Archive for the ‘Olympic Peninsula’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk: Using Foreground Judiciously   6 comments

Yellow balsamroot fill the foreground in this recent image of Mount Hood in the early morning.

I’ve posted previously on using foreground elements in landscape photography.  We’ll look  at it from a  slightly different angle here, adding a bit of subjective opinion (surprise!) along the way.  But don’t worry, there’s plenty objective advice on successfully using foreground as well.

They are important, obviously.  But I think too many landscape photographers think they need to include close foregrounds in every picture.  I’ve also fallen prey to the frantic search for foreground while light is happening, but I’m more relaxed about it now, taking what is there.  The fact is I don’t think foreground is absolutely critical to a successful landscape photograph.

Foreground is certainly worth keeping in mind however.  It can add a sense of depth and, for very close foregrounds (the subject of last Friday Foto Talk), it can put the viewer in your pictures.  So how do we go about using foreground judiciously?

I visited this little waterfall near Lake Quinault, Washington this week. A mossy log forms a partial leading line in the foreground.

I visited this little waterfall near Lake Quinault, Washington this week. A mossy log forms a partial leading line in the foreground.

  • DEFINE FOREGROUND BROADLY.  It can be close, even very close.  But it doesn’t have to be.  A larger foreground subject can be placed further away in a composition and still act as a fairly dominant element.  If you place it too close it may be too dominant.  You don’t want the viewers to lose sight of that beautiful background.  Bonus: foreground elements that are even slightly further away will be easier to keep in focus along with your background.

Recent sunset on the Oregon Coast at Ecola State Park.  No real foreground here, just middle-ground sea stacks.

  • FOCAL LENGTH IS IMPORTANT.   Since balancing elements is important in any photo, focal length matters quite a lot.  If you’re at a very wide angle, say 16-20 mm. on a full-frame camera, you’ll need to get closer to the foreground subject so it doesn’t get lost.  Again, how close depends on its size, but also in the way it contrasts with the rest of the scene (color for example).  Exception: if you’re wanting to show a sense of scale, you may want a fairly small looking foreground subject.  Live subjects (especially humans) can be smaller in the frame because we naturally lock onto them whatever their size.
Sunset beach stroll on the lovely Andamon Sea island of Tarutao, Thailand.

Sunset beach stroll on the lovely Andamon Sea island of Tarutao, Thailand.  Humans can be fairly far away and look small, and still be a kind of foreground subject for the image.

  • OBSERVE OBSERVE!  I’m always looking near and far when I’m out scouting locations or when the light is nice and I’m shooting.  I’ll get my face up close to see what a very close composition might look like.  I’m not the type to look through the viewfinder while searching for compositions.  I only do that once I see something I want to shoot, in order to dial in the exact composition I want.
Thought I'd throw in one showing how I'm getting around on this little surprise trip back to the Pacific Northwest.

Thought I’d throw in one showing how I’m getting around on this little surprise trip back to the Pacific Northwest.

  • COMPOSE HOLISTICALLY.  If your foreground includes interesting patterns or leading lines, anything that helps the viewer to move on to the rest of the image, more the better.  But I don’t think in terms of abstract patterns, only the subject (see below).  So if I find a foreground subject that is interesting in some way, especially with regard to the overall environment I’m in, then I position myself to take advantage of any leading lines, layering effect, etc.

* Most landscape photographers will counsel that you look for the abstract patterns, leading lines and the like.  Though they’re important to include in photos, I think that’s putting the cart before the horse.  We are naturally attracted to patterns, and once you have a good amount of time behind the lens, you do this without any conscious effort.  What requires conscious effort is to find subjects that mean something.  And in the case of landscape photos with foreground, that means finding multiple elements (hopefully meaningful subjects) that work together well.

On California's coast, these large cobbles in the foreground are piled atop a wave-cut bench eroded and notched by the same kinds of rocks tumbled about during storms.

On California’s coast, these large cobbles in the foreground are piled atop a wave-cut bench eroded and notched by the same kinds of rocks tumbled about during storms.

  • MIX IT UP.  I try to capture a variety of angles on a subject or scene.  If I come back from a shoot with only images with close foreground, I don’t feel I’ve succeeded, especially if the light was good.  I want images with at least a couple different foreground elements, some close and some a little further away.  I also like getting a few with no real foreground elements (maybe mid-ground).

I will post a follow-up that uses an example shoot to show how to make foreground just one part of your landscape images, not the whole enchilada.  Have a wonderful weekend!

Recent sunset on beautiful Lake Quinault, Olympic Peninsula, Washington. The cedar trees a a framing foreground element.

Day’s end on beautiful Lake Quinault, Olympic Peninsula, Washington. The cedar trees form framing foreground elements.

 

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Visiting the Olympic Peninsula   33 comments

A rewarding sunrise from Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic Mountains highlights the peaks of the North Cascades in Washington.

A rewarding sunrise from Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic Mountains highlights the peaks of the North Cascades in Washington.

Back to my bread & butter, a travel-tip post on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, home to one of America’s best national parks.  I spent a week there in August.  I know I know, what took me so long to write about it?  I’ve been posting pictures for other posts, but it’s finally time to give my take on this beautiful place.  I’ve been there several times, but never as extensively as this one.  It is in my opinion the most diverse national park in the country.  Where else can you hike among flowers in alpine meadows, see glaciers, walk through a misty rain forest, or along a beach studded with sea stacks and brimming with tide pools?  Throw in skipping stones on a beautiful lake and a good soak in a hot spring and you have a pretty special place.

The crescent moon rises over the rugged Olympic Coast at Cape Alava.

The crescent moon rises over the rugged Olympic Coast at Cape Alava.

Places to Visit on the Peninsula

The best time to visit the Olympic Peninsula is anytime during the warmer months, mid-May to September.  April, even March can be nice, also less crowded.  You can have rainy weather at any time, but it is much less common July to mid-September.  Here are the spots I think are worth visiting.  I’ll start with the two most popular places.

      • Hurricane Ridge.  This area accessible via a twisting climbing road from Port Angeles is probably the most spectacular place in the park, and the Peninsula as well.  The views are astounding.  You can see into Canada, over to the Pacific Ocean, and out into the Cascade and Olympic Mountains.  The flowers peak in late July to early August.  There is a small visitor center and a few short trails.  If you drive the gravel road (doable in a 2WD) east to the end of the ridge, you will have more views.  And if you hike a mile or two out one of the trails here you can see Puget Sound and the North Cascades: awesome!
Mount Olympus and companions bask under a beautiful dawn sky as viewed from atop Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, Washington.

Mount Olympus and companions bask under a beautiful dawn sky as viewed from atop Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, Washington.

      • Hoh Rainforest.  Although this area on the west side of the Peninsula can get crowded, the trails have people dispersed in a hurry.  A few short nature trails give a good feel for the forest, and there is a very long trail that heads up the Hoh River, eventually reaching alpine meadows and views of the Blue Glacier. There is also a good visitor center.  Note that you’ll pay an entrance fee (currently $15) to access either Hurricane Ridge or the Hoh, but not for most of the other locations listed below.
Dusk gathers in the foggy forest of the Olympic National Park, Washington.

Dusk gathers in the foggy forest of the Olympic National Park, Washington.

      • La Push Beaches.  The coast near La Push is spectacular.  Several short trails head to beaches, which are popular for backpacking.  But you can also simply drive to Rialto Beach or First Beach.  It’s beautiful.  Do yourself a favor and take a couple walks along the beach.  Time it for low tide for some superb tide-pooling.  Pick up a tide table or jot down times from the internet.  Catch a sunset if at all humanly possible!
The beautiful Olympic Coast at First Beach near La Push, Washington.

The beautiful Olympic Coast at First Beach near La Push, Washington.

      • Ozette.  Actually if you have time do both Ozette and Cape Flattery.  The drive out there from Port Angeles is so beautiful.  Once at Ozette, which used to be a thriving if isolated community but now is not much more than a trailhead, you can hike out a few miles to Cape Alava.  This is the furthest west you can go in the continental United States.  It’s spectacular.  You can hike south along the beach then turn left and make a loop back.  It is about 9 miles for the loop.  The lake is a big one, very worth paddling on if you have a canoe or kayak.  I camped right on the lake and had some very nice starry skies (see image).

If you go to Cape Flattery and have time for a hike, you can head south along the coast on Hobuck Road.  It will give you a feel for how the Makah Native American tribe lives, and you’ll end up at the trailhead for Shi Shi Beach (pronounced shy shy).  Also, at Neah Bay, there is a very worthwhile museum focused on the native culture of the Makah and other coastal tribes.  Cape Flattery is spectacular, the northwestern-most point of the U.S. (excluding Alaska of course). On the drive out there, make sure and check out the beautiful beach at Salt Creek County Park.

Tide pool ornaments on the Olympic Coast.

Tide pool ornaments on the Olympic Coast.

The day's last rays of sunlight strike a sea stack off the northern Olympic Coast in Washington.

The day’s last rays of sunlight strike a sea stack off the northern Olympic Coast in Washington.

 

      • Lake Quinault.  Like many places on the Olympic Peninsula, this beautiful lake lies on American Indian tribal land.  It is bordered, however, by Olympic National Park.  There is a very nice lodge on the southern shore, plus a beautiful nature trail that winds through enormous trees.  The rainforest here is at least as lovely as that in the Hoh Valley.  Drive east past the lake for trailheads that strike off into wilderness.  There are rustic campsites up here, and BIG trees.
Lake Quinalt on Washington's Olympic Peninsula is a beautiful place for a sunset stroll.

Lake Quinalt on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is a beautiful place for a sunset stroll.

A pretty little waterfall nestles in a verdant alcove near Lake Quinault.

A pretty little waterfall nestles in a verdant alcove near Lake Quinault.

 

      • Lake Crescent.  This glacially-carved lake is the most beautiful lake in Washington, if you ask me.  Steep mountains rise from a curving lakeshore.  Many people just drive right by it on the way from Hurricane Ridge to Hoh Valley.  Don’t be one of these people!  A small beach at the west end of the beach is a good place for a picnic.  Roads head along the far northern shore from either end, and a hiking trail ascends to Pyramid Mountain for even better views of the lake.
Lake Crescent on the northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington is calm under misty skies.

Lake Crescent on the northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington is calm under misty skies.

      • Sol Duc.  This valley covered in beautiful forest is additionally blessed with a (developed) hot springs.  Though I prefer undeveloped hot springs, this one is nicely done.  A short hike takes you to Sol Duc Falls, a beautiful (but popular) cascade.  Reach this valley by turning south just west of Lake Crescent.
Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park.

Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park.

      • Overnight Hikes:  The two classic trips are up the Hoh River and along the coast.  For the former, start at Hoh Visitor Center and head up to the Blue Glacier. You can turn north at the ranger station to enter a lovely lake basin.  Then if you do a shuttle you can exit through the Sol Duc Valley.  For the coast, talk with rangers at the park’s wilderness desk for local information.  You need to factor in slower hiking times plus tides.  There are several possibilities including the hike from Ozette to Rialto Beach, along with Third Beach to Ruby Beach.  Many other backpack trips are possible in the park, including some that ascend quickly into great mountains and lakes from the east, Hood Canal side.
Life thrives along the rugged northern Olympic Coast in Washington.

Life thrives along the rugged northern Olympic Coast in Washington.

A huge leaf after overnight rainfall in the Hoh rain forest.

A huge leaf after overnight rainfall in the Hoh rain forest.

 

The rugged coast along the northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington was a particularly serious threat to early shipping, and especially during bad weather.

The rugged coast along the northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington was a particularly serious threat to early shipping, and especially during bad weather.

      • Dungeness Spit.  I would be remiss in not mentioning Dungeness Spit near Sequim.  A hike along the Spit is a different experience, reaching far out into the sound.  And it is flat as a pancake!  Sequim is a small town east of Port Angeles.  It benefits from a climatic phenomenon called the rain shadow effect.  It means the rainfall in Sequim is about 16 inches, while over in the nearby rain forests of the western Olympic Peninsula it exceeds 150 inches.  The Olympic Mountains effectively block storms coming in off the Pacific Ocean.  The air rises and cools as it hits the mountains.  Cool air cannot hold as much water in its vapor form as warm air can, so it rains and snows over the high country.  As the weather passes over the peaks and air descends toward Sequim on the Puget Sound, it warms and dries, holding the remaining moisture back – until it hits the Cascades further east.
Low clouds cover the entrance to Puget Sound, with the lights of boats.  Viewed from atop Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, Washington.

Low clouds cover the entrance to Puget Sound, with the lights of boats. Viewed from atop Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, Washington.

 

Onward from the Olympics

You can make your visit even more special by visiting Victoria in Canada.  Just take the ferry from Port Angeles and make sure you have your passport with you.  There are countless lodging options, but perhaps the nicest are the many beds and breakfasts.  You can also stay in one of the hotels lining the truly beautiful harbor.  Whale-watching tours are available, but you should also keep watch from the ferry.  Orcas are not uncommon.

Fog and mist moves in on the beautiful Elwha Valley on the Olympic Peninsula near Lake Crescent.

Fog and mist moves in on the beautiful Elwha Valley on the Olympic Peninsula near Lake Crescent.

From there you can take a ferry over to the San Juan Islands, getting a taste of the slower life there before continuing by ferry back to the Washington mainland north of Seattle.  Some years back my girlfriend and I took her Westphalia camper from Portland up through the Olympic Peninsula, over to Victoria for a bit of culture, then to San Juan and Orcas Islands for more beauty and nature, then home via I-5.  It was a magical trip, perfect for a two week vacation in summertime.

I hope you get to visit this special place some day.  Or return for more in depth exploration if you’ve been there before.  If you are interested in any of these images just click on them.  They are all copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission, sorry about that.  If you have any questions, please contact me. Thanks for reading and have a great week!

A large sea stack and beautiful gold reflection from the sea highlight sunset at Cape Alava on Washington's Pacific Coast.

Beautiful gold reflections on the sea highlight sunset at Cape Alava on Washington’s rugged Pacific Coast.

Single-Image Sunday: Lakeside Calm   16 comments

It’s Labor Day Weekend here in the U.S., a traditional time for being by the water.  The seaside is most popular of course, but there are still great times to be had at lakeside resorts.  This is Lake Crescent, a big beautiful lake on the northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington.  I photographed it on a misty evening during my recent trip up there.

Crescent Lake, Olympic Peninsula, Washington.

Crescent Lake, Olympic Peninsula, Washington.

A mild summer weather front was moving into the area.  The quiet, calm way it seeped into the valley lent a strong mood to the scene.  It spoke to me of bygone days. Times when we went away for a long weekend and did not expect to be doing much besides simply relaxing with family and friends.  A good read underneath a tree; a walk with your sweetie, skipping stones; a bit of fishing from a row boat; board games in the evening.  The only screen you fiddled with was the one on the door to the big wraparound porch.

I try to let the feeling of a place dictate the way I photograph it, so here I eschewed foreground and went with a balanced, straight-on composition.  During processing, I tried a couple black and white looks but quickly settled on a fairly subtle sepia tone.

Let me know what you think of the image.  If you’re interested just click on it to see options to purchase the high-res. version, printed or framed.  It’s not available for free download without my permission, sorry.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  I hope your weekend is going by slowly and delightfully.

Single-Image Sunday: A Cool Embrace   9 comments

In the Pacific Northwest one heads to the coast in order to warm up in winter or cool down in summer.  With the Japanese Current bringing cold water from the Gulf of Alaska, this coast is often foggy.  The current also causes cold, nutrient-rich waters to well up along the coast, helping to support the region’s rich marine life.  While the cold currents nourish life in the sea, the fog they create nourishes dense forest on land.  The foggy conditions, not surprisingly, have also caused many a shipwreck over the years.  The entire Pacific NW coast is rugged and studded with lighthouses, but the north Olympic Coast in Washington is an especially big graveyard for ships.

I captured this image on my recent trip to the Olympic Peninsula.  The narrow, curvy road out to Cape Flattery runs along a rugged, forested coast facing the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Cape Flattery lies on the Makah (American Indian) Reservation.  It is the northwestern-most point of the United States (excluding Alaska).  Fog came in and out during my one-night stay out there.  I wanted to capture the primal feel of this place where rugged rainforest-clad hills meet the sea.  During summer, this kind of weather is not nearly as common as it is in winter, so I felt pretty lucky in that regard.

The rugged and wet north coast of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington faces the Strait of Juan de Fuca and is prone to foggy weather.

The rugged and wet north coast of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington faces the Strait of Juan de Fuca and is prone to foggy weather.

Hope you enjoy the picture.  Please click on it if you’re interested in purchase options.  It is copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry ’bout that.  Please contact me with any questions about this image or anything else you’re curious about.  Thanks for checking in!

Friday Foto Talk: Foreground   6 comments

A Rainier Morning

Mount Rainier and aptly named Reflection Lake. The foreground is de-emphasized here to focus on the fog in the middle ground plus the main subject.

I’ve been subconsciously avoiding this subject, perhaps because of my ambivalent feelings about it.  Foregrounds can be a frustrating part of landscape photography.  In my opinion they can be both under- and over-emphasized.  Let’s just say in the past I have had some trouble keeping the proper perspective regarding foregrounds, but I now believe I have a fairly balanced approach.

The Tatoosh Range catches the evening light at Mount Rainier National Park.  The foreground rock and trees are dominant.  I was very close to the rock and my viewpoint was (lacking a stepladder!) a bit too low.

The Tatoosh Range catches the evening light at Mount Rainier National Park. The foreground rock and trees dominate in the image. I was very close to the rock (which is good) but (lacking a stepladder!) my viewpoint was perhaps a bit too low.

I should say right here that despite being thought important only in landscape photography, foreground is often a key element in candid people shots, sports imagery and more.  Here are a few things a good foreground can do for a picture:

      • An interesting and/or very close foreground can add impact to any image.
      • Foreground elements can form leading lines, directing the eyes of the viewer to your main subject or toward the center of your image.
      • Similar to the previous point, the shapes of foreground elements can mimic the shape of your main subject or background.  This essentially increases the impact of your main subject or background.
      • Foregrounds can help to add depth to your images.  But it is rare that a foreground alone can give your image depth.  See my previous post on the important subject of depth.
      • If you want to give your main subject top billing, you can simply place it in the foreground.
Heather blooms on a high hillside in Olympic National Park, Washington.

Heather blooms on a high hillside in Olympic National Park, Washington.

Many people just starting out in photography tend to look right over foregrounds, concentrating a bit too much on that sunset, that sailboat, those animals, etc. Then they learn from the “experts” that they should always look for interesting foregrounds to give their images a lot of depth and impact.  After hearing this a few dozen times, many of us run around stressing about foregrounds all the time.  Like most advice in photography, this little nugget is abused and stretched beyond reason.  Yes foregrounds are important.  No they’re not absolutely necessary in an image, no they will not automatically give your pictures depth or impact.

Like anything in photography (life?) foregrounds should be used thoughtfully and judiciously.  Here are some tips on how to find and use them to help improve your images:

      • There are times you will want to sniff out foregrounds like a bloodhound sniffs out an escaped convict.  When you have a beautiful sky with a relatively flat horizon (i.e. you’re not in the Himalayas or Patagonia), you have a pretty but two-dimensional image.  This is a good time to search out interesting foregrounds.

* In the image below, for example, I was up on top of a hill near sunset overlooking Lake Powell in Arizona.  There were other people taking pictures, including two or three other serious photographers.  As the sky grew colorful, people began snapping away.  I suddenly realized it was a dull image without foreground.  So I scrambled quickly down the embankment, soon coming upon sandstone bedrock that wasn’t visible from above.

I quickly found a place where the outcrops formed angled shapes that (with a low camera angle) pointed into the sky.  The orange clouds also formed linear shapes, so luckily enough, I had an effective simple composition.  My willingness to chance missing the light in order to search for a better image paid off in this case.  But I could have easily been skunked and gotten nothing.

The desert sun sets over the ubiquitous sandstone outcrops that surround Page, Arizona.

The desert sun sets over the ubiquitous sandstone outcrops that surround Page, Arizona.

      • In most cases your foreground elements should support but not dominate your image.  There are major exceptions, so please don’t take this as a rule. Instead, think of all your images as a balancing act between each of the major elements within the frame.  The balance between foreground and background (plus middle ground) is just one of the little decisions you make before you press the shutter button.
      • Some people think if they have a fascinating foreground they will automatically have a fascinating picture.  But remember simple is often best in photography, and this definitely applies to foregrounds.  This is actually related to the previous point.  If your foreground is amazing, it will most often become your main subject.  If your background has an interesting subject or is otherwise awesome, you might be trying to jam more than one picture into your frame.  The main elements of your picture end up competing for the viewer’s attention – not a prescription for success.
These rocks plus the waves form a strong diagonal leading line on the Olympic Coast in Washington.

These rocks plus the waves form a strong diagonal leading line on the Olympic Coast in Washington.

      • Instead of desperately looking for the most fascinating foreground in history, it’s better to find something simple with perhaps a shape that complements your background or main subject.  Then to give that simple foreground more impact all you have to do is move closer.  Moving closer brings opportunities, along with challenges…

*   If you’re using a wide-angle lens moving closer to your foreground elements is necessary so they don’t look too small.  Wide angles (focal lengths of 35 mm. or less) are often used in landscape photography of course.  But they’re also used in environmental portraiture.  This is when you photograph people along with a bit of their surroundings.

*   Moving closer will help to bring out any interesting texture in your foreground elements.  Just be careful to expose so you can see the texture.  It’s common to need a graduated neutral density filter in these cases, so you don’t make the sky/background too bright.

*   When you move closer to your foreground, it becomes more difficult to keep everything in focus front to back.  This is known as good depth of field.  You will need to use the smallest aperture available on your lens, which is usually f/22.  It also helps greatly to know the particular ability of that lens to achieve good depth of field.  This requires repeated use and experimentation.  The small aperture means you will most often need a tripod.

Life thrives along the rugged northern Olympic Coast in Washington.

Life thrives along the rugged northern Olympic Coast in Washington.

      • It can be very effective to allow a foreground element to fade to black; in other words form a silhouette.  It’s most effective when the silhouette’s shape is recognizable.  It’s usually not necessary to move as close to a silhouetted foreground as you would an illuminated one.  This frees you from some of the above challenges.
      • Speaking of fading to black, great images can be had with no recognizable foreground, instead using a featureless or dark middle-ground.  Smooth expanses of water, featureless grass, fog, a dark band of rocks or trees, any of these can form a sort of mid-ground “base”, anchoring your main background subject.  These sorts of anchors can also partly or fully frame your image.
      • Lastly, don’t feel you always need a foreground.  Often a very effective image can be had with no foreground.  You can either utilize middle-grounds as mentioned above or simply zoom in on the background to highlight specific portions of it.
Dusk falls on the Olympic Coast in Washington.  Foreground elements are simple here, a combination of silhouetted rocks and subtly illuminated sand.

Dusk falls on the Olympic Coast in Washington. Foreground elements are simple here, a combination of silhouetted rocks and subtly illuminated sand.

I want to leave you with a sort of truism in photography, at least as far as I’m concerned.  It has to do with the point I made at the beginning of the post and again with that last bullet point.  If you go around shooting nothing but deep images where you’re 2 feet from foreground, you’ll undoubtedly get plenty of compliments. This is how most people are taught to shoot landscapes, and these sorts of images have a “pro” feel to them.

But if you go off on foregrounds your portfolio will suffer just as much as if you had never learned about their importance in the first place, as if you had stuck with shooting nothing but two-dimensional backgrounds.  Mix things up instead.  Diversity in your portfolio is worth having.  And it doesn’t just happen on its own.  You really have to work at it.  The good news is that it’s fun!  Variety, after all, is the spice of life.

Crescent Lake on the Olympic Peninsula is one of Washington's largest and most beautiful lakes.  The mossy rocks along the shore make for angular foreground elements while the shadows and shoreline form strong leading lines.

Crescent Lake on the Olympic Peninsula is one of Washington’s largest and most beautiful lakes. The mossy rocks along the shore make for angular foreground elements while the shadows and shoreline form strong leading lines.

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