Rocky Mountain School of Photography » Inspiration Mon, 27 Jul 2015 20:09:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Second Season of Shooting Dragonflies in Natural Light: Three New Lessons Learned – Guest Article by Steve Russell Mon, 20 Jul 2015 22:04:48 +0000 8H7A5680Dragonflies have survived since prehistoric times with their extraordinary hunting prowess and prolific procreation (I highly recommend the excellent You Tube video, “Sky Hunters,” to drive home just how remarkable they are). But as a macro photographer I am drawn to them because of their vast array of colors, their always-surprising behaviors, and the fact that with their size they can fill the frame of a telephoto lens shot relatively close. It is the peak of my second full season of shooting dragonflies and the opportunities for variety still seem endless.

There are three upgrades I’ve made this year that have upped my game:

  1. I am using Canon’s 100-400mm II lens this season as opposed to using my very capable 70-200mm last year. My new lens has increased my range and number of opportunities, which means that I can shoot from further away (or shoot as close as 30”) and I don’t scar off nearly as many dragonflies getting ready for the shot.
  2. I routinely add on a 20mm extension tube to my lens to magnify the subjects even more. The trade-off is that the lens will not focus on subjects in the far-off distance like flying birds, but it will still reach halfway across a decent-sized pond and in the macro world that’s plenty.8H7A8184
  3. Shooting with a relatively heavy telephoto lens from further away makes holding it steady that much more important, but there is rarely enough time to use a tripod. I had been using a collapsible hiking pole to brace my lens against, which served me well, but I found something better! A Sirui aluminum monopod (manufacturer’s #BSRP2045) with feet that fold out, a pole that expands from 27” to 63,” and a base that allows the pole to flex in any direction (or not). It’ll hold up to 17 lbs. but don’t count on it for landscape photography. At 2.9 lbs. it’s light enough to lug around and the base can be separated from the pole (and also easily converted into a mini-tripod). Manfrotto makes a similar product and there are others, but the research I did pointed toward the Sirui for its build quality, flexibility and price (~$160) and I haven’t been disappointed.


R22A4927With these three improvements my opportunities for shots have increased and the overall quality of images I can get has improved. I still pull out my 90mm macro lens once in a while (mostly for the smaller damselflies or some fearless dragonflies), but the bulk of the opportunities is further away. It’s been a bumper crop for images this season and many of these simply would not have been possible without the upgrades, which reminds me that one of the things I like most about photography is that there is always something new to learn.

Steve Russell


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Peter Read Miller Returning to RMSP Wed, 03 Jun 2015 17:28:16 +0000 MillerPeterRead_PRMHeadshotWhat’s it like to have spent your entire career not just working as a photographer, but a sports photographer who has covered almost four decades of Super Bowls, NBA Finals, college playoff games, the Stanley Cup, several Olympic Games and countless World Series’?

Find out for yourself on June 24, 2015 when career sports photographer Peter Read Miller returns to Missoula to provide a lecture and image presentation from his many decades of witnessing some of the most monumental moments in sporting history unfold through his lens.

Peter’s lecture is sponsored by Rocky Mountain School of Photography and Canon USA, and is free and open to the public.


Peter Read Miller
June 24, 2015
7:00 – 9:30 p.m.
In the Music Recital Hall in the Music Building on the U of M campus. (click for map)

© Peter Read Miller © Peter Read Miller © Peter Read Miller © Peter Read Miller ]]> 0
From Birds to Bugs – Guest Article by Steve Russell Tue, 19 May 2015 19:01:44 +0000 8H7A1794Spring has sprung and as the weather transitions to warmer and sunnier, I am transitioning from photographing birds to shooting mostly bugs. It’s not all or nothing – there are still birds to shoot, mostly babies – but there are way, WAY more bugs than birds out there now that the sun has come out.

In the past month the baby great blue herons, Canada geese and mallard ducks showed themselves in local parks. But the bugs are slowly taking center stage for me: the butterfly that landed peacefully on the top of my knob-less hiking pole/monopod after I’d unsuccessfully chased it for 15 minutes; the alien-looking, five-eyed, orange, wasp-like bug; the brown-eyed, bug-eyed damselfly watching me from behind a blade of grass; a feather-headed mosquito; a foraging ant; a tiny inchworm on the fence I’m building; a jumping spider in my garden; a pile of dozens of baby spiders; my first dragonfly and mating damselflies of the year, and more. Subjects galore. New, interesting and unique every single year.

R22A3901Equipment-wise my primary macro setup includes the Canon 5D III, Tamron 90mm VC lens, Canon twin flash, and my handy hiking pole/monopod that I use more as a stick to brace the camera better. For birds and larger bugs I’m using the 7D II, 100-400mm II, and a tripod or the hiking pole sometimes. I can pack one setup or the other on my bike ride to the park but I can shoot either dragonflies or birds with the 100-400 setup when I get there.

Another year of transition and new life and the opportunities once again seem endless. It’s a great time of year to be nature photographer.

Steve Russell
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Colin Ruggiero Wins Audience Award Mon, 04 May 2015 23:01:48 +0000 We are pleased beyond belief to share some cool news today. Colin Ruggiero, who teaches in the Advanced Intensive course in our Career Training program, recently won the Audience Awards’ Real Montana competition. His winning video, simply titled Montana, is a one-minute long timelapse showcase of some of the beauty and “epicness” of the state we call home. Along with the bragging rights that go along with winning a competition like this, Colin also will get a cool $10,000 for taking top honors … in addition to $2,500 for for being a finalist. We are on cloud 9 with happiness for Colin. Of course, this means he is probably on cloud 99!!

Click the image to be able to check out Colin’s winning video. To read the related article that ran in the Missoulian, click here.


Congratulations Colin!


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10 Places to Photograph in Birmingham, AL This Weekend Tue, 28 Apr 2015 18:02:17 +0000 LewisWendy_PullingPetalsRMSP will be in Birmingham on May 9th and 10th as part of our 2015 Photo Weekend Events program.

After a day or two spent learning how to improve your photography skills, there’s nothing more exciting than heading out to put those skills to the test. We thought it would be a fun idea to do a little e-scouting from Montana and give a few suggestions of places to photograph once classes are over.

To scout from Missoula, we used Google Maps and Panoramio to see what other people had photographed in the area. And don’t forget that you can make any location feel completely new by going at night!

  1. Railroad Park: This is a 19-acre park in downtown Birmingham.  A great place to stretch your legs after a day of classes and get great sunset and skyline photos of the city.
  2. Downtown Birmingham: Take your camera to downtown Birmingham and tour the city’s oldest churches or walk through the historic Civil Rights District.
  3. Birmingham Zoo: If you’re interested in shooting wildlife, try starting at the zoo. The Birmingham Zoo has 200 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians including many endangered species from six continents.
  4. Birmingham Botanical Gardens: If interested in macro photography, this is a great place to practice. There are 25 unique gardens, 30 sculptures and several miles of walking paths.
  5. Alabama Theater: I wasn’t able to find any information about shooting inside the theater, but even the outside of the theater looks like a fun place to shoot at night when the lights for the sign are on.
  6. Sloss Furnaces: This is a National Historic Landmark. It operated as a pig-iron blast furnace from 1882-1971 and is the only blast furnace site in the U.S. to be restored for public use.
  7. Red Mountain Park: This looks like a popular location for portrait photography. There are 10 miles of walking trails, old mines, a zipline and a treehouse in the 1,300 acre park.
  8. Tip Top Grill: A great place to have a burger and shoot the sunset while you wait for your food. Make sure you go on a nice night because the restaurant has only outdoor seating.
  9. Rufner Mountain Nature Preserve: This area was once iron ore mines and stone quarries that supplied the local steel mills. When the mines stopped producing in the 1950s, nature reclaimed the area. Now this is one of America’s largest urban nature preserves at around 1,000 acres with 12 miles of hiking trails throughout.
  10. Peavine Falls: This is a 60-foot waterfall accessed by numerous hiking trails. People describe hiking from the top of the falls to the pool below as “bushwacking,” so wear protective clothing.




If you photograph in Birmingham this weekend,
show us your favorites by posting them on our Facebook page!


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Taking The Magic Out of Moments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 15:00:52 +0000 I’ve always been drawn to photographs that capture moments. When I was first starting out I assumed that creating those photographs consisted either of luck or a high degree of skill. While there might be a tiny amount of luck involved and skill is always nice to have, I think that capturing moments is more about following a simple formula. Whether the moments are dynamic or quiet, understanding and practicing a few simple steps can be the difference between missing the moment and capturing it.

Before I walk through the steps I use I want to show two simple images. I’ll use these to demonstrate the outcome of the thought process that I go through when capturing moments.



Ultimately, repeatable success boils down to preparation. Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind,” which I think really hits the mark. If you want to be “lucky” in the moment you’ve got to have all the other variables figured out first. There’s a lot involved, but with practice these things become second nature.

So here is the process that I go through when chasing moments. I like to think of it as building a scene in a play or a movie. You’ve got a stage, you’ve got characters and you’ve got lighting.

First….find the stage. Like any other type of photography I like to find a situation that interests me but in this case it’s generally more of a circumstance I’m after rather than a singular subject. It may be an interesting environment into which a person might enter or in which there is activity present. I’ll use this environment as the stage on which I will start placing players. I’ll watch the way people move through or interact with the environment and will then try to figure out how best to combine moment and environment.

Second…set the stage.   I’ll define what part of the environment I should include in my photo. If people are moving through the space I’ll ask myself where exactly I’d like them to be when I fire the shutter. If their movement is more or less confined to specific areas within the scene I will ask myself what specific moment works best to tell the story or create the energy that I’m after.


I chose the scene because of the way the lines on the right and convergence of the alley on the left moved you into the background. I love the color of manmade lights at night. I was attracted to the way the scene was darker in the foreground and lighter near the back of the scene.

Third…frame the scene. I’ll choose my lens and pick my camera position based on where the players will be and how much of the scene I want to include. Camera position can bring out the character in the environment or highlight subjects within. Really think about the energy and the emphasis of your photo.

Here are some examples I may ask myself:

  • Is environment primary or secondary?
  • How important is scale?
  • Where is the light and how will that influence the composition?
  • What type of energy do I want in the shot?
  • How will camera placement affect the feel of the shot?
  • How will camera position and focal length emphasize important subjects and de-emphasize (or eliminate) others?



Choosing a wide-angle lens and placing it as close to the wall as possible makes the lines on the right really stand out. The lower camera position emphasizes the wide horizontal band in the middle of the door and will make the subject bigger in the frame once he/she moves into the right position.

Fourth…adjust the lights. Now it’s time to get your camera settings figured out. Think about the following:

  • How much depth of field do you need?
  • How important is shutter speed?
  • Do you want blurred or frozen motion?


I’ll set my aperture first, then get my exposure dialed in and take a test shot. If everything looks good, then I’ve prepared everything that I possibly can and then I just wait for the one thing that I can’t control.


This is ultimately where I want the subject when I fire the shutter. He is larger in the frame and has moved just past the light and becomes a silhouette. I want my subject in silhouette because I want there to be a human element but I don’t want the person to be recognizable. Recognizability would make the photo about that specific person and not about humanity in general.


RizzutoTony__DSC1368The stage is set, the technical has been resolved and the character has appeared. One test shot to make sure everything looks good and then wait for the moment.

Fifth…ACTION! Behavior is pretty predictable. Once you’ve watched the way people move through a scene you can pretty much guarantee that others will do the same thing in a similar way. Sure there will always be something unexpected that happens if you wait long enough but if you’ve got all the other variables taken care of you can react to whatever comes your way. At this point you’ve got all the technical squared away, you know what moment you’re waiting for, now it’s time to be ready and fire that shutter.





Want to learn more from Tony?
Click here to see a list of courses he
is teaching in 2015

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10 Places to Photograph in Billings, MT this Weekend Thu, 23 Apr 2015 16:54:50 +0000 RaymondJulia_horses_01RMSP will be in Billings on April 25th and 26th as part of our 2015 Photo Weekend Events program.

After a day or two spent learning how to improve your photography skills, there’s nothing more exciting than heading out to put those skills to the test. Unfortunately I know very little about this state that I live in so I had to rely on Google Maps and Panoramio to see what other people had photographed in the area.

Don’t forget that you can make any location feel completely different by going at night!

Do you know of great places to photograph in Billings that we didn’t mention? We’d love to hear from you. Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.

  1. Riverfront Park: This park is just a mile away from the hotel. If you need to stretch your legs after classes are over take a walk through the winding trails in between Josephine Lake and the Yellowstone River and try to catch the sunset.
  2. Rimrocks: Also known as “The Rims”, this area is a great place to view Billings from above for skyline views and sunset photographs.
  3. St. Patrick’s Co-Cathedral: This church was built in the Gothic Revival style in 1904. A great place to shoot architecture inside and out.
  4. DanWalt Gardens: If you are interested in macro photography you can find thousands of annuals and a rose garden here.
  5. ZooMontana: Visit the only zoo and botanical park in Montana.  You can see over 100 animals here divided into two main regions.  The Asia Region where you can see a Siberian tiger, sika deer and a red panda and the North American Region where  you can find the gray wolf, river otter, beaver, grizzly bear and more.
  6. Moss Mansion: Look into the past with a tour of the Moss Mansion. This house was designed by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh who also designed the first Waldorf-Astoria. It still has the original draperies, fixtures, and furniture from when the Moss family lived there.
  7. Pictograph Caves: Five miles south of Billings, these three caves are part of Pictograph Cave State Park. If you are interested in Native American history, the main cave is the largest of the three caves with pictographs thought to be 200-2,100 years old.
  8. Pompeys Pillar: 30 miles from Billings you can visit this rock formation that stands 150 above the Yellowstone River. There are Native American petroglyphs to see as well as the signature of William Clark from when he passed through in 1806. He named the rock formation Pompy’s Tower after Sacagawea’s son who he nicknamed Pompy. The name was changed to Pompeys Pillar in 1814.
  9. Pioneer Park: Another great place to stretch your legs after a day of classes. A beautiful park with lots of trees, hills and a stream.
  10. Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary: This is a great place to get up-close to some of Montana’s wildlife. The animals here are unable to survive in the wild. The sanctuary is dedicated to educating people about wildlife and the role they play in the ecosystem.





If you photograph in Billings this weekend,
show us your favorites by posting them on our Facebook page!


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Want to Win a 2015 RMSP Workshop? Mon, 20 Apr 2015 21:11:38 +0000 Of course you do! That’s why you’re reading this!

We are proud to have teamed up with the fine folks at PDN to sponsor their latest Great Outdoors Photo Contest. The deadline is April 29 – which is coming right up – so now is the time to get your soon-to-be-winning image submitted. If your photo is selected as the grand prize winner, you could walk away with some cold hard cash, a Tamron lens, any 2015 RMSP Workshop (tuition only; based on availability) a pass to the Telluride Photo Festival and a $500 Adorama gift card.

Whether a professional or amateur, you are encouraged to submit your landscape, wildlife and adventure work by the 29th for a chance to win. There will be 2 grand prize packages along with prizes for 6 first-place finishers. This is a great way to get your work in front of some pretty esteemed judges including Elizabeth Krist from National Geographic, Jon-Paul Harrison from Tandem Stills + Motion and Justin Appenzeller from Outdoor Life.

Click the image below to learn more and to submit your image! And …. good luck!


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Spirit of the Honu Mon, 20 Apr 2015 15:00:28 +0000 Life lessons are not new. In fact, they’ve been around as long as mankind. You know the type of lesson I’m talking about. That occasional jolt of wisdom that strikes like a lightening bolt causing instant and supreme understanding of your own foibles, misunderstandings and shortcomings. When we’re really lucky, along with the understanding we get the insight on how to fix these quirks and characteristics.

That’s what happened to me recently while out on a photo shoot. Instant understanding of a familiar foible and the means to fix it. It happened, as I’m sure a great many lessons are learned, by watching wildlife. Don’t get me wrong, now. I’m not a wildlife photographer. I usually try to find subject matter that doesn’t move. Trees. Rocks. Buildings. I do, however, make exceptions for clouds. Their movements are at least somewhat predictable. This evasion of restless subjects stems from, I suppose, my lack of control over what they’ll do next. By the way- not the lesson I learned last week, just a natural aversion.

The wildlife I was watching was a sea turtle. Honu, as they are called in Hawaii. This particular turtle was trying to dine on some aquatic vegetation growing on an outcrop of shoreline lava. The problem for the turtle was location. He was floating in the ocean while dinner was affixed to the slippery outcrop. He would float forward, grab a bite of the green, and before his next nibble, the tide would pull him away. Try as he would, he couldn’t find any purchase on the outcrop. It was simply too slippery. It was almost painful to watch the attempts. The large flippers maneuvering to find some traction, the inevitable next wave pulling him back into the ocean. As I watched, I grew indignant with the injustice of slippery flippers in need of some serious grip. I wanted this turtle to catch a foothold and enjoy an uninterrupted meal! If I was that turtle I would have been cursing; cursing the ocean and wildly slapping my flippers to let everyone know I wasn’t getting my way.

The turtle however, didn’t seem to mind. He managed a bite or two, then acquiesced to the inevitable next wave. One would pull him back, the next would push him forward. Sure he would try to get a grip, but he was far more intent on grabbing a quick bite. He knew the next wave would bring him back.

That’s when the lightning struck. There will always be another wave! This turtle was simply accepting the inevitable and exercising patience. Brilliant. Simple but brilliant. Accept what you are given, and have the patience to succeed. I too often fail to exercise the patience necessary to capture the more mercurial subjects- people, wildlife, insects, etc. I tend to go for the scenes where I can predict the outcome. Not any more, I thought. I am going to channel the spirit of the Honu.

The very next day it paid off. I was photographing in a botanical garden in search of exotic island flora. Predictable, unmoving flowers, plants and trees. That’s when I saw the Gecko. The epitome of cute. Fast as hell and more than a bit shy. I’ve seen some of these shots before. The silhouette of the gecko on a backlit banana or heliconia leaf. I definitely wanted one. It was much harder than I thought. The gecko kept moving and I was unable to capture exactly what I wanted. Before long, the gecko moved on and I was about to do the same, when I remembered the Honu. Patience, perseverance, relax, there’ll be another wave.

What hurry was I in? I was there simply to capture the beauty of the gardens. Typically, I would search for a more amenable subject. One that wouldn’t stretch my patience. One where my likelihood of success was much, much, higher.

But that day I remembered the turtle. I remembered the old adage “all good things come to those who wait.” For the next several hours I practiced patience as I searched for and photographed a dozen different gecko. Most of my photos are unusable but the experience is unforgettable. It was great to watch the behavior of this creature while soaking in the aura of the gardens. In the end, my patience paid off. While I didn’t end up with as many flower photographs as I expected, I did end up with one fun shot of Gecko, a lesson learned, and the memory of a great day.





Want to channel your inner Honu with Tim Cooper?

Click here to see his 2015 course offerings.



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Printing On Acrylic Is A Gorgeous Way To Present Your Images: Here’s A Great Resource! Wed, 15 Apr 2015 20:52:24 +0000 We have so many options for ways to present our photographs to the world. Many of us share our images via the web (email, social media sites, personal websites). Sometimes, though, we forget how wonderful it is to see our images printed and hung on the walls of our home or in homes of people we care about or for many of us in galleries and other alternative exhibition venues.

One of my favorite subjects to teach in our Career Training Program is Presentation. Having worked as a professional picture framer for a number of years as well as having had my fair share of exhibits, I am passionate about how our images ‘live’ in the world. In my class, I share with our students every option that I can think of to help get their juices going. Some of us are do it yourself craftsmen and some of us are loving the myriad of options for outsourcing the full printing and framing process. And labs are becoming more and more innovative all the time.

Two framing/printing processes that I am not equipped to do myself but am thoroughly enamored with are acrylic and metal prints. I have always loved flush mounted framing, but have had a few unfortunate accidents with bent corners with the most common form of mounting images to gator board or wood. Framing images behind acrylic is a bit more safe and what I REALLY love is the extra sense of depth the image has sitting behind a ¼” of plastic. The presentation style is clean, sexy, and modern and truly when I come across an acrylic print all I want to do is touch it! I wanted to give it a try but none of my current outsourcing labs offered this option.

Then I met Mark Alper, the owner of Big Acrylic. First of all, he has amazing customer service. He is extremely personable and is sincere when he says that he wants to make sure that you are 100% happy with his work. Big Acrylic treated me with special care and are very quick at responding to questions and their shipping is fast as well. I think it took a total of 6 business days for my piece to arrive. Their prices are very affordable (a 16×24 with 1/8” thick acrylic panel is $116. I highly recommend paying the extra $36 for ¼” thick acrylic…I chose it and it’s gorgeous!!!) The online ordering process is easy to follow. And for me, the color matching was perfect. Mark works a great deal with professional artists and is invested in helping to bring our art to life through the craftsmanship of his team. I chose to frame this image by RMSP alumni and fabulous artist, Heather Gill.


I chose it for two reasons. First I wanted to see how such a historically inspired image would look with a modern presentation method. Second, I also noticed how much black there was in the image and wanted to see how well that would come out mounted to acrylic. It came out perfectly! I have many prints on my wall, but this is the image that everyone notices when they come into my office. The modern presentation method adds rich dimension to the work as well. The fruit comes to life behind the acrylic!

Give yourselves a Welcome to Spring gift of printing one of your favorite images on acrylic. Mark is giving all of our RMSP students a 15% discount. Use the following code: mywork when you are ready to try it. But be ready to get caught by the acrylic printing bug. I know I am. And while you are at it, you might want to try his prints on metal, canvas and wood as well.

**And a special THANK YOU to the fabulous Heather Gill for providing the image for me to experiment with. It inspires me every day! And dang, I’m already putting together another order for Big Acrylic!

p.s. Lots of care went into the shipping. The framed piece is absolutely flawless!



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10 Places to Photograph in Baltimore this Weekend Mon, 13 Apr 2015 21:34:42 +0000 _DSC7003_4-EditRMSP will be in Baltimore on April 18th and 19th as part of our 2015 Photo Weekend Events program.

After a day or two spent learning how to improve your photography skills, there’s nothing more exciting than heading out to put those skills to the test. We thought it would be a fun idea to do a little e-scouting from Montana and give a few suggestions of places to photograph once classes are over.

To scout from Missoula, we used Google Maps and Panoramio to see what other people had photographed in the area. And don’t forget that you can make any location feel completely new by going at night!

Do you know of great places to photograph in Baltimore that we didn’t mention? We’d love to hear from you. Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.

  1. Loch Raven Reservoir:  Located just five miles away from Towson, Loch Raven Reservoir offers hiking trails, frisbee golf and boating. There are three bridges on the lake that provide great subject matter for photographs. This area is also known for its UFO sightings so keep your camera handy just in case.
  2. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor: The inner harbor is a more touristy area of Baltimore. Enjoy the pubs, restaurants and shops right on the water. If you don’t find what you’re looking for here take a water taxi to Fell’s Point for a different perspective and skyline views of Baltimore. Another option in the area is The Gathering – a traveling food truck festival held in various places around Baltimore. If you happen to be in the area April 24th and need a break from seafood, one of these will be held at Power Plant Live!, just a block from the Inner Harbor.
  3. Druid Hill Park: This 745 acre urban park is one of the oldest landscaped public parks in the United States. At the southern end of the park you will find Druid Hill Lake and if you make it before April ends you might just get to see the Japanese Flowering Cherry trees in bloom.
  4. The Maryland Zoo: If you’re interested in shooting wildlife try starting at the zoo. Zoos always provide great opportunities to safely photograph wildlife that you won’t encounter here at home.
  5. HP Rawlings Conservatory & Botanical Gardens: If you enjoy macro photography, this is a beautiful place to photograph inside and out. There are five greenhouse rooms that include the Palm House, Orchid Room, Mediterranean House, Tropical House and Desert House and a half acre outdoor garden.
  6. Patterson Park Pagoda: This is a pagoda-like structure with three observation decks. It’s known for having some of the best views of the Baltimore skyline.
  7. Ladew Topiary Gardens: Enjoy a 1.5 mile nature walk through the estate or visit the 15 different gardens, each dedicated to a color, plant or theme. You can also take a tour of the manor house and have lunch in the Ladew Cafe.
  8. Baltimore National Aquarium: Aquariums are a great place to practice exposure. With the low light and over 750 species of moving subjects you can’t help but get a lot of practice with f-stops and shutter speed. Exhibits include the Upland Tropical Rain Forest, multiple-story Atlanta Coral Reef, open shark tank, Australia: Wild Extremes as well as temporary exhibits. They also stay open late on Fridays so that you can view the aquarium after dark.
  9. Kilgore Falls: Located five miles north of Rocks State Park, Kilgore Falls is the second highest waterfall in Maryland.
  10. Assateague Island: If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see the wild horses that this island is known for. There is a herd of 160 wild horses residing on the 40,000 acres that make up the Assateague Island National Seashore.



If you photograph in Baltimore this weekend,
show us your favorites by posting them on our Facebook page!

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RMSP Graduate Profile: Ben Reed Mon, 06 Apr 2015 19:47:26 +0000

This is a post by contributing author and RMSP Career Training graduate Charlie Bulla

It’s always exciting to chat and visit with RMSP folks, whether that means staff, instructors, your classmates or other alum. So, does that make hanging out with multiple RMSP’ers in Hawaii extra special? It sure did for me!

The RMSP family is strong, and part of that family made my amazing trip to the islands possible. It all began with an invite from graduate and former teaching assistant of the Career Training Program, Ben Reed and his girlfriend and my fellow classmate Robin, who are now living on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii. I was also blown away with the amazing hospitality of another fellow classmate, Jen and her husband Aaron who made an incredible visit to Maui possible for me. Many thanks to all of them for making an amazing trip extra special and for sharing the Aloha spirit!

While visiting with Ben and Robin, just out their front door, I would take daily walks along the beaches of famous surf breaks. Beaches such as Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach and Pipeline. As a young kid learning to surf in North Carolina, I was always stoked to pick up magazines and dream of being right there. Now, I was there! And, I quickly realized that I was witnessing a good friend follow a dream and doing so by taking risk, utilizing an education, maximizing relationships and remaining passionate about the future. This made me think about how Ben’s story and his path could be shared with others who have an adventurous and creative path.

Ben was kind enough to spend some time with me chatting about his photographic path, his decisions, his bag of gear, and the idea of motion from an RMSP graduate’s perspective. Here is the conversation I had with Ben during my incredible trip to Hawaii:


CB: So Ben, how long has photography been a part of your life and how did it all start for you?

My story is both similar and very different from most attendees of RMSP. The road to RMSP was a bit rocky. I had attended college, graduated, and was working in the so-called “real world” selling rebar. I’ve always had the desire to create, but I felt like I was wasting away and not creating anything. Then, several unfortunate events took the lives of half a dozen friends within a two-week period. It was a wake-up call and I needed to make a change. Thus began a year-long self evaluation of what I wanted out of life. I had taken several surf trips to Nicaragua and Costa Rica and having experienced different cultures, I knew I wanted to travel more than anything. I knew there is a lot more to this world than what I was currently experiencing.


I looked into options, which included grad school, marine biology, Coast Guard and the Peace Corps. I was open to just about anything, but nothing really felt right. Photography never played a large part in my life. I didn’t have the experience of having a father or mother handing down their camera when I was a youngster and I’d never really had a desire to pick up a camera. A photographic career was not on my mind. It really boils down to one fateful night. It hit me, suddenly and abruptly. While reading my monthly issue of Surfing Magazine, I thought,

“Someone has to be taking these pictures.
If someone else is doing it, there’s no reason why I can’t be.”

Within a month, I was signed up for Career Training at RMSP. Within three months I was there. I’m pretty sure it was a shock to my parents when I informed them of my plans!

Photography truly started for me on the second day of the 2010 Summer Intensive program at RMSP. That was the first time I’d picked up a camera with true intent. People seem to be pretty baffled when I tell them this. I knew nothing. I’d never even heard of aperture, shutter speed or ISO. I didn’t know the difference between a full-frame and crop sensor. I look back now and laugh at how little I actually knew. I bought my camera five days before attending RMSP. The first pictures I took were with my mother on our cross-country drive to Montana. They were complete crap!


CB: How did you first hear about RMSP and what was your process like in deciding to attend a photography school in Montana? Quite a difference from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, right?

Reed_Ben_Reed_03525You know, I almost missed out on RMSP altogether. Seriously, it was super close to not happening. I had several criteria for what I wanted out of a photography program. I knew I wanted a program that’s focus was solely photography. I didn’t want to go back to a college and have to spend four more years in school. Nor did I have the desire to be in a class that didn’t pertain to photography skills. I was determined and focused on photography and photography only. I was looking at schools from Maine to California. Ultimately, I decided I wanted to go west of the Mississippi, to experience a part of the country I hadn’t spent much time in.

Originally, the winner was The Brooks Institute in California. I had reservations about Brooks though. With Brooks, you took classes three times a week. To me I didn’t feel like that was enough. I wanted to immerse myself in photography, and to me that wasn’t immersion. But, at the time, it was the only real option that I could find. Then, a friend of a friend, Perri Shelat told me about her experience and RMSP. She told me to give them a call before I fully committed to The Brooks Institute. What she didn’t know was that I was already a registered student at The Brooks Institute. Perri had so many good things to say about RMSP. She promised it would change my life. To me that’s a pretty strong statement. I felt like it was deserving of at least a call.

After doing a little research on RMSP and looking at the website, I realized that it offered the same content I was looking for as Brooks, and RMSP solved all my issues I had with Brooks. So, I figured, what the hell, I should give them a call. Within minutes of talking to Bob McGowan, I knew RMSP was where I was going. There wasn’t a school that could compare to the friendliness and knowledge that I received from Bob. I remember it like it was yesterday. After that phone call, I knew I was going to RMSP and I had a gut feeling, it was going to be something special.


CB: After finishing up as a student of RMSP, you returned to become a teaching assistant. Can you share a bit on your experience as an assistant and how it’s helped with your path?

Reed_Ben_Reed_04727-EditHaha, yes, that’s correct. As a student, I actually told my peers and instructors in my final presentation that I was coming back as a teaching assistant the following year. It got quite a few laughs. At that time, it was wishful thinking and more of a joke. However, before I left Missoula, I made sure I went to visit with every faculty member at RMSP and let them know that if there was any chance of coming back as an assistant that I really wanted the opportunity. For me, it really felt like the next step in achieving my goals. It was a long shot. I lobbied the hell out of myself for that spot!

Becoming an assistant helped me in so many different ways. It’s almost like attending RMSP for two more years, but better in some ways. I met so many wonderful people and some of my best friends while assisting. I take yearly trips with Jimmy White and Dan Doran, both RMSP graduates and fellow assistants. I still do a lot of work with fellow assistants, and assisting at RMSP is 100% the reason I am where I am today.

I knew my stuff coming into the assistant position, but I still questioned my abilities. It helped solidify everything I learned as a student. I was receiving the information again and this time I had a foundation to build on. Coming back as an assistant really made me believe that I knew more than what I gave myself credit for. It was a huge building block and confidence builder.

It also allowed me to build relationships with individuals in the photo industry outside of RMSP. This was absolutely vital to my success. Connections are everything in this world. I asked the pros as many questions as possible. I made it my mission to find out how the pros became successful. Every pro told me that they shared their goals with others. It’s so important to openly share what you want out of life and your career. It’s all about how your connections can help you achieve your goal. You can’t expect others to help you in your journey if others don’t know what you’re after. That sounds a bit self-centered and selfish, but it’s true. I ease my conscience by trying to help others as much as possible. Looking at it this way really helps me to justify asking others for help. It’s full circle and you have to keep it turning. I really do owe my surf photography career to assisting at RMSP. I was assisting RMSP graduate, Mike Tittel during the Adventure Photography Pro Studies course when he asked me what I wanted to do after I left RMSP. Little did I know, his question and my answer would change my life. I was open with Mike about wanting to be a surf photographer. He introduced me to his good friend Michael Clark who was teaching a surf photography workshop with Brian Bielmann. Michael told me I needed to attend this workshop and that it could possibly lead to a job working with Brian.

It was the break I needed!


CB: Now you’re living on the north shore of Oahu! Can you share a bit about your decision on moving to Hawaii and your relationship with Brian and the doors that are opening because of your move?

You know, things came so close to not working out that it’s not even funny. I met Brian through the surf photography workshop he and Michael Clark held in February 2013. We hit it off the first day during introductions, when we realized we grew up in the same geographic location. After that, I drifted a bit from the group and Brian. I really had the desire to create images that were a little bit different from the rest of the group. At one point during the workshop, I remember Michael Clark encouraging me to spend more time getting to know Brian. I wasn’t spending enough time building that relationship. It wasn’t until the last night of the workshop that I actually went up to Brian and asked if I could work for him. I remember him chuckling and saying “Sure, why not?” We had a brief conversation about me moving out to Hawaii in October of 2013. That was the extent of the conversation. That was it. I started looking for rentals on the North Shore later that summer. It quickly became apparent that it was ridiculously expensive and there were very few places to rent. I had reached out to Brian multiple times and hadn’t received a response. A couple months went by and still no response. I was getting a bit worried. The winter season was approaching fast and I hadn’t found a place to live or even knew if Brian was serious about me working for him. I had to make a decision soon.

Brian Bielmann is considered one of the greatest surf photographers of all time. At the time he was senior staff photographer for Transworld Surf Magazine and was a staff photographer for Volcom. The surf industry is all about who you know and it can make you or break you. This guy knows everybody. He’s been a surf photographer for 40 years. Very few surf photographers, if any, can claim that. So, I knew I had to go.

Without any response from Brian, I signed a 6-month lease on the North Shore. Within hours of signing that lease and faxing it to the landlord, Transworld Surf announced they were closing their doors effective immediately.

Panic set in.

How am I going to survive in Hawaii if Brian doesn’t have a job and there’s nothing for me do? I remember thinking at that point that it was over and Hawaii wasn’t going to happen. That afternoon I sent Brian an urgent message asking what to do. He finally responded with a short but deliberate note, “Need you now more than ever.” I still had my doubts, but I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass. I’m glad I decided to go. It’s been one of the best decisions of my life. Brian is one of the most humble and kind human beings out there. Not only has he been a great mentor but he’s become a great friend. I feel incredibly honored and lucky to be in the position I find myself in.

As for doors being opened, I credit a lot of my success to Brian. He has relentlessly advocated for me and my work. Since moving to Hawaii, I’ve worked with him on most of his jobs and on many occasions he’s split his check down the middle with me. What photographer does that? It’s amazing. Jobs that he hasn’t been able to do for various reasons, he’s made sure I got them. I think he advocates more for me than he does himself. As a budding photographer it’s essential to have someone like Brian. I’ve gained so much so quickly because of him. It’s unbelievable. I’ve accomplished a lot in under two years because of my connection with him. I’m eternally thankful for all the opportunity he’s given me. It wasn’t that long ago, I would’ve never been able to imagine my life the way it is now. There was little back then I was excited about and I never imagined I’d be living on the North Shore of Oahu. We recently attended a private Volcom party and I was pinching myself. I was always a Volcom fan. As a kid, I worked in a surf shop and I’d always try to push their clothing on unsuspecting mothers. I never imagined years later I would be invited to a small private function attended by all the top guys at Volcom. It was an honor and I think that’s when it started to sink in. I’m actually making this whole thing happen!


CB: It’s pretty obvious hanging around you nowadays that your focus has switched to motion. What’s the mindset you have for your motion work and have there been certain factors that led you to video?

Reed_Ben_Reed_09095I think for me, one of the important things in life is being able to recognize opportunity when it arises and being able to make adjustments to take advantage of those opportunities. It sounds like such an easy concept, but I think most people struggle with this. Not being afraid to change is essential. Producing photographic work with Brian is an unbelievable experience and in the long run I’d eventually have to break away and focus on my own work.

We travel together and it’s really not a great business model to have two photographers shooting the same subject at the same time. We work so well together that I felt it would be advantageous for both of us to figure out a way to continue the relationship. There had to be an option that would allow me to continue working with Brian and still be successful in the surf industry. Shortly after coming to this realization, I was slapped in the face with an opportunity. It was one of those situations of being in the right place at the right time.

Brian and I were shooting stills for a film John John Florence was working on. Hurley had hired a production company from outside the surf industry to produce the film. There were some issues with the production; the hired company didn’t understand surfing, and it hit me that there was a need for a high-end production company that understands surfing. There are definitely other cinematographers out there doing amazing work and I feel like I can bring something else to the table. I know with bringing Brian on board for large projects we will have a one-two punch that nobody will be able to offer. I think Brian is so unique and my desire to succeed and produce something different will help set us apart.


CB: I see the new gear. Can you tell us about the setup you’re using today and what cool stuff it enables you to do?

Ahh, yes. I invested in a RED Dragon made by Red Digital Cinema. This camera is pretty damn incredible. It has a dynamic range of 16 or 18 stops and can actually shoot video in HDR, giving even more dynamic range. It’s also the first digital video camera that shoots in 6k. I can actually pull still frames from the video that are print quality. There are many magazine covers out there shot with a RED that had a still frame pulled to be included in print. It’s been used for a plethora of major motion pictures including but not limited to The Hunger Games, House of Cards, Jurassic World, Chappie, Marvel Avengers, Star Trek Into Darkness — you get the idea. It’s a very powerful tool and we’re very excited about the future. I can easily go from shooting an interview on location, to shooting surf from the beach, to shooting underwater in my CMT waterhousing. It’s impressive. It’s opening a whole new world of possibilities. Now I just have to learn how to use it! Hahaha.


CB: What’s next for Ben Reed? Any new projects or big plans on the horizon?

Haha, that’s such as loaded question. Immediately speaking, I just signed a deal with ISA (International Surfing Association) to shoot their contests for 2015. I’m so pumped because they’re sending Brian and I to Mexico, Nicaragua, California, the Canary Islands, China and Chile.

The entire reason for leaving the 9-5 job was to travel more and it’s really cool that’s starting to happen.



I can’t wait to see what other doors this opens as well. That’s huge in itself. I’m also planning on traveling to Teahupo’o in mid-summer to film surfing and underwater scenes. The water there is incredibly clear. It should be an amazing experience. I’d have to say that I’m most excited about starting our production company. I have a lot of ideas, projects and collaborations that I’d like to shoot. I definitely want to spend some time documenting stories that need to be told. I have a strong desire to share stories with others and I feel like motion gives me more opportunity to tell those stories. I definitely want to start submitting to film festivals, but that’s a couple years off. I’m still learning Adobe Premiere and how to properly use the RED. Ultimately, I want to produce work that’s important to me and hopefully strikes an emotional connection with others. I’d like our work to help motivate people to change their lives if that’s what they wish to do.

I definitely have a vision of where I want to be in the future, but I’m also keeping it really open. I don’t want to be so focused on one thing that I miss an opportunity somewhere else. Again, I think it’s important to be flexible and not be afraid to change. So, who knows what the future holds. I’m just excited about everything. I’m so thankful for what I’ve already been able to accomplish and excited about all the potential of the future.


CB: While spending time around Ben and Brian during my visit in Hawaii, the strength of their relationship stood out. When I asked Brian to share his thoughts about Ben, he had a few things to say …. 

“I’ve got to say one thing about Ben. He is the smartest, coolest, and the most honest guy I have ever had the pleasure to work with and be friends with. That’s more than one, I guess. The point is, I have never wanted to help anyone or see someone succeed as much as I do Ben. He came to Hawaii a couple years ago to assist me and has been the most helpful person in my whole photography career. I don’t think of Ben as an assistant anymore. He is a partner now and some of the stuff we have accomplished because of that partnership has been some of the coolest stuff of my career. Thank you, Ben. Sounds like a man crush, huh? Well, Ben is like Sam from Lord of the Rings. Frodo could not have done it without Sam. Ben is my Sam…”


Thanks for sharing the update with us, Ben.

Keep going after it!

And thank you so much Charlie for helping to share Ben’s story.


You can view a few of Ben’s images in the gallery below or in his portfolio at and on Instagram at @benreedphoto.
Click the image below to check out his video reel on Vimeo.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 4.03.35 PM

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10 Places to Photograph in Des Moines, IA this Weekend Mon, 23 Mar 2015 22:52:43 +0000 SACS_IowaBarnRMSP will be in Des Moines, Iowa on March 28 and 29 as part of our 2015 Photo Weekend Events program.

After a day or two spent learning how to improve your photography skills, there’s nothing more exciting than heading out to put those skills to the test. We thought it would be a fun idea to do a little e-scouting in Des Moines from Montana and give a few suggestions of places to photograph once classes are over.

To scout from Missoula, we used Google Maps and Panoramio to see what other people had photographed in the area. And don’t forget that you can make any location feel completely new by going at night!

Do you know of great places to photograph in Des Moines that we didn’t mention? We’d love to hear from you. Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.

  1. Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens: If the weather is still chilly, step inside the botanical gardens’ dome that is home to many different types of flora and fauna.
  2. Gray’s Lake Park: This park features a 1,400 foot long pedestrian bridge and a 1.9 mile trail around the lake. A great location to get skyline photos of Des Moines.
  3. Blank Park Zoo: 22 acres of animal exhibits including over 100 different animal species. Some of the exhibits are closed for the winter but there is still plenty to photograph.
  4. Iowa State Capitol: Constructed between 1871 and 1886, the Iowa State Capitol is the only five-domed capitol building in the country. A beautiful place to photograph inside and out if you are interested in architectural photography.
  5. Living History Farms: This complete Town and Farm experience is a 500 acre open air museum. It tells the story of how Iowans turned the Midwest into the most productive farmland in the world.
  6. Terrace Hill: Another great place to visit if you are interested in architecture.  Terrace Hill is Iowa’s historic governor’s mansion.
  7. Basillica of St. John: This Basilica of the Roman Catholic Church was built in 1927.  It has beautiful architecture to photograph inside and out.
  8. Papajohn Sculpture Park: This park is located at the entranceway to downtown Des Moines.  It is a four and a half acre park that features artwork by 22 of the world’s most celebrated artists.
  9. Greenwood Park: A heavily wooded park featuring outdoor art, a rose garden and a lake.
  10. Winterset, Iowa: Winterset is about 35 miles from Des Moines. The town is known for the covered bridges in the area and was used as a shooting location for The Bridges of Madison County.




If you photograph in Des Moines this weekend,
show us your favorites by posting them on our Facebook page!



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10 places to Photograph in Missoula, MT This Weekend Mon, 09 Mar 2015 16:00:10 +0000 KraftKevin_MissoulaCity-1RMSP’s next Weekend Event is in our hometown, Missoula, Montana! The challenge of picking the 10 places to photograph this weekend was narrowing the locations down to only 10. All of the locations are near the Holiday Inn Missoula Downtown, where the Photo Weekend is taking place, so they are easy to access at the end of the day when you are excited about photography and itching to get out there.

  1. Downtown– Downtown Missoula has a great combination of old and new architecture and tons of character. We frequently take students on the streets of Missoula to photograph.
  2. Caras Park– The Caras Park tent structure is one of the most photographed landmarks in Missoula. It is always fascinating how different photographers see and photograph this structure.
  3. The University of Montana Campus – A variety of architecture with the backdrop of Mount Sentinel makes for endless photographic possibilities.
  4. The View from the “M” – If you are looking to stretch your legs after a day of learning photography, grab your camera and hike up the M Trail. The views are fantastic and the subject matter is endless.
  5. The Clark Fork River – During the winter it feels like the Clark Fork River is constantly changing. Some days there are ice chunks floating down the river from subzero temperatures and other days melting creates layered banks of ice, water and sediment that look like sculptures. There are always good vantage points from the numerous bridges crossing the river throughout Missoula.
  6. The Old Northern Pacific Depot – At the north end of Higgins Avenue is the old train depot, the XXXX’s sculpture and an old steam engine. More great opportunities to photograph in downtown Missoula.
  7. The Missoula Skatepark – In the winter you may not find a lot of skateboarders doing tricks but the curves and lines of this concrete skatepark make for great abstract images.
  8. Waterworks Hill – There are a series of trails along Waterworks Hills that provide great views of the Rattlesnake and downtown Missoula. A fantastic place to take photographs of the lights of Missoula at dusk.
  9. The Wilma at Night – This historic building in the heart of Missoula houses a movie theater and four floors of condos. The marquee lights at night are tons of fun to photograph with endless creative possibilities.
  10. A Carousel for Missoula – Located in Caras Park, A Carousel for Missoula is one of the first fully hand-carved carousels to be built in the United States since the Great Depression. The Carousel has 38 hand-carved horses and two chariots.




If you photograph in Missoula this weekend,
show us your favorites by posting them on our Facebook page!




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10 places to Photograph in Ft. Collins This Weekend Mon, 02 Mar 2015 23:49:13 +0000 TwetoHalvor_TreeAndCowRMSP will be in Fort Collins, Colorado on March 7-8 as part of our 2015 Photo Weekend Events program.

After a day or two spent learning how to improve your photography skills, there’s nothing more exciting than heading out to put those skills to the test.

We thought it would be a fun idea to do a little e-scouting in Fort Collins from Montana and give a few suggestions of places to photograph once classes are over. We’ve tried to keep the locations near the Hilton Fort Collins, where the event will be taking place. However, there were a couple of places that looked great and would require a bit of a drive.

To scout from Missoula, we used Google Maps and Panoramio to see what other people had photographed in the area. And don’t forget that you can make any location feel completely new by going at night!

Do you know of great places to photograph in Fort Collins that we didn’t mention? We’d love to hear from you. Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.




  1. Horsetooth Reservoir: 1,900 acres of water surrounded by 2,000 acres of public land. It is popular for fishing, boating, camping, swimming, rock climbing, hiking, and water skiing.
  2. Old Town: There are 23 well-preserved historic buildings in this particular part of Fort Collins. This area is such a picture of the early 1900s that Disneyland modeled Downtown USA after Old Town Fort Collins. Take a walking tour of downtown to learn more about the history of this neighborhood.
  3. New Belgium Brewing Company – Fort Collins is considered the Napa Valley of beer in some circles. While this delicious beverage may attract some people to the tasting rooms for the variety of hops and color, I would suggest taking a tour and photographing the equipment, the bottling plant, the vats, etc. The Breweries of Northern Colorado are a great place to photograph.
  4. Riverbend Ponds Natural Area: Birders enjoy Riverbend Ponds for the over 200 species of birds that feed, rest, nest, and migrate through including green herons, a wide variety of ducks, American white pelicans, double-crested cormorants and others.
  5. Fort Collins Music Experiment:  Fort Collins will be host to over 200 Northern Colorado Bands at over 30 venues April 24th and 25th. This event is a great opportunity to photograph live music and get a taste of Fort Collins’ night life.
  6. Hot Air Balloons – Apparently there is quite a bit of hot air ballooning going on in Fort Collins. There are multiple companies that take people on rides which would provide a great areal prospective for a photographer. However, just photographing the balloons taking off from one of the city parks would make for great images.
  7. City Park Lake – 85 acres that include ball fields, tennis courts, a playground, a lake, paddle boats, mini-train, fitness course, community outdoor pool and trolley rides. There is also a very cool sculpture next to the lake that is illuminated at night.
  8. The Farm at Lee Martinez Park: The Farm at Lee Martinez has various farm animals, a farm-history museum, working water hand pumps, Silo Store for crafts and novelties, and children’s garden. You could spend hours here with your camera.
  9. Colorado State University Campus: From modern architecture to large historic buildings, this campus has it all if you are interested in photographing structures. There is also a ton of activity at any given time. This is great for photographing people running, walking or on their bikes.
  10. Bishop Castle: Jim Bishop bought 2.5 acres when he was 15 years old and started the lifetime process of building a three story castle in the San Isabel National Forest.



If you photograph in Fort Collins this weekend,
show us your favorites by posting them on our Facebook page!



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