at 6:55 pm

This is SO cool! Our tree is already down for this year, but I’m definitely stealing this idea and doing next year! Thanks so much for sharing!

PS – Congrats on being a finalist on PW :)


Ronda Simpson January 3, 2010 at 12:56 am

OMG! You rock! lol! Every time I visit your blog, you have some kind of amazing idea!! This is way cool! Thanks for sharing!


Katie January 3, 2010 at 8:31 am

Can you explain the differences between the 85mm lense and the 50mm? I have the 50mm and I like it, but I find it to autofocus really slowly when I’m using the flash indoors. I’m looking for an all purpose lense. Would you recommend the 85mm??


Sarah McVey Photography January 3, 2010 at 10:40 am

This was so much fun! I found the key to making the “stars” visible – was the distance of the tree to your subject (Farther the better) AND the distance of your subject to you (Closer the better). Try upping your ISO if you have a fidgety subject (HA! My two yrd, Aurora!), that way you can speed up the shutter speed to compensate. PS. Noiseware + CS3 = score! I’ll be posting some of my trys on my flickr a little later! Check ‘em out!


Kayla January 4, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Hey… those bokeh pics, I have a couple of questions.
I make the hood and everything and that’s fine, but I’m taking a picture of my subject AND the background with lights at the same time and it comes out just like how you have it with Howie?
I’m new to the site and I saw this and I just *had* to ask! I’m a little bit of an aspiring photographer- nothing pro, just a hobby- and I love this.


Moi January 4, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Thank you so much for sharing this! What a fabulous idea!


Sarah January 4, 2010 at 9:55 pm

I stumbled upon your blog a couple weeks ago and love all your pictures! And now on this post I see you’re one featured on Pioneer Woman’s blog! Fun! And thanks for sharing some tips, as I’m trying to learn how to use my camera better!


Sarah McVey Photography January 5, 2010 at 5:06 am
Allison January 5, 2010 at 11:55 am

Oh my goodness Amanda! That is awesome! You are a genius! I loved the hearts on the tree and was just going to ask you how you did that when I kept reading! Thanks for posting that!!

Hope you’re doing well and that the holidays didn’t kill you with extra weight…unlike some people over here…. (looking away in guilt)


Kyla January 5, 2010 at 12:13 pm



christi January 5, 2010 at 7:44 pm

great tutorial! thanks!


Cathy January 6, 2010 at 6:20 am

That is awesome..


Connie January 6, 2010 at 11:17 pm

Amanda this is great- thanks for sharing! But I’m curious, do you have to take two photos and then merge them?


Trina January 8, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Wow, I’m super inspired and I don’t even have a fancy camera! :(


Joy January 8, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Your custom bokeh is a WONDERFUL idea!! I LOVE it and am just getting ready to give it a try. I’d love to link to you from my blog…but I just don’t think I can do it. There’s just this ONE THING holding me back…
…but knowing we won the National Championship last night made me feel good enough that I could even leave a comment on an AU fan’s site, LOL.
Good Work Amanda!! Now if you’d just come over to the Tide side… ;)
Best Wishes,
Here’s a little work I did to my Cricut Expression. I’m sure you’ll hate it! LOL


ann yee January 12, 2010 at 9:40 am

wow~ hi, i am from malaysia, it’s really cool~!!!!


Hannah January 12, 2010 at 9:33 pm

AH! So pretty! :)


Vanilla Bean January 16, 2010 at 11:43 am

Thanks so much for the great tutorial! I can’t wait to try it. I hope that it is ok that I blogged about this post today on my blog.


NSKL January 29, 2010 at 5:26 am

It’s great, thanx, I’ll try it ^^


Katie February 18, 2010 at 6:20 pm

my jaw literally dropped when i saw this!! This is SO COOOOOL!! Thanks for sharing!!!


Fiona March 18, 2010 at 11:47 am

Great tip! Thank you Amanda! Can’t wait to try it out! :)


siti fairus May 25, 2010 at 8:02 am

hi amanda,

i loved your website. it’s inspiring and fun.

i really like to know how you made the fancy comment form with numberings and bullets?

really appreciate it. thanks! :)


Merely Meredith June 18, 2010 at 12:48 pm

How cool! I’m *obviously* 6 WHOLE months late but at least I’ll get to wow a bunch of people *this* Christmas! Thanks for sharing…I’ve been on ALL day! lol!

-Merely Meredith


Sarah K August 1, 2010 at 10:25 pm

I’m a new reader so late to this post but I just love it, I had no idea it was even possible to make shapes! And just a side note, as soon as I saw the first picture I was like “hey! that was a PW holiday bokeh finalist” LOL!


Diana August 8, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Hi! Thanks for the step-by-step. I goofed it up though, because of the tape, it was hard to tape from the inside! And also, i’ve realized that i need a 50mm lens. I have two: 35-80mm and 18-55mm. They are both Canon, but not quite right, so now, i have a true reason to buy a new one. This is really cool. I used a shape puncher of a musical note. “}


Raymond October 21, 2010 at 6:41 am

take a look at the bokeh I’d did earlier on.Kind of failed but anyway, I got the heart-shaped bokeh!


Lisa Carson October 22, 2010 at 5:21 pm

That is such a cute idea! I have a canon T1i and the 18-55 and 55-250 lens would the 18-55 work? How did you get your dog in there too without it looking like he was in a heart?
I’m loving your blog, just ran acrossed it.


Aliy November 28, 2010 at 2:02 pm


Any lens and focal length will work. If it doesn’t work at first try increasing the distance between your subject and the lights.

I don’t know have amanda did it, but I presume she cropped the photo so it was no longer heart shaped.

Amanda November 28, 2010 at 2:10 pm

The original photo is not heart-shaped. Only the lights are affected. Try it, you’ll see! :)

Eli November 3, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Hi Amanda,
Thanks for sharing, we would LOVE to see more photo tutorials!!!


Tavia November 14, 2010 at 8:57 am

Ohhh Love, Thank you!!


Aliy November 28, 2010 at 2:08 pm

“”I found that if I got that close, then scooted back just enough so that the lens would focus, the lights looked better. I have no idea why that is- I just preferred the ones that I took like that! :)””

Distance away from your subject is also a big factor in creating great depth of field in your images. Regardless of the aperture the closer you are to the subject the more depth of field will be created. Moving the dog farther away from the Tree would also help increase the depth of field and the creaminess of the lights.

Awesome tutorial. I never thought to do this myself, I could have saved hundreds in equipment! lol


Carol Ross November 30, 2010 at 12:55 pm

This idea is very unique. Looks so cute with your dog.


Curly Heir December 1, 2010 at 4:17 am

Anxious to try this out tomorrow! My CHRISTmas tree lights go up tomorrow! And yes… how did you get the dog to stay so still? I am going to attempt my dog and 3 children! Loving the site!!!


Kori December 1, 2010 at 9:02 am

Yay! I’m so trying this!!


Crystal Porter December 3, 2010 at 8:51 am

I love this tutorial. I’m using a Sony Cybershot 14.1 megapixel camera. I had taken this picture last week, before I found your tutorial.
I look forward to trying to put a subject in front and see what I come up with.


Angelica Norris December 3, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Hey Amanda, I also have the Canon 85mm 1.8 lens that you have, and I was curious if you lens ever got an UNINTENTIONAL blurry look to it? The lens was great and sharp when I first got it, and of course blurry in the background since it is a Macro lens, but here lately when I edit my photos, it seems that I really have to sharpen them (lots!) Any suggestions or thoughts?


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