How to Use Snapseed: An In-Depth Tutorial Guide

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This guide is an update of an old Snapseed tutorial guide. In it I’m going to walk you through Snapseed 2.0 and show you how the new layout, tools and effects work and how you can use the app to enhance your iPhone photos. I warn you this is a 4500+ word beast of an article which has been a long time in the making. It’s quite a long and in-depth guide so for this reason I have added a table of content below to help you skip to the parts that you are most interested in.

Snapseed is one of the most versatile photo editing apps on the market and is certainly one of my favourites. Originally developed by Nik Software, Snapseed was acquired by Google back in 2012. Since then the app has only ever received minor bug updates and fixes which has left many speculating what Google’s plans were for the app. As a result many people abandoned it in favour of app stacking their images with a variety of different apps.

However, in April this year Google announced the release of Snapseed 2.0. This new and improved version instantly created a renewed buzz of excitement and interest in the app.

What’s New About Snapseed 2.0

Its fair to say that the Snapseed developers have not held back with this new version. Every aspect of the app has been given a complete overhaul from the visual look to the functionality.

Snapseed 2.0 features several new tools and filters which include:

  • Stacks which allow you to re-edit any image
  • The ability to copy your edits from one image to another
  • 5 new filters including Lens Blur, Tonal Contrast and Glamour Glow (previously a premium feature)
  • Lens blur that’s adjustable in all directions
  • Brush tools to apply effects to sections of an image
  • Spot Repair for detailed editing, healing, and retouching
  • Transform adjusts perspective across vertical and horizontal axes, then fills in empty areas after rotations

Visually the user interface now has a flat, clean and modern look with the entire screen being devoted to the whole image. The navigation is minimal with hidden popup option menus.

An Overview of Snapseed 2.0 Layout

The first thing you will notice about the new version of Snapseed is the opening splash screen which has a brand new look. This quickly gives way to a screen prompting you to select the image you want to work with. When it comes to selecting the photo to use, you have several options. You can either choose an image from the camera roll, take a photo with the camera, open the latest image or paste in a copied image.

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With the desired photo selected you then notice that the entire screen is devoted to your chosen image with a minimal navigation interface surrounding it. Walking through the navigation layout you will find the following;

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In the top left corner is ‘OPEN’, tapping this displays a pop up menu which enables you to select a new photograph to work with.

To the right of this you will find the ‘SAVE’ button. Again this opens a pop up menu with the options to ‘Save’, ‘Save a copy’ or ‘Cancel’. The ‘Save’ option will overwrite the current image in your camera roll with your updated edit, while ‘Save a copy’ will save your image and its edits as a brand new photo in the camera roll.

Next to SAVE is a small white square containing a number. This is one of the many new additions to Snapseed. It is where you can access the layer stacks for each of the edits you make. From here you can adjust the settings of each layer or filter, disable them or delete without having to start again. This was one of the most frustrating things about the original version of Snapseed and the introduction of Stack layers is a massive bonus feature.

From the stacks menu you can also copy a stack of filters by tapping the three dot icon (top right), then tapping copy. By opening a new image in Snapseed you can then paste this selection of filters and apply them to the new photo by tapping the Stacks icon, and then ‘Insert’.

Looking in the top right corner you will see a three vertical dot icon. Tapping this opens up access to several other options which include; Undo, Revert, Share…, Open in…, Help & Feedback, Settings & Details and Cancel. These are pretty much self explanatory.

At the bottom of the screens interface you will find a Histogram graph. Those familiar with software like Photoshop will be no stranger to this feature. For those who aren’t, a Histogram is basically a graphical representation of the distribution of how the dark and light areas of the photograph are spread across the image.

An evenly exposed image will look like this. The dark end of the spectrum is on the left, the light end on the right.
even exposure in Snapseed
An overexposed or image with a lot of light areas will look like this.
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An underexposed or dark, contrasty image will look something like this.
Under exposed histogram in snapseed

Finally, in the bottom right corner is a big round button containing a cross. Tapping this displays a pop up window with the tools and filter options. As we run through this tutorial we’ll take a deeper look at some of these filters and tools.

The Tools

Let’s take a deeper look at the tools aspect of Snapseed. The app comes with a selection of tools which essentially allow you to adjust and correct different aspects of the photograph in order to fix any issues with colour, brightness, contrast, straightness or blemishes.

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Lets take a look at each of the tools. Before we do, remember that to use the different tools and filters the finger gestures you need to know are firstly swipe up or down to select the type of adjustment option you want, then swipe left or right to increase or decrease the settings of that option.
Lets get started.

Tune Image

Tune Image will most likely be your first stop when you start working with a photo. This tool allows you to individually adjust Brightness, Contrast, Ambiance, Saturation, Shadows, Highlights and Warmth settings.

You can auto-correct the photo setting levels by tapping the icon to the right of the current selected setting value at the bottom of the screen.

Pressing the comparison view icon in the top right will allow you to compare the before and after states.

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Crop

Crop is fairly self explanatory. It allows you to crop your photo to one of several preset ratios. Tap the icon in the lower right to reveal a selection of the pre-set ratios that you can crop to. Tap and hold the edges of the cropping frame to adjust the crop area. Tap and hold in the centre of the cropping frame to drag the crop area around the screen. A custom crop option is available but most people are going to use a preset such as the popular 1:1 square ratio.

Need to rotate the crop area’s orientation? Then tap the circular arrow icon in the lower left. This only works when a pre-set ratio is selected.

Happy with your crop then hit the ‘Tick’ in the bottom right.

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Transform

This is one of the new features to Snapseed 2.0. It allows you to adjust the horizontal or vertical perspective or rotation. This enables you to correct distortions which would otherwise have had to be carried out in another tool such as SKRWT.

To use this feature swipe up and down to select a setting to adjust. Select from Perspective Vertical, Perspective Horizontal or Rotation. Then swipe left or right to increase or decrease the settings of that element.

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Once again you can compare a before and after state by tapping the comparison icon in the top right and confirm your edit by tapping the ‘Tick’ icon in the bottom right corner.

Selective

As in the previous version of Snapseed, ‘Selective’ allows you to adjust the brightness, contrast and saturation of a small, select area of your photograph.

To use this extremely useful tool tap on the screen in the location which you want to correct. As you tap and drag the selection pointer around the screen a magnified circle will appear enabling you to place the adjustment point exactly where you want it.

Pinching the area to be corrected will appear in red. By pinching in or out you can adjust the area of coverage that the adjustments will be applied to.

Swipe up or down to select from Brightness, Contrast or Saturation. Then swipe left or right to increase or decrease that particular setting.

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Vignette

This is one of my personal favourite tools of Snapseed. Previously called ‘Center Focus’ in the old version of Snapseed, the Vignette tool allows you to adjust the brightness of the inner and outer areas of the image. Seasoned users of the ‘Center Focus’ tool will notice the blur option has been removed. This is now located in the new ‘Lens Blur’ filter.

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Details

The Details tool allows you to sharpen the image structure and detail. A word of warning though, overdoing it can create a false, over tapped effect. I prefer to now use the ‘Tonal Contrast’ filter if I want to give more definition to an image.

Rotate

Previously called Straighten, the Rotate tool basically does what it says on the tin. It enables you to straighten the photo so that any sloping horizons are flat while vertical lines stand tall instead of leaning over.

To use the tool select the direction of rotation and then swipe left or right to rotate the image in that direction. The grid that appears when doing so will give you a visual guide to lining up any vertical or horizontal lines in the photograph.

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Brush

This is yet another of the new featured tools in Snapseed 2.0. The Brush tool allows you to paint over areas of your photograph in order to Dodge & Burn, adjust Exposure, Temperature or the Saturation of selected areas of an image.

To use the Brush tool firstly select the type of brush adjustment you would like to apply from the options (second icon in from the left).

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Next select the strength of that adjustment from the bottom centre setting.

Finally using your finger start painting the area of the photo that you want the adjustments applied to. By tapping the eye icon a red mask layer is displayed to give you a visual reference for the area that you have covered.

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Happy with your edit? Then tap the tick to confirm your edit.

Healing

The Healing tool enables you to zoom in close to the photograph to carry out detailed editing, healing and retouching.

To use the Healing tool effectively you really need to zoom in close to your photo otherwise you can get some very random and haphazard results. Once you are focused in on the area to be repaired simply tapping or swiping the spot that you want to remove.

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Now you see the cloud in the top left

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Now you don’t

Unsure of how to use this tool or need a reminder? As with all tools and filters by tapping in the top left corner will show a short interactive help guide about using that particular tool so if you are unsure on what to do it will give you a visual reminder.

The Filters

While Snapseed’s set of tools will help you correct different aspects of an image the filters will enable you to apply different effects in order to enhance the photo to give it a different look and feel.

Lets take a look at the available filters library of Snapseed 2.0.

Lens Blur

The Lens Blur filter allows you to add blur to your photograph either radially or in a linear manner. The size and depth of this blur field can be adjusted. The Lens Blur tool is similar to that seen in Instagram so seasoned Instagrammers will be familiar with the way this filter works.

To use the Lens Blur select whether you want a linear or elliptical blur from the option to the left of the centre at the bottom of the screen. To select the blur strength, transition or vignette strength swipe up and down, and to adjust the settings of these options swipe left or right . Tapping the lower right pop up enables you to select the shape of the blur but to be honest I can’t tell the different of the end result.

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Tonal Contrast

The Tonal Contrast filter is a new addition to Snapseed 2.0. It allows you to adjust the contrast in the Low, Mid and High Tones, as well as shadow and highlight areas.

This is one of my favourite tools and one that will help to increase the definition of a photo whilst still retaining a good amount of control over what level of definition you apply to the image.

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Drama

The Drama filter increases the levels of sharpness, contrast and saturation to an image. The filter pretty much works as it did in the old version of Snapseed. You can chose from a selection of six presets or make your own adjustments using the ‘Filter Strength’ and ‘Saturation’ options.

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Grainy Film

Grainy Film is a new addition which offers 18 different filters that give a more analogue film feel to the photograph. The results a subtle and reminds me a bit of the filters in VSCO.

After selecting a filter you can adjust the grain levels and filter strength. As with the other filters you are able to pinch to zoom in closer to the photograph for more detail.

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Retrolux

The Retrolux filter is as before and similar to the sort of effects you might get from using Mextures. Simply select from 13 preset filters before randomly changing the settings until you find a look that you like. Each filter setting can be fine tuned with brightness, saturation, contrast, style strength, scratches and light leaks. This filter is ideal if you are looking for a retro style look to your photograph.

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Black & White

Next up on the list of Snapseed filters is the Black & White filter which has always been a popular feature of Snapseed. Choose from six presets or fine-tune the image by adjusting the brightness, contrast and grain levels. You can also apply colour filters to the photograph to emulate the effects you would get if using colour filters with traditional black and white film.

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Glamour Glow

The Glamour Glow filter is another new addition to the filter toolkit. The filter offers 5 presets with each preset providing a vibrant colour cast to a photograph. Further enhancements can be made to the Glow, Saturation and Warmth levels.

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HDR Scape

There has not been much change to this filter. HDR Scape basically emulates a HDR effect through the selection of 4 presets, Nature, People, Fine or Strong. The filter strength, brightness and saturation settings can then be individually adjusted. I have always felt that care needs to be taken with this filter otherwise an overly false effect can be created. If you are looking to create a HDR effect my advice would be to create it using a HDR camera app such as VividHDR or with the HDR setting of the iPhone’s native camera app.

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Grunge

Grunge was a filter that was originally dropped from the Snapseed 2.0 update but brought back due to popular demand. The filter allows you to select from five textured backgrounds and then randomly generate different grunge like effects that are overload onto the photograph. Each effect can be further enhanced by adjusting the Style strength, Brightness, Contrast, Texture Strength and Saturation.

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Vintage

The Vintage filter is another old favourite from the previous version of Snapseed. The filter allows you to apply one of twelve preset filters to an image and then adjust the brightness, saturation, style strength and vignette strength of that preset in order to create a muted and vintage look to a photograph. Vintage wasn’t a filter I personally used before but since I rediscovered the power of this filter following the update I have to say I’m impressed by the quality of the filter presets.

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Noir

Noir filter is new to Snapseed 2.0. Noir allows you to apply one of 14 presets to your image from the preset options pop up in the lower right. Each filter gives an old, noir style, black and white tonal quality to a photograph. You can make additional adjustments to these presets by swiping up and down to select from either the brightness, the Wash (adjusts the contrast), the film grain or filter strength. Swiping left and right increases or decreases the strength of that adjustment option.

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Frames

Frames was another popular filter brought forward from the original Snapseed and the filter hasn’t really changed. You can basically choose from 23 different frames then adjust the frame width by swiping from left to right.

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Common Gestures and Features

I’ve already mentioned a few common features and gestures that all tools and filters share but here is an overview of some handy ones.

Zooming in

At times it is necessary to zoom in close to your photo in order to see a bit more detail in your edits or to use tools like the healing tool. Zooming is easy simply by pinching in or out then navigating around the image using the blue box that appears.

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Compare

From all filters and tools you can compare a before an after state by tapping the icon in the top right corner of the screen. This will allow you to see how much of an effect your edits have made.

Help

Unsure how a filter or tool works? Then tap the question mark help feature in the top left corner of the screen. This will display a short tutorial guide for the tool overlaid on the photo you are editing.

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How to use Snapseed 2.0 – Putting it all together

So now you have an overview of the tools and filters of Snapseed 2.0 lets start using a few, putting them together and begin editing a photograph.

Step 1: Select and Open a Photo

The first step is to select and open a photo to start working with. To do this from the initial splash screen tap ‘Open Photo’, then select to open a photo from your device, from your camera or from the last image used.

For this I select a photo from my Camera Roll

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Step 2: Straighten the photo

So with the image open that we’re going to work with, the first thing to do is open the filters and tool options. Generally I prefer to open the photo in the ‘Rotate’ tool to check and adjust any inconsistencies in the horizontal or vertical alignments. To do this, tap the plus icon in the bottom right corner. This opens the toolbox of Snapseed.

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To do this I tap the ‘Rotate’ tool, then slide by finger left and right to slightly straighten the horizon against the grid overlay. Happy with the change I tap confirm to apply the change.

Step 3: Crop the photo

Next I am going to crop an image so from the Tools & Filters menu tap ‘Crop’. At the bottom of the screen you will see several options. The first stage on the cropping process is to select a ratio format by tapping the icon second from the right. This opens a pop up window with various ratios. Swipe from left to right until you see your preferred format. I generally go for a square 1:1 ratio format but it depends on the composition of the photo I am working with. Up until recently Instagram only accepted square photos which was a key deciding factor in the selection of the crop ratio to use.

With the format selected I then move the crop area around until I have my desired composition framed. For this image I position the horizon on the lower rule of thirds grid line and position the tree on the lower right intersecting line.

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You can drag the corners in or out, or change the orientation of the crop frame by 90 degrees by tapping the rotate icon (the icon to the left of the centre). To confirm the crop tap the tick icon and your crop is saved.

Step 4: Adjust the image levels

The next step is to fine tune the brightness, contrast, saturation levels of the image. The image we are working with at the moment is nicely exposed so there isn’t much to do here but sometimes you might want to make more drastic adjustments depending on how over/under exposed your image is or the effect you are aiming for.

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Firstly I tap the auto correct option (the icon to the right of the centre at the bottom of the screen) to see how the image looks. This tends to even out the Histogram levels.

If I want to make any further edits I will make more manual adjustments. Swiping my finger up and down to display a selection of options which include; Brightness, Contrast, Ambiance, Saturation, Shadows, Highlights and Warmth settings. Swiping the screen left to right will adjust the level of a chosen setting.

For this image I don’t need to make any further adjustments so I save this edit.

Step 5: Add contrast to the sky

Next I want to add a bit more contrast to the sky area in order to get a bit more texture into it. To do this without affecting the whole image I use the ‘Selective’ tool.

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With the Selective tool open, tap the screen where you want to place a marker, then using two fingers pull out to increase or decrease the area to be affected. This will be shown in red.

With your adjustment area set swipe up and down to select from the Brightness, Contrast or Saturation options, then swipe left or right to increase or decrease the level of that option.

For my image I tap on the sky, then select the work area to include the whole of the sky and increase the contrast level to +100.

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Happy with the edit I tap the tick to confirm my edit.

Step 6: Adding tonal contrast

Next I’d like to pull a bit more detail out of the dark areas of the photo. For this I use one of the new additions to Snapseed 2.0 called Tonal Contrast.

The Tonal Contrast filter allows you to select the Low, Mid and High Tones and increase the level of definition in these areas in order to sharpen the detail contained within them. The filter also allows you to protect shadow and highlight areas which will give some further definition to select areas of the image.

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For this photo I increase the Low Tones to +100 and Mid Tones by +50. Tapping the icon in the top right corner allows you to compare the before and after states.

If you need to zoom in then pick out to zoom in and navigate your way around the image using the blur box that appears.

Once happy with the results I save the changes.

Step 7: Adding a vintage effect

I love the vintage filter, especially in landscape photography, its one of my go to filters in the majority of my edits.

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Once you have opened the ‘Vintage’ filter select one of 12 filter presets from the pop up options that appear after tapping the small swatch icon (to the right of the centre at the bottom). In this instance I go with the default option 3.

To the left of the centre at the bottom is an option to add some vignette blur to the image. I opt to leave this switched off.

Next I swipe up and down to select the Brightness option and increase this setting to about +50. You can also adjust the colour saturation, the style strength or the vignette strength but I opt to leave these at the default. I will add some extra vignette in the next step.

Step 8: Adding a vignette

I am a big fan of vignettes and nearly always add the effect to my photos. I love the way this effect brings attention to the subject in the centre of the photograph and draws the eye into it.

The reason I didn’t add a vignette in the ‘Vintage’ filter is because I prefer the increased level of control you have with the ‘Vingette’ filter. Let me illustrate.

After opening the Vignette tool there are basically two settings, the inner and outer brightness. For this image I feel that the foreground is probably dark enough but the sky would benefit from a little darkening to the edges.

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I move the centre point of the vignette so that it is located at the bottom of the image. I then spread the diameter of the vignette area to cover the top edge of the photo.

Next I darken the outer brightness by -85 and increase the inner brightness by +40 and reposition to the centre point of the vignette area until I am happy with it. Again, tapping the tick saves the edit.

Step 9: Save the image

At this point I’m pretty happy with the end result so I save a copy of the image. To do this tap ‘SAVE’ at the top of the screen, then ‘Save a copy’ from the popup menu. This will save the edit as a new photo without affecting the original image.

Step 10: Converting to black and white

I like the photo as it is but lets see how it looks in black and white. To do this we select the ‘Black and White’ filter from the filters section.

Here you can choose from six presets (accessed by the icon to the right of the centre) or fine-tune the image by swiping the screen up and down to select the brightness, contrast or grain levels, then swiping left to right to adjust the setting of that filter.

You can also apply a colour filter to the photograph which emulates the effect you would get if using a colour filter with traditional black and white film.

For this example I leave the preset on the default option but add a red colour filter to lighten the foreground grass slightly.

You could also experiment with the new ‘Noir’ filter which offers a selection of similar black and white filter effects. You could also go back into ‘Tune Image’ tool and desaturate all colour out of the image.

Next I save this edit.

Step 11: Deleting an edit using Stacks

After a bit of consideration I decide that I much prefer the colour version of the image. In the previous version of Snapseed I would have had to start again editing to go back a step but in Snapseed 2.0 we now have the Stacks menu.

To delete a layer tap the Stacks icon at the top of the screen. It is the small square with a number in it. In this case a number 8.

File-05-10-2015,-11-58-56This opens all the edits that we applied to the image. In this example I tap the ‘Black and White’ edit twice to display some further options. This enables me to edit the current filter settings, edit the filter by selectively masking areas of the image or deleting the filter altogether. In this case I tap delete.

With the Black and White filter deleted I re-enable the Vignette filter and tap ‘CLOSE’ to return to the image preview.

Final Snapseed Image

Final Image

Final thoughts

So you can see, Snapseed 2.0 really is a much improved and powerful photo editing app. I am a big fan of the app and it is no surprise that it is my central go to app for editing the majority of my photos.

I’m impressed with the visual look of the app, its layout and navigation and the breadth of functionality contained within the tools and filters of Snapseed. Considering what you get I cannot believe that this app is still free to download.

Snapseed always was a powerful app but this new version has taken it to a whole new level. It is certainly a personal favourite in my camera bag of apps. Snapseed is an extremely versatile piece of software which removes the need to hop from app to app in order to edit an image. This saves time and keeps your edits all in one place.

  • I’m a little late (3 months late) in commenting but I wanted to say that your tutorial was a tremendous help. I’m just a goofy dad who uses his phone to snap pictures of his kids for most the part, but being able to navigate Snapseed should go a long way in how those pictures turn out. Thanks.

  • TorixBear

    Thank you for a very detailed tutorial. There are so many photo editing apps and they all operate differently, so I had missed some of Snapseeds features. I can now delete most of the apps and stick with Snapseed and VSCO for the filters 🙂

  • Reflex760

    Great tutorial. I use NIK in my normal work. Haven’t used the phone much, but the camera is in the shop, so I’ll give it a go.

  • cara

    really useful. thanks

  • pritish das

    great tool I love it

  • Maria

    Excellent tutorial, thank you!

  • Grant Gelhardt

    , thanks it was very informative

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