Infrared Photography with the Sony α7R

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I’ve had a fascination with infrared (IR) photography for several years, but lurked from a safe distance. I finally took the plunge last year and had a Sony α7R camera body converted to IR. Like most of my adventures, this has been a learn-by-doing experiment, aided by online guides and tutorials. This article is a summary of my experience to date, with tips, workflow, and links to resources that might help prospective IR photographers. This is not a comprehensive tutorial, product review or user’s guide.

IR Conversion

The Sony α7R is an ideal camera for infrared conversion. Unlike DSLRs, which require IR Auto Focus (AF) calibration for each lens and/or focal length, mirrorless cameras (full frame, MFT, or APS-C) need no AF calibration, and focus IR accurately via the imaging sensor. That means all of my Sony FE lenses are potential candidates for IR photography. More on lens selection later. With an EVF and Live View providing a WYSIWYG preview of the scene being photographed, composition, focus and exposure with the α7R are straightforward.

Camera conversion involves removing the camera manufacturer’s hot mirror filter that blocks IR and replacing it with a custom IR filter that passes all or a part of the IR spectrum. Don’t try this at home. Kolari Vision and LifePixel are two companies that offer conversion services as well as fully converted and tested cameras. Since I had a spare α7R body that was not being used much, I chose LifePixel’s Enhanced Color IR Filter conversion, equivalent to a 665nm filter. The visible spectrum is about 390 to 700nm, so that option passes a small fraction of the visible spectrum and IR. Here’s how LifePixel describes it:

Allows more color to pass and is especially suited for color IR photography with great saturation and color range. Black & white also looks quite good although with a bit less contrast without adjustments.

Keep in mind that the image captured is of reflected light not visible to the human eye. Adding color, either by White Balance (WB) or Channel Mixer adjustments in Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop produces a “false color” image. False color images are usually surreal, often with white or orange foliage and dark blue skies. Another popular post-processing option is conversion to black and white, resulting in monochrome images unique to IR photography.

Image Capture

Camera Settings

Image capture using the IR converted camera is straightforward and very similar to normal shooting. I shoot RAW, using Multi (matrix) metering, Aperture Priority, and Auto ISO. The in-camera White Balance (WB) setting serves only one purpose – to render a visually useful image on the rear LCD or through the EVF for purposes of composition, focus, exposure verification and image review. Auto WB doesn’t work with the converted camera because it’s designed for the visible spectrum. Fortunately, LifePixel supplies a custom WB (2700K) with the conversion, resulting in an EVF/rear LCD false color view that serves its purpose well.

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EVF/rear LCD view with custom WB

Focus Peaking is of limited use on the IR converted camera, but Auto Focus (AF) and Manual Focus (MF) with Auto Magnification work fine with either the EVF or Live View. While Exposure Bias is likely camera-specific and always subject-specific, I’ve found that a setting of +1.0EV gives me a better starting point than 0EV.

Lens Selection

Lens selection requires some care and experimentation. Some lenses will produce a hot spot, or an area in the image (usually in the center) that is brighter than the rest of the image. Hot spots are lens-specific and are to be avoided. Like lens flare, fixing an image in post-processing is not an option. For the α7R, the FE 24-70mm f/4 (my “go to” lens for general use), FE 55mm f/1.8 and FE 70-200mm f/4 lenses work well, but the FE 35mm f/1.4 lens has given me hot spot problems. LifePixel and Kolari Vision maintain lists of lenses that are prone to hot spots.

Subjects

No waiting for the golden hour. No waiting for overcast skies. Bright sunny days – OK. Contrasty midday light – no problem. Brilliant blue sky with some clouds – excellent. In other words, IR photography breaks all of the conventional rules regarding best times to shoot. When other photographers have retreated to grab lunch or wait for sunset, the best opportunities for IR take place. Lush green foliage renders white or yellow. Blue skies appear dark, as if a polarizer were used, with clouds adding dimensionality. My subjects are usually landscapes, so I can’t opine on the suitability of IR for photographing people, wildlife or architecture (yet). Try it and see for yourself.

Post-Processing

Post-processing an infrared image presents a variety of creative choices that are beyond the scope of this article. I’ve provided links to several excellent tutorials on post-processing at the end of this post. I’ll outline my post-processing steps, with examples of what to expect along the way.

The starting point is the RAW IR image imported from the camera, with no adjustments or profiles applied.

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IR image straight from camera

Camera Calibration Profile Creation

The first step that I take in post-processing is the creation of a Camera Calibration profile for LR or Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). This is a “once and done” step, and the profile can be applied to all of your IR images. The profile is necessary because the WB of the captured image doesn’t give enough adjustment “room”, with the Temp and Tint sliders pegged to the left extreme.

LR_Basic_Before

LR Basic panel before applying profile

Rather than detailing the process, I recommend watching Jason Odell’s excellent video on creating and using a Camera Calibration profile for LR and ACR.

After taking this step, and applying the profile, there’s more latitude for adjustment of both WB Temp and Tint.

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LR Basic panel after applying profile

And the image begins to show promise.

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IR image after applying profile

Lightroom and Photoshop Adjustments

At this point, before working on false color or black & white conversion, I apply my normal LR/ACR settings and presets – lens profile correction, deconvolution sharpening (pre-sharpening), and noise reduction (if necessary).

The next step in my workflow is to Export the image from LR to Photoshop (or Open Image after applying the settings in ACR). I use Channel Mixer (Image>Adjustments>Channel Mixer) to swap the Red and Blue channels using the following settings:

Red Channel: Red=0%, Green=0%, Blue=100%

Blue Channel: Red=100%, Green=0%, Blue=0%

Green Channel: Red=0%, Green=100%, Blue=0%.

And I add Hue/Saturation, Curves and Levels adjustment layers to adjust the false color, increase the contrast, and adjust the white and black points. I have incorporated those three steps into a Photoshop action that you can download here.

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IR image after PS adjustments

Rather than quitting at this point, I recommend experimenting with various post-processing techniques, including filters, plugins and black & white conversion. I prefer the Nik (Google) Silver Efex Pro plugin for black & white conversion.

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Silver Efex Pro black & white conversion

In

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Black & white layer Blend Mode set to Luminosity

I’ve only touched the surface with respect to post-processing alternatives. But I have summarized the steps I usually take to get to a result that I’m pleased with. As the saying goes, “your mileage may vary”. Experimentation is the key.

Conclusion

Infrared photography using the Sony α7R has proven to be a fun, educational and artistic journey. And while I’ve taken the path of having a full-frame 35mm 36MP mirrorless camera converted to a specific spectrum choice (665nm), many other IR options are available. Compact point-and-shoot, DSLR, and mirrorless cameras are all candidates for IR conversion, to capture full-spectrum (requiring external filters to isolate infrared) or specific IR spectrum cutoffs. Find a little-used camera on your gear shelf or a bargain online and start the journey.

Here’s a link to my Infrared gallery.

Resources

LifePixel Digital Infrared Photography Primer

How to Process Infrared Photographs

Adobe DNG Profile Editor (for Mac or Windows)

An In-Depth Guide to Infrared Photography: Processing

Processing an Infrared Image using Lightroom and Photoshop

5 Creative Ways to Process Infrared Photos in Photoshop


Adobe, Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe Systems Incorporated in the United States and/or other countries.

Google, Nik and Silver Efex Pro are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Google in the United States and/or other countries.

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2015 “Mill As Muse” Award Winner

One of my photographs won a second place award in the Historic Yates Mill County Park 2015 “Mill As Muse” Photography Contest. Yates Mill is a fully restored grist mill located in Raleigh, NC. The mill and park have been open to the public since May 2006, and are picturesque throughout the year. My winning photograph, entered in “Photography – Historic Yates Mill – Adult” category, was taken in July 2014, using a Sony a7R camera that had been converted to infrared. The contest culminated with a reception and photography exhibit on February 15. All of the winning entries are currently on display in the Visitors Center at the mill.



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Crazy Use of a Nikon D800E

Forget drones. Try driving a remote controlled 4×4 car equipped with a Nikon D800E into a pride of lions in Botswana.

The “Car L” project was hatched by Chris McLennan and engineered by Carl Hansen to capture unique images of lions with a Nikon D800E, fired remotely by Chris McLennan using a trigger system built into the remote control unit.

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Sony Ups the Ante with the α7 and α7R

Sony’s new α7 (24MP) and α7R (36MP) 35mm full-frame, mirrorless, interchangeable lens cameras are now available in the US. I just bought the α7R (no anti-aliasing filter) and can barely contain my excitement! Prior to this camera, the Leica M-system was the only game in town for a full-frame 35mm, interchangeable lens, mirrorless compact camera. Now I can use my Leica M lenses on the Sony (with an adapter), which at $2,300 is about one third the price of an M Type 240. The Sony has great high ISO performance and a large, bright EVF (Electronic Viewfinder) with focus peaking. The 36MP sensor with no anti-aliasing filter (similar to the Nikon D800E) is capable of delivering very sharp high-resolution images. And I deliberately said “capable of” because any 36MP (or above) camera requires impeccable shooting technique.

Make no mistake, these new mirrorless cameras by Sony are not Leicas. They don’t have the hand-made precision build quality of a Leica. They don’t have a family of native lenses, with only one Sony/Zeiss lens – a 35mm f/2.8 – available as of December 4. The Sony α7R 36MP sensor is prone to vignetting and color casts when used with lenses wider than 35mm, both of which can typically be fixed in post-processing. The shutter is loud. But even so, the Sony α7 and α7R cameras are quite capable and potentially revolutionary products.

In this video The Camera Store TV’s Chris Niccolls checks out the new Sony α7 and α7R. Enjoy.

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FrameShop Script v0.9.5 for Photoshop CS5 & CS6

FrameShop is a script for Adobe Photoshop designed to give the photographer/artist a variety of mat and frame styles for displaying digital images on the Web. The initial version of the FrameShop script (v0.9) was described in detail in an earlier post on this blog. This new version (v0.9.5) runs on Photoshop CS5 and CS6, and has several new features:

  • Colors are selected using the Adobe Color Picker rather than color presets
  • Text positions are set by default to EXIF left, Title center and Signature right, all on the mat under the image
  • GPS latitude, longitude and elevation have been added to the selectable EXIF text items
  • Result can be saved as JPEG, TIFF, PSD, PNG or GIF
  • Result can be saved with the same ICC profile as the original file or another profile
  • Script runs on a duplicate of the original image and leaves the original image open after running

I have not tested the script with the Adobe Creative Cloud version of Photoshop (yet).
Update (September 9, 2013): The FrameShop script (v0.9.5) has been successfully tested with Adobe Photoshop CC.

The FrameShop script dialog box is organized so that each option can be selected and customized independently:

FrameShop-UI

Setting the Options
For those who are familiar with Adobe Photoshop, using scripts and/or the FrameShop script, the following explanation of FrameShop options can be skipped. The script is easy to use and the settings/options are easy to “play with” without damaging any pixels. If you’re unfamiliar with using scripts in Adobe Photoshop, read the following guide and you’ll be on your way.

Size and Sharpening
The script will size the final framed image to fit within the maximum width and height dimensions specified by the user, just as the Adobe Photoshop File>Automate>Fit Image… menu function does. The image will not be distorted to fit the dimensions, but will be proportionally sized, then matted and framed to fit the maximum dimensions specified. Checking the Smart Sharpen checkbox will apply sharpening, similar to the Adobe Photoshop Filter>Sharpen>Smart Sharpen… menu selection, to the image (before the mat and frame are added).

Mats
Several mat styles are available:

  • Drop shadow
  • Cut bevel
  • Overlay
  • Double mat
  • Plain mat

The Overlay style doesn’t add a mat. Instead, it converts the outer edge of the image (dimension set with the mat Size setting) to black and white. The opacity of the overlay is determined by the Opacity setting. A stroke can be added to the image for the Drop shadow and Plain mat selections. The mat can be set to have equal dimensions on all four sides (Equal mat), or set to have a bottom border that is twice the size of the other sides (Gallery mat).

Here are two examples of what the script can do. Other examples of each mat style are in an earlier post.

Zabriskie Point - Death Valley

Frame
In addition to selecting the frame color using the Adobe Color Picker and setting the frame size (in pixels), you can add an inner shadow and set the size (Depth) of that shadow.

EXIF
FrameShop determines from the file’s EXIF metadata what information is available, and shows that metadata next to the individual EXIF checkboxes. If an EXIF element is not available, the script will show it as being not available (e.g., “ISO N/A”). If you are uncertain about what information is available to Adobe Photoshop in the EXIF metadata, you can view the information from the Adobe Photoshop File>File Info… menu selection. The Font dropdown menu displays all of the fonts installed on the host system. FrameShop displays the following EXIF metadata (if available):

  • Filename
  • Camera model
  • Lens
  • Focal length
  • Shutter speed
  • Aperture
  • ISO
  • Date taken
  • GPS latitude
  • GPS longitude
  • GPS elevation

The (optional) EXIF text is by default positioned on the left in the bottom of the mat, but can be positioned either left, center or right. Its horizontal and vertical position can also be adjusted using the H offset and V offset boxes.

EXIFPanel
Title
If title information has been saved in the source image’s IPTC Title metadata field, the script will show that text in the Title text box. The (optional) Title text is by default positioned in the center in the bottom of the mat, but can be positioned either left, center or right. Its horizontal and vertical position can also be adjusted using the H offset and V offset boxes.

TitlePanel
Signature
If copyright information has been saved in the source image’s IPTC Copyright metadata field, the script will show that text in the Signature text box. The (optional) signature text is by default positioned on the right in the bottom of the mat, but can be positioned either left, center or right. Its horizontal and vertical positions can also be adjusted using the H offset and V offset boxes.

SignaturePanel

Save
Once the other options are set, you can either run the script and save the result as a JPEG, TIFF, PSD, PNG or GIF, or run the script and have the framed image remain open in Adobe Photoshop. The latter choice is useful when determining how to set the options, particularly the text offsets, or when the user desires to manually adjust the layers in Photoshop. The image can be saved in the same location as the source file (Save in same location), or in a different folder, chosen by clicking the Select Folder… button.

JPEG save options:

JPEGSave-600x69

TIFF save options:

TIFFSave-600x70

PSD save options:

PSDSave-600x70

PNG save options:

PNGSave-600x70

GIF save options:

GIFSave-600x70

The framed image can be saved with the same ICC profile as the original (Same as Source), or in one of several other ICC profiles:

OutputProfile
Clicking Cancel dismisses the dialog box and returns you to the open source file.

Installation
The script requires Adobe Photoshop CS5 or CS6, and will run on a PC (Windows 32-bit and 64-bit) or Mac (OS X). This version (v0.9.5) will not run on Photoshop CS4 or earlier versions of Photoshop. Install the script in the Scripts folder so that it will show up in the Files/Scripts menu of Photoshop:

Mac OS
Applications/Adobe Photoshop CS_/Presets/Scripts

Windows
Program Files/Adobe/Adobe Photoshop CS_/Presets/Scripts

Be sure to restart the Photoshop application after script installation.
Or you can put the script anywhere (on your desktop for example) and browse to the script using the Photoshop File/Scripts/Browse… menu.

Under the Hood
When the script runs the first time, it produces a settings file, FrameShop Scriptv0.9.5.xml, in the Adobe Photoshop CS_ Settings folder. If you encounter problems using the script, try deleting this file and re-running the script. A corrupted settings file could be the culprit. The FrameShop Scriptv0.9.5.xml file, which saves the settings for the script, is located in:

Mac OS
Users/[user name]/Library/Preferences/Adobe Photoshop CS_ Settings

Windows 7 and Vista
Users/[user name]/AppData/Roaming/Adobe/Adobe Photoshop CS_/Adobe Photoshop CS_ Settings

Windows XP
Documents and Settings/[user name]/Application Data/Adobe/Adobe Photoshop CS_/Adobe Photoshop CS_ Settings

Download
Download the .zip file and, after unzipping, install as detailed above.

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If you experience difficulty with a localized version of Photoshop (versions of Photoshop other than North American English language), I have disabled the version check logic just for you:

download-buttonEverything Else

For those who became hooked on the color presets of the initial version of FrameShop, you can find popular hexadecimal Web-friendly colors on a number of websites. Just do a Google search for “hexadecimal color codes”. Here’s an example.

If you have any comments, questions, suggestions for new features, or bug reports, please contact me. If you are reporting a bug or are asking a question about a problem you encounter, please include the following information in your message:

  • Operating system (Windows or Mac OS)
  • Adobe Photoshop version
  • Error message received, if any
  • Type of image being processed (JPEG, TIFF, NEF, etc.)

Thanks to those who have allowed me to use their prior work in this script, and to those who have tested it and provided feedback.


Adobe and Photoshop are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe Systems Incorporated in the United States and/or other countries.

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Happy Birthday Golden Gate Bridge!

Today marks the 75th birthday of the Golden Gate Bridge. Since it’s one of my favorite photo subjects, I thought I’d post a few of my favorite images of the bridge. Happy birthday!

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Nikon D800 Sets the Bar High

Today’s announcement of the Nikon D800 has upped the ante in the world of DSLR photography. With a 36.3 megapixel FX-format CMOS sensor and full HD 1080p video with stereo sound, the D800 is a game changer. And Nikon has set the bar even higher by announcing the D800E, which according to Nikon “incorporates an optical low pass filter (OLPF) without anti-aliasing properties to facilitate the sharpest images possible and is a great option for RAW shooters who are in a position to control light, distance and their subject to the degree where they can mitigate the risk of moiré and any false color.”

Some of the D800′s specifications (see the Nikon website for a complete table of specs):

  • 36.3-megapixel FX-format CMOS sensor
  • 35.9mm x 24mm sensor size
  • 1/8000 to 30 sec. shutter speed
  • Up to 4 frames per second in FX-format
  • TTL exposure metering using 91,000-pixel RGB sensor
  • ISO 100-6400
  • 51-point dynamic-area AF
  • Built-in flash
  • Live View

Already, with very few who have even touched the new camera, there are reviews, articles and digests appearing on the Web, including:

Nikon USA now has the 20 pages Nikon D800 | D800E Technical Guide available for download. The guide is particularly useful in describing and illustrating techniques for getting sharp images with a 36-megapixal camera.

Stay tuned. This is exciting!

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Lightroom 4 Public Beta Available

Having used Lightroom since its initial release 6 years ago, I’m excited about the announcement and availability of each new version. Today Adobe announced the availability of Lightroom 4 Public Beta. This version introduces two new modules – Book and Map – and adds major new functionality to the existing modules.

New Features in Lightroom 4 Beta (from the Adobe Labs site):

  • Highlight and shadow recovery brings out all the detail that your camera captures in dark shadows and bright highlights.
  • Photo book creation with easy-to-use elegant templates.
  • Location-based organization lets you find and group images by location, assign locations to images, and display data from GPS-enabled cameras.
  • White balance brush to refine and adjust white balance in specific areas of your images.
  • Additional local editing controls let you adjust noise reduction and remove moiré in targeted areas of your images.
  • Extended video support for organizing, viewing, and making adjustments and edits to video clips.
  • Easy video publishing lets you edit and share video clips on Facebook and Flickr®.
  • Soft proofing to preview how an image will look when printed with color-managed printers.
  • Email directly from Lightroom using the email account of your choice.

Lightroom 4 Public Beta can be downloaded from the Adobe Labs website.

Tom Hogarty’s Lightroom Journal has a complete description of new features, system requirements and known issues, and a very comprehensive list of Lightroom 4 resources.

Michael Reichmann has a streaming video describing the new features on his Luminous Landscape site.

The new soft proofing feature is one of the most exciting and highly anticipated additions to Lightroom. Andrew Rodney, The Digital Dog, has a very compelling video on his website describing this feature.

Ian Lyons has an illustrated preview of Lightroom 4 on his site with links to other sites that describe the new release.

Scott Kelby’s NAPP Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Beta Launch Center is up and operational.

Then there’s Adobe TV, where Digital Imaging Evangelist Julieanne Kost walks you through new features, workflows and enhancements in the latest release of Lightroom 4 beta.

In the coming days, many more descriptions, tutorials and reviews will appear on the Web. Stay tuned. And I would be remiss in not including the following caveats from Adobe:

This download will install Lightroom 4 beta and will work independently alongside your installation of Lightroom 1 or higher. The beta version is intended to provide an opportunity to give feedback and as such, does not read, upgrade or import catalogs from previous versions of Lightroom. If you currently own Lightroom, please continue to use Lightroom 1 or higher for your primary workflow needs.

When you install Lightroom 4 beta, the software will remain active through March 2012. Once the final version of Lightroom 4 is available, please follow the new installation instructions.

Note: This is a public beta, not a final product. Neither the quality nor the features are complete yet. We want to show you our direction and get your feedback so that we can incorporate it into future releases. This public beta release does not include all of the features that will be part of Lightroom 4, but instead gives you a preview of some of the new features.

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Nikon D4, the new Prince of Darkness

Specifications:

  • 16.2 effective megapixel, full-frame sensor
  • 10fps shooting with AF and AE, 11fps with focus and exposure locked, 24fps 2.5MP grabs
  • 91,000 pixel sensor for metering, white balance, flash exposure, face detection and active d-lighting
  • ISO Range 100-12,800 (extendable from 50 – 204,800)
  • MultiCAM 3500FX Autofocus sensor works in lower light and with smaller apertures
  • Two sub-selector joystick/buttons for shooting orientation
  • 1080p30 HD video at up to 24Mbps with uncompressed video output
  • New EN-EL18 battery (21.6Wh capacity, CIPA-rated at 2600 shots)
  • Twin card slots – one Compact Flash and one XQD

See Shooting the D4! on Joe McNally’s blog and Thom Hogan’s article on the D4 introduction.

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Steve Jobs – He changed our lives. We will miss him.

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When Devin called, I knew instantly that he was sad. After the introductory, “Hey Granddad”, he said, “Steve Jobs died”, wiping a tear from his eye. I knew that because he had called me using FaceTime from his iPod. I said, “Yeah, I heard. Steve Jobs was one of my heroes.” “Mine, too”, he said. Devin is 9 years old, by the way, and has been exposed to Apple’s technology since he was old enough to reach a keyboard. His Mom, our daughter Angela, started using an Apple II in elementary school, both at home and in class. And so did our son Michael, neither realizing how miraculous that was to me, a young electrical engineer at the time.

Devin moved to the San Francisco Bay area this summer, and one of the first things he wanted to do was visit Apple’s headquarters. He did, and came home with stuff from the gift shop that he later explained, “could only be bought on the Apple Campus.” When I was 9 years old, my heroes were fictional TV characters, not corporate CEOs. But Steve Jobs as hero came not from his position as CEO, but from his obvious technological and marketing genius. The fact that Devin so casually could pick up a handheld wireless device and have a video conversation with his Granddad is a testament to that genius.

Steve Jobs changed our lives. He brought his genius into our homes, our schools, our offices, and our hands. Speaking for my family, I can say with some confidence that his genius enriched our lives, and continues to expand our reach and scientific curiosity. Thanks Steve for being our hero. We will miss you.

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