Addicted to waterfalls

I could hear the sighs from the back seat as we drove up the Swansea Valley and along the narrow lane that follows the Tawe almost to it’s source beneath the Black Mountain. Rufus loves a walk on the hills. He’s not so keen when he sees me with tripod and camera as it means long periods of waiting around while I take ‘another’ photo of some waterfall.

He’s only a dog, you may think. Yes, but he’s a dog who knows me so well now that he will do all in his power to prevent me from taking photos using a tripod. Including placing himself in front of the camera in exactly the right place to spoil a careful composition. You think I’m joking. I’ve included two photos here of Rufus making his displeasure known by standing in shot or staring at me. And bear in mind that the waterfall photo, in which he has invaded the bottom right corner, was a 20 second exposure. He remained there, in one spot , for 20 seconds.

The waterfalls we visited today are on the side of the Cerrig Duon valley, above the little stone circle that dominates the lower valley. They are easy enough to get to, once you cross the river over slime covered rocks. It’s a short but steep pull by the side of the gully that the water has worn into the limestone. The hardest part is navigating the steep side down to get to the waterfall itself.

Once there, the waterfalls are usually spectacular and today was no different. Not too much water so that there was definition in the way the water fell over the rocks. The main difficulty in getting a decent image is mastering the high contrast between the sunlit part and the shaded part. At this time of year, with the sun low in the sky, it’s harder still. Today, I made several exposures of each composition, varying the shutter speed each time to give me some files I could blend together to create a tone mapped final image back home.

And all the while, a hairy black Spaniel bounced and splashed and yapped and weaved between the legs of the tripod. I threw sticks for him, I suggested he went off sniffing for dead things in the sunlight grass. But no, he just wanted to hurry me along. And eventually, inevitably, he won. We left the shaded gully and emerged into the bright winter sunshine. The ground was still frozen and rock hard and there was white frost in places. Where water had formed puddles on the surface of boggy patches, it was ice this morning.

Rufus is good at following paths and he made his way down to the river while I was still faffing about, watching red kits wheeling about above the ridge behind us. By the time I had reached the river bank, he was on the opposite side of the water, watching me to see if I would slip and fall into the water. I disappointed him on that point, and we slowly made our way back along the river to the car.

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The Deer Hunter

Cue Cavatina. Have it playing in the background as you read. You can think of me as Robert De Niro as well, if it’s not too great a challenge.

Yesterday. Rufus and I went off to one of our regular locations, the hills above the Upper Lliw reservoir. I always check to see that it is cow and shgeep free and sure enough, all the cows were on a different hill. So I parked up and off we set. We had just got to the man-made ridges where the US army trained during World War 2 when I heard and saw in the distance a pack of dogs, a rider and a quad bike. I managed to get Rufus on the lead and we headed for the high ground, the four foot mound, just before we were engulfed by the dogs. They were hunting dogs, out having exercise I assume, and I was worried about how they would react to Rufus.

Rufus was right next to me and clearly overwhelmed by all the hounds. They were all around us, stinking of dead things and shoving their noses into everything. Rufus was growling and I would have been too, if I hadn’t been trying to calm him down. The hunt master (I assume that was his title) was blowing on his hunting horn but didn’t seem that interested in controlling the pack. Fortunately, the dogs were in a good mood and Rufus was his usual restrained self, so there was no trouble and the pack moved on. All the way back to the car I could hear the hunting horn being blown, a brash, childish sound.

Today, after we’d been for a nice walk around the estate, I left Rufus guarding the house and went off to hunt deer. Margam Park has a herd of wild deer consisting of Fallow, Red and Pere David breeds. They’ve been on the site since Medieval times and there are references to deer there in Roman times, too. October is the rutting season and I’d long planned to try and get some photos of the bucks in action as they battled for top spot in the harem.

Fortunately, I met a jogger who told me where the deer could usually be found. I decided to climb the hill behind the park to get an idea of the layout and sure enough, I spotted a herd of about 15 deer in the fields below, right where the jogger said they’d be. I dropped down the the fields but the deer had disappeared. I’m a novice deer stalker but I understand the principles – stay down wind of them, move slowly and quietly and slowly. It only took a few minutes to spot them in a mud hole and although they had seen me as soon as I had seen them, they didn’t seem spooked, possibly as I was half concealed behind bushes. I was about 200 yards away but I couldn’t get any closer without being in full view so I backed off and headed around a low rise in the ground towards another bush, staying below the brow of the hill and trying to remember where they were in relation to my position.

Eventually, I reached the bush, which turned out to be an overgrown stone monument of some sort. I was now within 100 yards of the herd. They were still aware of me but as I was not moving, they didn’t seem concerned. The big male was more interested in something on the opposite side of them, which was closer to the main part of the park. I used this distraction to make my way a little closer, using another clump of bushes to approach without being seen. Eventually, I was within 70 yards of the group and I got some nice photos.

All this time I was eyeing up the path that would take me back to the park. I’d read that one thing to be wary of was the rutting males, full of testosterone, might decide I was a threat. I was aware of my escape routes, should I need them. But the path would take me closer still to the herd and in full view. I decided that they would probably run away rather than charge me, so I made my way along the gravel track, slowly getting closer in a round about way. I ended up around 50 yards from the herd, and apart from watching with some curiosity, they showed no real concern that I was there.

It was only while putting my camera away again later that I realised I had dropped a lens cap and a body cap somewhere along the way. They’re probably in the trophy cabinet of the male Fallow deer.

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Work in progress – by Rufus

I told you about my new camera in this post. Since then, Dave (my human) has purchased a new harness just to let me take photos, and I’ve been experimenting with angles, viewpoints and settings.

Today we went off to Mynydd Carn Llechart for some more physio for my leg, and I took the harness and camera along. It was a beautiful morning, clear and cloudless, crisp and cold. Ideal for some landscape work. I’ve been concentrating on candid photography recently so this chance to take more considered images was most welcome. There was a cold wind on the hill, and more than a trace of snow which had fallen overnight. Under paw it was soggy and wet but it wasn’t too bad and I soon got the measure of it.

The sun was quite low as it was still quite early and we were walking directly towards it. This made some of the shots I tried quite difficult to take without under exposing the foreground or getting too much flare in the final image. I noticed that Dave was taking quite a few photos so I decided to take some of him taking pictures. I checked out what he was snapping and it was his usual and predictable snow covered mountain shots so I wasn’t missing anything significant.

We got to the cairn that gives the mountain its name after about half an hour of splashing and squelching across the moor. I went for some close up images of the stones while Dave was distracted by a pair of Red Kites wheeling about over head. When he’s not distracted like that he tends to get in the way of my photos, usually to steal my view point. I welcomed the chance to work unhindered.

We didn’t hang around long as the wind was still quite chilly. Heading back, the sun was behind us and the quality of light was lovely and warm. It cast long shadows which we were constantly walking over.

I’m quite pleased with my day’s work although I am still learning how to make the most of the low viewpoint I am usually faced with. So please view this gallery as a work in progress.

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Snowdonia

With Rufus curled up in the back of the car, cosy in a nest of pillows and blankets to give him some protection from my driving, we set off northwards in the drizzle towards Snowdonia. We stopped at Pont ar Daf, our usual starting point for Pen y Fan but to Rufus’ surprise (and probably relief) we ignored the path upwards and just spent a few minutes exercising little paws. Then, back in the car, we set off once more for Capel Curig and the little cottage I’d stayed in last year.

Rufus doesn’t sleep in the car but he was dozing as I checked on him during the trip. We stopped several more times before we finally met Eifion at the cottage. It was just as I remembered it from the outside but inside, there were a few new additions. The sofas had been replaced by a new set, and there was wifi! Unfortunately, I hadn’t brought my laptop as last time there was no internet connection at all. While Rufus explored the cottage, I brought all the bags in. There were so many more, just because I’d brought him, or so it seemed. The reality was that I’d also brought a large bag of camera equipment. Nevertheless, there were a lot of blankets and fleeces for covering the furniture, and plenty of food, toys and towels. Did I get a hand bringing them in? No!

We settled in quickly and after food and coffee, we decided to take a stroll along the track at the back of the farm that Eifion had told us about. It wound it’s way up the side of the mountain. We passed plenty of sheep with lambs but none seemed too concerned and I made sure Rufus kept his distance. We were heading into wild country. This was well away from civilisation and I couldn’t help thinking about what it must have been like to be a sheep farmer two or three hundred years ago. Off to the south west, Moel Siabod stuck it’s peak into the clouds.

It was getting dark, not through time of day but because thicker clouds were gathering over the hills. We stopped on a rocky knoll and admired the rugged, barren terrain around. This was not good land for anything other than sheep. We turned back and strolled gently down the track again. We’d had a long day.

The following morning, the sun was shining and it looked like it was going to be a lovely day. After a cooked breakfast, we set off for the Llanberis Pass. As Rufus was recovering from a tummy bug, today was going to be a day of short walks and photography. We wandered down the river, walking in the shadows of Crib Goch and Glyder Fach. Across the road, we scrambled up the scree for a little way and while Rufus chased birds in vain, I took a few snaps of the water tumbling down the mountainside. We disturbed a guy who had camped in the shelter of a large overhanging rock. We squelched through the marsh back to the car.

To take advantage of the gorgeous weather, I decided to head off to the beach. We crossed over to Anglesey and parked up at Porth Trecastell, a small beach near Rhosneigr. With the sound of RAF Hawks taking of from Valley, a few miles up the coast, we walked directly into the strong wind and out to the headland. About 6 years ago, Rufuis and I had posed for photos with Em and Oscar right here. As we reached the Barclodiad Gawres burial chamber, on which we’d set the camera, I had a text message from Em to say that she thought it was Rufus’ 9th birthday. So this holiday became his birthday present. We stood being buffeted by the wind as the camera on self timer took a snap of us in the same place as we had been last time. Then, in addition to the birthday hug I’d been asked to give him by Em, he had an extra biscuit and then I took him down on to the beach for a paddle – still one of his favourite treats.

By now we were both feeling a bit peckish – Rufus always does and I felt like having more than the packet of crisps I’d brought with me. So we headed back tot he cottage. The great think about this place is the central location. It is only a few minutes from the Ogwen valley and a few more minutes from several routes up Snowdon. So After food, we set off again for the mountains.

I love Llyn Ogwen and Cwm Idwal is one of my favourite places in North Wales. So off we went for a walk around Llyn Idwal, nestled in the Cwm and surrounded by the great mountains of Wales – Tryfan, Glyder Fawr, Yr Garn and Pen yr Ole Wen. Sheltered from the wind, the lake was fairly calm and we set of anti clockwise along the lakeside path. It was great; we just walked and stopped whenever we felt like. Rufus led the way (another birthday treat) and as we were in no hurry I let him set the pace. We watched hillwalkers returning from the surrounding peaks, and climbers making their way back to the car park after their assaults of the great rocks and cliffs. Snowdonia was where the early British Everest expeditions trained. We watched a pair of Canada geese swim towards us, curious to see what the black sheep was.

We spent some time on a little stream, where I threw stones for Rufus to catch. He loves this game and when he barked (he always barks as I’m still learning to throw them properly), the sound echoed across the cwm. Next thing we knew, a Heron lifted off from a few yards away and flew lazily across the water.

We ended the day back at the cottage. Tired but content.

Wednesday was another beautiful day. The morning was cold and clear and after a wake-up stroll along the farm track, we set of for today’s goal – the Devil’s Kitchen at the far end of Cwm Idwal. Last year, I used this route to climb to the top of Glyder Fawr but today, with Rufus still recovering from his tummy upset last week, I just wanted to get a bit of height to take some photos. I had in my head some black and white images using the infra red D300. We chose to go clockwise around the lake this time but first we had to pass through a herd of black cows. We dislike cows as they dislike us but this morning, they were content to watch as we walked by.

In the sun it was warming up rapidly, but in the shade the temperature was a little chilly. Unfortunately, the steepest part of the climb was in the sun and it was hot going. Rufus was coping well with the steep parts and I was well aware of my lack of fitness. Around this time last year I climbed Snowdon and Glyder Fawr on consecutive days. Today, I was struggling a bit. The path was made from large flat stones and each step seemed to get higher. Rufus cleared  each one in one bound. I seemed to be stopping a lot to take more photos!

Then the going got even rougher, with the man made path giving way to a more natural, rocky jumble. I was a bit concerned that Rufus might slip and get a paw stuck, or worse. Within a few minutes we came up against a high step of natural rock with barely a toe hold. There was no way Rufus could get up as there were no holds for claws and the stone was smooth. We’d climbed around half the height to the gap between Glyder Fawr and Y Garn and I decided to stop here. The views back down to Llyn Idwal and beyond, to Pen yr Ole Wen and the Carneddau were spectacular. I told Rufus we were stopping (I talk to him all the time when we’re on rough ground like this) and called him back to me. I took a few photos before turning to find Rufus on top of the rock step looking down on me! I have no idea how he got up there but he was clearly more at home than I was.

Not to be outdone, I clambered up after him and we carried on for a few more minutes. But now the jumble of rocks was getting tougher and I called Rufus back. We sat on a rock ledge and enjoyed the view while having a snack and a drink. Sheep bleated above us, more sure footed than we. It was quiet apart from them, and tranquil. I enjoyed these few minutes as they are what hill walking is all about for me. Rufus seemed to be happy too, sniffing about and joining me for the view (although that might have been his attempt at charming me into giving him a bit of Snickers).

We started back down again, and I tried to go ahead of Rufus to guide him down and make sure he didn’t slip. But as usual, I underestimated his ability to cope with the rough conditions and by the time I’d reached the flatter, man made section, he was there waiting for me. The rest of the path was easy and he trotted ahead as I frequently stopped to take more photos of the wonderful views ahead.

As we rejoined the lakeside path, Rufus decided he wanted to paddle again, so he shot off across the heather and marsh towards the water. I let him; it was his birthday week anyway. I hopped and splashed after him and finally caught up with him as he stood with paws in the cooling water. There followed some stone throwing and then we both looked up as we heard a strange barking sound. It was the Canada geese we’d seen yesterday. The pair had been joined by a second pair and they were all paddling towards us. We walked on by the shore of the lake and they swam parallel with us, barking and honking. Then they started squabbling amongst themselves and we were left alone.

We strolled back around the lake, passing through the herd of cows that hadn’t moved and finally got back to the car. It was hot now, and we were both tired so we headed straight back to the cottage. Lunch and a snooze was on the cards, and we both woke up again around the same time. After a reviving coffee, Rufus and I went up and along the farm track again. Walking up, we could hear two cuckoos calling from different trees across the track. But they were soon drowned out by the roaring of jest as planes from Valley carried out mock combat high above us. As we got back to the cottage, swallows were flitting about above our heads. I watched and they entered the barn next to us.  I spent the next 20 minutes of so trying to capture them with the camera, with varying degrees of success.

That night was clear and I’d received a tweet alerting me to the possibility of northern lights being visible in the north. As we were so far away from towns, I thought there might be a chance of seeing them so at around 11.30pm, Rufus and I walked back up the track until we were overlooking the cottage. It was pitch black and the stars were beautiful. While Rufus stood guard (I think he thought I was mad), I took a few long exposure photos but there was no sign of any aurora activity.

The journey home to Swansea was made in the rain. We stopped a few times on the way back to stretch our legs but really all we wanted to do was get home. We managed it in a little over 4 hours.

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How does the sun cut his hair?

Eclipse!

Sorry. Over the last few days, the weather has been good enough and the evenings just long enough for Rufus and I to head out to Cefn Bryn after work for a stroll. Every time, there has been a beautiful sunset. I love sunsets (I love sunrises even more). In many photographic circles, they are considered cliched and unworthy, but I don’t move in those circles and so I keep taking my cliches, and enjoying them too.

At sunset, things start to calm down.  Apart from traffic noise, which isn’t intrusive on Cefn once you are out of sight of the road, it gets quiet, and usually still as the wind drops. The light is less intense, shadows are longer and the orange glow makes things appear warmer than they really are. There has been a haze on the last few evenings which has the effect of softening colours and turning everything into pastel shades. And when the sun finally reaches the horizon, it is a deep red colour.

Staying with the sun, there was an eclipse on the 20th, and where I live the moon covered around 90% of the sun. With the help of a welder’s mask and a variable density filter (thanks Pete), I was able to view and get some photos. It was eerie as the skies slowly darkened and when I went to the window in the office, there was a great mix of people all standing to witness the event using a variety of filters, some of which seemed distinctly dodgy. But more importantly, it brought a load of people of all ages and roles together more effectively than any scheduled meeting.

Outside, it was chilly and the shadows were odd. Being used to sunsets coming from the west, it was odd to see the different direction of light as it faded. I can just imagine what the people from thousands of years ago must have thought when their source of heat and light disappeared. And the relief when it started getting warmer and brighter again.

Today, as a reward for behaving at the vet when he had his vaccinations (he always does, but today he had a couple of compliments on how well behaved he was and how healthy he looked), Rufus had two walks. We started off at Broadpool where we were watched intensely by a solitary Canada Goose, who called over and over again. But Rufus didn’t want to play. Then we headed on up to the River Tawe, where despite my best efforts to fall in the river while jumping across between rocks, we climbed up to the waterfalls on the west side of the valley. Compared to last week, when I could barely move from the sofa, I felt so much better. Add to that the warm sun, which made it feel like a summer’s day, and watching Rufus bounding between and over tufts of grass or paddling in the water, and it was a most enjoyable morning.

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Red sports car

Selling is a game. The trick is not to let on it’s a game and, if possible, not to let on you’re selling. A good salesman will let you do the work while subtly guiding you in the right direction. In the past two weeks I’ve been visiting car dealers looking for my next car and I’ve come across several salesmen with varying degrees of skill. If I (an amateur car buyer) can see their techniques, then they aren’t working. It’s like a good film or TV programme – if you notice the camera work then the camera work isn’t good; it should never intrude on the experience.

The first salesman passed me on to the sales junior despite me having made an appointment to see him. That made me feel so important that I was fairly certain I wasn’t going to buy from that garage. I took the test drive because I wanted to see what the car was like. It was very nice, not quite my perfect car but part of the game of changing cars is the compromises you are willing to make. The junior salesman was quite good, actually (I only use the word junior to indicate he was less experienced) but he kept asking questions about how the car felt to drive, how comfortable it was etc. This is done to try and get a positive response from the customer to start the process of wanting the car. It weakens the bargaining stance later in the buying process – you have already said you like it and those positive connections have been made.

Having been driving a Freelander for two years, my response was genuine:  “It’s very different – the visibility isn’t as good”. The salesman went quite and I ended up having to make the conversation.

In the showroom, I was left to wait while they went off to get a price. Now to my mind, the original salesman should have been doing that while I was out in the car. And, of course, he was. I was left to sit and wait while they sat and waited in the office, letting me reflect and worry a little. It should have softened me up. But the waiting area was in the sun and I was cooking. The only reason I didn’t walk out was because they had my keys. When they did come over, it was junior that gave me the figures. They had added the cost of protective coating to the price (easily removed to drop the price) but it was still way over what I was prepared to pay. Part of the reason was I’d over estimated the value of my car but that garage had a strange way of pricing their vehicles too, which worked in their favour (of course). In Swansea, my car had a value. In their dealership elsewhere, it might be more or less. But rather than having a fixed value for exchange, it was based on local prices. Swansea is quite cheap for Freelanders; If you want the best prices, go to Scotland where they are around £2k more. That’s what would have happened to mine.

When I questioned the valuation, the senior salesman waded in and quoted all sorts of reasons why that was an unrealistic price. But it is a game at the end of the day, so we smiled, shook hands and I walked out, sweaty and a bit disappointed.

Fast forward to the weekend. I went to another dealer, this time one independent from  both the make I was selling and the make I was buying. To be fair, the salesman was on his own and had been busy. While he was showing me around the car he was on the phone to someone explaining how he’d made 5 sales that day, “including the Fiat 500 which we’ve finally got rid of…”. Once again, I felt special and valued. I took it for a test drive and, comparing with the the previous one (same model) it just didn’t feel as good. It might have been the high mileage, about which I had my doubts. In the office, the valuation of my car was laughable. He asked me if I’d had another offer and when I told him what the valuation from the main Landrover dealer was, he said “they’re wrong”. I laughed out loud. He then started to show me all sorts of figures from the valuation site. But he’d had his quota of sales for the day and what little effort he’d made at the beginning stopped; he didn’t even take my contact details, which any half decent salesman would have done.

Fast forward once more to yesterday. I went to the dealer I’ve been buying cars from for a while. I’d seen one I was vaguely interested in and I’d done a lot of research. I kept coming back to this one car. On a whim, I called in and spoke to one of several salesmen there. Immediately, I felt as if I mattered. The game was being played well. This was the Premiership after me experiences in the lower leagues. The guy took the time to talk me through what I wanted, and more time to go through the cars that were due in but not yet on the website. We even explored different models and the options available. The test drive was relaxed and at no time did I feel I was being ‘sold’ the car. The language was friendly but to the point, It took a couple of minutes to figure out the prices, another couple to come to a final price we were both happy with and suddenly, I had bought a new car!

When I was a kid, I always told people I wanted a red sports car. I’m still a kid at heart, and I now have a red car. It’s not a sports car in the true sense, but the trim level is ‘Sport’ and that’s good enough for me.

Seeing things in a new light

This is an unashamedly technical post. For those of you turned off by nanometres and transmission filters, other blogs are available.

A couple of years ago  I took the plunge and invested in an infra red converted camera. Since then I’ve learnt to understand the best conditions and subject to apply infra red to, and I’ve experimented with post processing.  I had my Nikon D300 converted to record infra red images in 2013. I love the effect, particularly when post processed into black and white images. This post is about the basics and is based on a presentation I recently gave to my local camera club.

The nanometre bit

Infra red light is invisible to the naked eye and has wavelengths starting at around 590nm and stretching on to 1000nm and beyond.

 

Most digital camera sensors are so sensitive to ultra violet and infra red light that a special filter is placed in front of them to cut this light out. Converting a camera to take infra red photographs is simply a case of replacing this filter with one that blocks visible light and transmits infra red. That’s what I had done to my D300. It gets a little more complicated because there are different filters available to allow different wavelengths of light to pass through (in the same way that coloured filters allow different wavelengths of visible light through). My camera has a 720nm filter, (which blocks light of wavelength less than 720nm). Sensors to pick up heat energy are a completely different beast and are not dealt with here.

As a converted DSLR camera doesn’t need a transmission filer on the lens, you can compose and focus as normal. The image in the optical viewfinder remains bright and in visible light. To see the effect of the internal filter you will need to use live view. If you are using an unconverted camera with a transmission filter, you will need to compose and focus with the filter removed as by it’s very definition, the filter will block out visible light.

My D300 was calibrated for focusing and exposure by the company that converted it (Protech repairs). I still find that when faced with different subjects, I need to adjust the exposure from the indicated values and a degree of trial and error is sometimes required. You’ll always find me reviewing the image immediately after taking it.

Effects

The sun emits as much infra red light as it does visible light and so it is possible, with a converted camera, to use exposure times similar to normal. The classic infra red effect – white vegetation and dark skies – happens because green leaves reflect a lot of infra red light but blue skies do not. Scientists use infra red photography to spot growth and dead vegetation in the landscape. Contrast can be high in these photographs and you have to keep this in mind when taking the shot. Water also absorbs infra red.

Infra red light penetrates skin slightly and this results in a a soft, blemish free appearance in portraits. Eyes tend to appear black. The longer wavelength of infra red light is less affected by haze and pollution and so landscape photographs appear clearer and crisper.

Flare can be more of a problem as most lenses are designed to be used with visible light. The lens coatings and internal coatings that reduce reflections aren’t as effective with the longer wavelengths. Some lenses suffer from ‘hotspots’, a bright central portion which varies (and may disappear altogether) with a change in aperture. Of the collection of lenses I’ve gathered over the years, about half exhibit a hotspot with the D300.

Lenses that work with 720nm Infra red and a D300 camera:

  • Nikkor 60mm macro
  • Sigma 10-20mm D f/4-5.6
  • Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
  • Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 (manual focus)
  • Nikkor 24mm f/2.8D
  • Nikkor 70-300mm AFS f/4.5-5.6
  • Tamron 90mm macro
  • Tamron 18-270mm
  • Vivitar 19mm (manual focus)
  • Sigma 170-500mm

 

Results

below are a set of photos I took this morning. I’ve been experimenting with additional filters progressively the shorter wavelengths. This is very much a work in progress.

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