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TillaMurphs

Tips for taking good photos of disks?

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I am looking for advice regarding taking photos of standard benchmark metal disks.

 

My wife and I are fairly new to Benchmarking but are finding that in some ways we enjoy it more than geocaching.

 

We wondered if you folks had some suggestions on how to obtain the best possible photos of the benchmark disks so that the lettering is most readable? Angle? Side lighting? Top lighting? Flash? No flash? Wet disk? Dry disk? - etc? We would prefer to take photos without a ‘fill-in” (such as cornstarch) whenever possible.

 

Thanks for any help.

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My preferences are:

 

Take a close as you can so that it will still fit the picture.

 

No GPS in the picture.

 

I have almost never had any problem with ligting a disk. (I had BIG lighting problems with the double-Y in New York, though.) There are times though, that there is an obnoxious shadow crossing the disk. In person, it seems OK, but looking at the picture at home, part of the disk can be rather unreadable, even with photo editing. In these cases, a piece of paper will help, either by reflecting more light onto the shadowy area, or by blocking the direct sunlight. I suppose that a paper could also be used to reflect some sidelight on a difficult disk.

 

Cleaning a disk is generally far more significant than fiddling with lighting issues. Bringing one of those little re-closable packs of handy-wipes or whaterver they are called is one choice.

 

Wet disks are difficult. If it's wet, dry it off if possible.

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I review many of the disk close-up photos submitted to the Geocaching web site for an article I am writing on old USC&GS survey disks. I have seen many excellent photographs, some of very old and rare disks. However, some photographs have not been useful because of one or more of the following problems.

 

Photo issues:

1. Disk partially covered by: dirt, grass, twigs, snow, water, GPSr, other. – Please clean off the ENTIRE disk.

 

2. Shadow across disk – Eliminate shadows if at all possible by moving the offending item (including the photographer), waiting until the sun has moved, using a reflector, etc.

 

3. Disk out of focus – The camera may have been too close or may have been shaken or moved during the exposure. Check the minimal focus distance of your camera, also see if it has a macro setting for close-ups. Hold the camera steady during the exposure.

 

4. Distortion in photo – Don’t use your camera in the wide-angle position. Use a setting mid-way in the zoom range.

 

5. Stamping unreadable – Help make the lettering stand-out by rubbing a white powder or yellow crayon across the lettering.

 

Also, take several photos with slightly different settings and positions, and submit the best ones.

 

Good Luck,

GeorgeL

NGS

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2. Shadow across disk – Eliminate shadows if at all possible by moving the offending item (including the photographer), waiting until the sun has moved, using a reflector, etc.

Is it really a problem when there's a shadow, or only when there's a partial shadow? In my experience, changing a partial shadow to a full shadow by blocking the sun with my body results in fine closeup photos. Usually, I don't even need to use the flash, because the ambient light is sufficient.

 

Patty

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I agree with Patty. Partial shadows make for terrible photos. I use Andy Bear to cast a full shadow on the disk, and use a flash.

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Carry a whisk broom with you. A vigorous brushing will sometimes bring out detail and not change the patina.

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I use a (very small) Canon PowerShot S5 camera with a nice zoom lens and automatic image stabilization. The zoom makes it possible to quickly capture a couple of differently focused versions of the "detail" shot (where the disk fills, or almost fills the frame) and then switch quickly to the broader "area" shot/s, which show the disk and its surroundings, indicating how to reach it and how it relates to nearby objects. The image stabilizer removes most of the camera shake that comes from being overly excited with good finds or with photographing in natural light :unsure: . I carry the camera in a Ziplock freezer bag, which keeps the always present dirt out of its mechanism, and I use a lens extender barrel simply because it enables me to use a lens cap. The camera fits nicely into one of the major compartments of one of the two the electrician's belt pouches I carry my benchmarking tools in.

 

I have tried a few shots in the rain (and even when the sunken disk was literally under water!). These never seem to do too well--too many reflections.

 

I always try to shade the disk with my body, since "open" shade makes for the most even lighting and the greatest legibility of the stamping. As others have said, direct sunlight is a no-no (reflections), and dappled sunlight/shade is the worst of all.

 

I always carry a little container of baby powder, sprinkle a little bit on the disk if the stamping is worn, and then gently rub it into the legend with my finger. You said you'd like to avoid this, but sometimes its about the only way to make heavily worn disks legible. The disk must be clean and dry, however.

 

I carry a small narrow wire brush (a grout line cleaning brush from TrueValue with a handle about 6" long and bristles that are about 3" x .5") to scrub accumulated gunk off the disk, and sometimes the heavy coatings of orange paint that our surveyor colleagues seem to like spraying around. Spraying a disk in this fashion can fill in its legend in a way not even baby powder can fix. I also have a nylon bristle floor scrubbing brush with a handle like on a curling stone :ph34r: for initial cleaning, and a wisk broom for larger areas (e.g., rock ledges).

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Black spray paint also works good, spray it one and wipe of before dry. Thats what I used on this one. I was having a hard time getting the lettering to stand out and rifled thru the suburban and all I had was paint, yellow did not show as good as the black.

 

RK0194 FBN - This is a Federal Base Network Control Station.

L61_1934-1.jpg

MVC-003F-1.jpg

 

These were taken with a Sony Mavica MVC-FD81 It takes perfect pictures all the time, best camera ever IMO.

Edited by Z15

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I have advanced quite a bit.

I had a cheap camera to start and as I got into it I finally broke down and bought a little better one but was still not getting it all right.

 

I finally got a Canon A720 with IS and 6X zoom and well my images are still ametuer.

But am getting better at it.

I like photography but even the best times can prove shady.

You get home and find you only got 4 good ones out of 8.

 

You thought you had it shaded but it flared.

 

Just have fun and get as many angles as possible closeup as well as from points in the description.

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If you have a digital camera be sure to use the preview screen both before and after taking the shot. I prefer to use the view finder when actually taking the picture. With it I can tell if there is any glare that needs to be taken into account. When I zoom in I check to see if I can read the disk when looking through the view finder. If not, then I determine what is preventing the disk from showing clearly.

 

I prefer to have the GPSr in the photo for reference purposes. That way I always have a good set of coordinates for that mark and anyone who checks our pictures will be able to see upfront what the coordinates were.

 

Practice taking pictures of your GPSr until you can consistently read the coordinates on the screen. It is by far, harder to get the GPSr screen to show clearly than it is to get the disk to show clearly.

 

John

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I prefer to have the GPSr in the photo for reference purposes. That way I always have a good set of coordinates for that mark and anyone who checks our pictures will be able to see upfront what the coordinates were.

One thing I really like about digital cameras is the timestamps. Makes it easy to match up the photos with the coordinates on my GPSr (which, of course, stamps the time I took the waypoint), without having to have the GPSr actually in the photo.

 

Patty

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I too prefer not to use corn starch etc, but sometimes it's just the best way to get the stamping to stand out. Cleaning the disk well is a must. I carry a small whisk broom for the job.

 

A nice deep stamping is the best, but obviously the thing we can least control. A lower sun angle will often be better, because it can cast a bit of shadow in the recessed areas of the disk, making the lettering more legible. As has been mentioned, having even lighting across the entire disk is critical. I will move grass and other obstacles out of the way to get full sunlight with no shadows. If something can not be moved (the witness post, for example) I will use my body to shade the entire disk and shoot it in the shade.

 

From there, I take two close-up pictures--one with the disk filling the entire frame, and a second with my GPS, showing the waypoint screen AFTER I have averaged the waypoint for more exact coordinates. This serves two purposes...the waypoint screen clearly shows the PID, while the disk shows the designation. Obviously, I also then have a photo for my records of the actual coordinates.

 

I then zoom in on the disk photo to make sure the stamping is legible. If not, I'll try with the flash, and if all else fails, out comes the corn starch. It's messy and time consuming, but it really does make a great picture.

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Oh...two other tips for good pictures. Shoot the disk close up. Fill the entire frame if possible. My pet peeve is photos of disks where the disk could be a flying saucer in the corner for as much as you can see it. Also shoot it straight on, whenever possible.

 

Many point and shoots have relatively long minimum focusing distances. If your camera won't focus close up, use a macro mode (yeah, you may have to read the manual) to let you get closer and take a good picture that's in focus.

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A couple more comments...

 

The closeup picture of the disk should have the disk's designation printing level across the picture; not upside down or slanty. Don't worry if the rim printing is turned some, or even upside down (with "B.M." on top) - the designation printing is the primary importance.

 

A lesser part of the identification of a disk is to be able to read the agency name on the disk. I have seen lots of disk pictures in which the person didn't take the extra effort to clear the dirt off the rim of the disk where the agency name and type of disk (like REFERENCE) are imprinted. It's really best to get the entire disk cleaned off. Sometimes it's covered by tar or cement and perhaps too much trouble, but generally it is only dirt, and a bit of extra work with a stick of wood will remove it.

 

Some disks should not be cleaned, for example, those disks that are vertically mounted and painted over along with the whole building. You don't want to interfere with the appearance and maintenance of the building.

 

Artsy closeup pictures of disks from a low angle or unusual lighting are sometimes nice, but be sure to also upload a regular closeup picture in your log.

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A couple more comments...

 

The closeup picture of the disk should have the disk's designation printing level across the picture; not upside down or slanty. Don't worry if the rim printing is turned some, or even upside down (with "B.M." on top) - the designation printing is the primary importance.

 

A lesser part of the identification of a disk is to be able to read the agency name on the disk. I have seen lots of disk pictures in which the person didn't take the extra effort to clear the dirt off the rim of the disk where the agency name and type of disk (like REFERENCE) are imprinted. It's really best to get the entire disk cleaned off. Sometimes it's covered by tar or cement and perhaps too much trouble, but generally it is only dirt, and a bit of extra work with a stick of wood will remove it.

 

...

 

here's what I do.

 

1) Taking the shot: I start with a photo of the disk with a modest amount of the background around it, watching out for shadows, cleaning the dirt etc. Here's an example - a reference mark for PD0690 QUODDY. Notice, in spite of the good advice given here there are a few shadows, and a few pine needles. Still the needles and shadows add some realism without messing it up much. Not a bad shot.

 

5b11f96a-f593-4721-8306-117402cd593d.jpg

 

(This image was resized so GC would accept it. Original size was 2272 x 1704 pixels, about 2 Mb)

 

2) Alignment: Then when I get back home, I pick the best shot (I always take 3 or 4 of everything) and first I rotate it so it's "right side up". In this case the stamping "QUODDY" is upright but I use my software's "Rotate to line", to align it eactly to the arrow on the disk. Here's what I got:

 

a9be1928-f117-4f10-a55a-af4610e73278.jpg

 

3) Cropping and enhancing: Then I do the final processing: I) Crop the photo so just a little background shows around the disk. II) enhance the contrast and colors if they need enhancing (this is an eye-ball adjustment - it's easy to overdo it). "Sharpening" it (with the software), to improve the focus almost never works. And lastly I resize it again so it's width is 600 px. This is the magic number GC uses to allow for pictures of arbitrary storage size. Here's the end result:

 

87ab732c-c906-414b-8d0f-a2c0295efe93.jpg

 

Not too bad.

 

One more comment: if you start with a good picture, it's much easier to fix the alignment, contrast, etc at home than trying to do it in the field. Especially your own shadow. I'll stand so my shadow is out of the picture, even if the disk is upside down. OTOH, if the original is not good, there's nothing you can really do to fix it up at home. Get the focus and lighting good, and the rest you can do at home.

Edited by Papa-Bear-NYC

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Thanks for the tips. I tried to use a liquid paper pen and it did not really work. The crayon, babypowder and spray paint sound like really good methods.

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Thanks for the tips. I tried to use a liquid paper pen and it did not really work. The crayon, babypowder and spray paint sound like really good methods.

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Thanks for the tips. I tried to use a liquid paper pen and it did not really work. The crayon, babypowder and spray paint sound like really good methods.

 

I was with someone the other day that had cornstarch and a whisk broom with them, and those pictures turned out absolutely terrific... highly recommend it...

 

greg

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Black Dog Trackers

NGS Surveyor

Wintertime

Harry Dolphin

Mega Scooter

Pqriq

Z15

Geo*Trailblazer 1

2oldfarts

Andylphoto

Papa-Bear-NYC

Greg1701,

 

What a great response. Thank you very much for the ideas and suggestions!

I am compiling all the info onto one page to print out and read through and refer to. We will give it a go. I am sure with your help we won’t have to spend as much time learning by our usual trial-and-error method. THANKS

 

Geo*Trailblzer 1, - you mentioned you have a Canon A720. That is the exact camera we are thinking of buying as our second camera. I will e-mail you to ask your thoughts and see if you would recommend it.

 

Thanks,

 

The TillaMurphs

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Cameras: I just upgraded my old (and dying) benchmarking camera. Tried out every one at Best Buy (35?). Ended up with a Canon SX100IS. The lens is outstanding! 10X optical (great for discs you can't get too close to), still reasonably compact, and the macro is unbelievable! It will focus as close to the lens as about 1/4 inch! Great for the super close-ups of discs. I've done about 30 or so benchmarks with it (mostly in Yosemite), and have no complaints at all.

 

8 MegaPixels, accepts SD or SDHC cards (4GB OK), but if you have a card reader older than a year or so, you may have to replace it, as older ones won't accept SDHC cards, but they are cheap ($15 for one at Office Max).

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I forgot to mention... whenever possible, we prefer to invite the benchmark in to our studio and have it "sit" for its formal portrait. Call us traditionalists, but we like it this way. Here's a sample "sitting" for MY2478.

 

P.S. I actually "recovered" this disk over the weekend when I dug to find the mark and found instead a sheared-off monument and the actual disk, stem intact, lying next to it. I guess this is one I can actually document to NGS as for-certain destroyed.

 

-Paul

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The county (perhaps the whole state, I haven't checked) where I live has an incredible geodetic marker interactive mapping utility. When you select a marker, it comes up with the county datasheet which includes links to typically 3 pictures done with a handheld camera.

One picture showing the general location of the marker (estimating a 30 foot field of view at 30-40 feet from the mark), a shot of the marker from about head high nearly vertical over the mark, and of course a closeup with the disk filling about 80% of the frame. I looks like they sometimes use a pink or white powder to highlight the lettering.

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I forgot to mention... whenever possible, we prefer to invite the benchmark in to our studio and have it "sit" for its formal portrait. Call us traditionalists, but we like it this way. Here's a sample "sitting" for MY2478.

 

Excellent use of the posing table. That's hilarious! :anitongue:

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The county (perhaps the whole state, I haven't checked) where I live has an incredible geodetic marker interactive mapping utility.

What is the URL of this utility (assuming it has one)?

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Tilly & Billy -

 

It probably doesn't make any significant difference when checking the accuracy of a handheld GPSr, but just for further challenge and peace of mind :anitongue: , you might want to use a horizontally adjusted mark that is a 'GPS mark' instead of a horizontally adjusted mark whose coordinates were established with older surveying methods.

 

To find GPS marks, go to the NGS datasheet page, click on "Datasheets", then click on either County, USGS Quad, or Radial Search, and then in the "Data Type Desired: " dropdown window, select "GPS Sites Only".

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Yeah, and for fun BDT hunts gnats with an elephant gun...... :laughing::wub:

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One thing I really like about digital cameras is the timestamps. Makes it easy to match up the photos with the coordinates on my GPSr (which, of course, stamps the time I took the waypoint), without having to have the GPSr actually in the photo.

 

Patty

 

I discovered geotagging last season and have been using it ever since. I sync the camera time with the GPSr time before we leave and track the entire trip. When I return, I run a program which matches the photo timestamps with the GPSr log and writes the coords to the photos.

 

Brendan

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I forgot to mention... whenever possible, we prefer to invite the benchmark in to our studio and have it "sit" for its formal portrait. Call us traditionalists, but we like it this way. Here's a sample "sitting" for MY2478.

 

P.S. I actually "recovered" this disk over the weekend when I dug to find the mark and found instead a sheared-off monument and the actual disk, stem intact, lying next to it. I guess this is one I can actually document to NGS as for-certain destroyed.

 

-Paul

Paul,

 

First off - hilarious picture!

 

Now, a question. I am very new to Benchmarking and it looks like you have lots of experience so pardon my ignorance.

I read this in the geocaching.com FAQs about Benchmarks:

 

You NEVER EVER take them, even when they appear to have been damaged. These markers are public property, are actively used in surveying, and are protected by law. In the unlikely event that you discover a marker lying loose on the ground, the best thing is to leave it where you found it and contact the agency who is listed on it.

I am just trying to figure out the do's and don't of this new hobby?

 

Thanks,

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Good point. Finding this loose disk, buried and disassociated from its monument, was a first for me in 150 or so searches (I've been at this only since January), and I believe it's a generally rare occurrence. Maybe our more experienced colleagues can help us out with protocol here.

 

I believe that the disk itself would be of no value to anyone seeking to occupy the station, bit I would hope that my reports on GC and to NGS will indeed be helpful, augmenting the directions to the (now shattered) buried monument, including photos, and giving my local agency a heads-up on the need to re-set the mark if it wishes. Since I'm not sure of the right answer, I'll check with the owner, MassHighway, and see what they say. This is where knowing how to reach your NGS Liaison Person at the state level is helpful.

 

I'll post a note on the outcome of my inquiry when I hear back.

 

As far as NGS is concerned, I'll be logging this station as Destroyed and sending our NGS liaison a photo of the loose disk (not a "studio shot" :laughing: .

 

-Paul

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I read this in the geocaching.com FAQs about Benchmarks:

You NEVER EVER take them, even when they appear to have been damaged. These markers are public property, are actively used in surveying, and are protected by law. In the unlikely event that you discover a marker lying loose on the ground, the best thing is to leave it where you found it and contact the agency who is listed on it.

I am just trying to figure out the do's and don't of this new hobby?

That information is correct. (We have some really experienced folks here who put together a great FAQ!) The best procedure is to take photos and submit them to the agency that owns the disk, so that they can quickly grasp the situation. You can even ask them politely whether, if they don't need the disk any more, you can retrieve it and keep it. I know people who have gotten affirmative answers from that question, then gone back and retrieved the disk, so it's worth a try!

 

The professional surveyors may know of some exceptions to that rule (such as if they're surveying in a construction area and they know that the disk is about to be buried), but for the rest of us, the above-described procedure is the one to follow.

 

Patty

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pqriq and Wintertime,

Thanks for the explanations. I am learning.

 

pqriq, have you posted any photos of your loose disk? I would like to see what the bottom side of a disk looks like.

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I'll log it in the next day or so. We've had a little break in the torrential downpours,

so I've been out hunting again. :huh:

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This one was already listed in NGS as destroyed, but not in geocaching. I asked Deb if I coul take it home with me. She said Yes. I haven't gotten back to retrieve it. How much does a three foot section of concrete post weigh?

dd450efb-67eb-4a35-bc12-5bb06595e76b.jpg

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How much does a three foot section of concrete post weigh?

 

 

A lot more than a 5 lb. sledgehammer. :huh:

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How much does a three foot section of concrete post weigh?

 

 

A lot more than a 5 lb. sledgehammer. :huh:

 

Don't forget the chisel! I think I would try to keep the upper few inches of the concrete along with the disk itself.

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This one was already listed in NGS as destroyed, but not in geocaching. I asked Deb if I coul take it home with me. She said Yes. I haven't gotten back to retrieve it. How much does a three foot section of concrete post weigh?

Since you asked, I weighed our concrete post and bench mark. Ours weighs 72 pounds. I have carefully picked it up by myself a few times, but it's better to use two people.

 

My wife and I took pictures and reported it destroyed to Deb. She confirmed the destruction and gave us permission to keep it, so we went back and retrieved it. I'm glad to see that you also asked before taking it. It's also a good idea to keep Deb's email just in case someone questions you later.

 

Don't forget the chisel! I think I would try to keep the upper few inches of the concrete along with the disk itself.

We kept the whole thing! If the post is in good condition, it's impressive to look at. You could even dig a hole in your backyard for your own monument. :blink:

 

If you are going to break up a post, a chisel isn't good enough. You'll need a sledgehammer. I know because I helped someone else break apart a concrete post (in poor condition) to extract the bench mark. (Yes, we had Deb's permission for that one too. We actually retrieved both at the same time.)

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TillaMurphs, here is my log, with a couple of pictures of the dis-mounted disk.

 

-Paul

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How much does a three foot section of concrete post weigh?

 

 

A lot more than a 5 lb. sledgehammer. :D

 

Don't forget the chisel! I think I would try to keep the upper few inches of the concrete along with the disk itself.

 

Yeah, but it's on the side of a fairly major road. Forty or fifty cars drove by while we were looking for it.

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This one was already listed in NGS as destroyed, but not in geocaching. I asked Deb if I coul take it home with me. She said Yes. I haven't gotten back to retrieve it. How much does a three foot section of concrete post weigh?

dd450efb-67eb-4a35-bc12-5bb06595e76b.jpg

 

 

One person could do it, but two people can easily do the job. ;)

 

Ours is happily displayed in our garden.........

 

 

BMgarden2.jpg

Edited by AstroD-Team

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