The Imperial Gastrohub

Like many places Bulgaria has gone through a cycle of shutting down, opening up, shutting down again in response to COVID-19. The restaurants and cafes, after a long period of being shut down, were allowed to reopen at the beginning of March only to be shut down again three weeks later. At the beginning of April they were allowed to reopen outdoor areas. These folks were taking advantage of the fine weather on a weekday evening to have a drink and a snack at the Imperial Gastrohub on Graf Ignatiev Street.

Martenitsi

March 1 is Baba Marta day in Bulgaria – ‘Grandma March’. Baba Marta brings the end of the cold weather and the beginning of spring. On Baba Marta, martenitsi – made of red and white yarn – are given as gifts to family, friends, neigbours, and colleagues and worn on the wrist, or pinned to a coat, until the first sighting of a stork, a swallow or the first blossom on a tree. At that point people tie their martentsi to a tree, usually blossoming trees like this one. For some reason I haven’t worked out certain trees are very popular and this one was covered in dozens of martenitsi, even as other flowering trees nearby had very few.

Seen Better Days

I saw this car a few weeks ago while out for a walk. It sits in the grounds of a small art gallery, ‘Artur’, on Journalist Square in Sofia. I’ve no idea of the story behind it or even if there is one but it is intriguing. A little digging revealed that this is a Vauxhall Velux PA-S. Vauxhall is a long established British car maker and the Velux PA-S was made between 1957 and 1959. How a British made car from the 1950’s ended up in communist Bulgaria is a mystery, as is how it ended up quietly decaying in this garden in Journalist Square.

Worth a Look

Here are a few good online stories I’ve come across in the last few days. From the BBC an article on two women photographers in Somalia trying to break down social prejudices. From Petapixel, striking images from Ghana that reveal the disturbing reality of modern slavery. Another BBC piece looks at the ‘fingerprint’ of your digital sensor, otherwise known as ‘photo response non-uniformity’. Finally, photography lecturer Grant Scott shares his core convictions about photography.


Somalia Photography

‘I want it to be normal for women to take photos’

Somalia often conjures up images of violence and destruction but a photography exhibition in the capital, Mogadishu, sets out not only to challenge that perception but also to recast who is defining those images in the first place, as the BBC’s Mary Harper reports.

FISHERBOYS

Photographer Shoots Dark Portraits of Boys Fishing on Ghana’s Lake Volta

Brooklyn-based photographer and cinematographer Jeremy Snell has created a documentary of the life of young “fisherboys,” who are forced to work on fishing boats on Lake Volta in Ghana.

THE HIDDEN FINGERPRINT

Much like snowflakes, no two imaging sensors are alike

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Actually, there’s a great deal more hidden inside the modern digital image, says researcher Jerone Andrews.

PHotographer’s Manifesto

Photography looks easy, it is not

I talk a lot about photography, write about it and teach it. Therefore, I often find myself answering the same questions, saying the same things and explaining the same beliefs. So, I decided to compile a manifesto based on those beliefs and conversations.


There are more photographs by Fardowsa Hussein and Hana Mire from the Somalia exhibition on the site of the Somalia Arts Foundation. Jeremy Snell’s pictures from Lake Volta and his other projects are on his website and a book of images from the project is available from Setanta.

Backblaze to iDrive

I’ve been using Backblaze to backup my images (and everything else) for around three years now. For $60 a year I get unlimited backup via an app that runs quietly in the background with a relatively light footprint. Unfortunately, in the last week to ten days Backblaze started acting up. I contacted support – who got back to me within one day as promised – but despite following their suggested fixes it is still not working.

Out of curiosity I did a little online searching for alternatives and came across iDrive which is not only highly recommended by multiple reputable reviewers, but has a great offer for users of competing products. Simply provide proof that you have a current paid account with a competitor and you get the first year on iDrive for $6.95! The only downside is that there is an upper storage limit of 5 TB, though at the moment I’m only at 4TB so should be good for a while. After the first year the subscription reverts to the normal price of around $70 – slightly more than Backblaze, but close enough.

One advantage of iDrive is that you control whether files deleted from your drives are also deleted from the backup. With Backblaze, delete a file on your drive and it is automatically deleted on the back up, though these are recoverable for 30 days, or longer if you pay a little extra. With iDrive deleted files on your drives remain in your backup until you decide to remove them. You can do so with one click of the ‘Archive Cleanup’ button. Unfortunately, this does not work for external drives so these have to be tidied up manually. Since almost all my data is on external drives this is a little annoying. Another advantage is that the iDrive account allows you to back up from multiple computers and mobile devices, while the Backblaze account is restricted to one computer. Right now I only use it with one computer but I can see the benefit of this for people who use more than one computer or do a lot of work on mobile.

Switching means that all your data has to be uploaded to the new provider which, depending on how much data you have to backup and the speed of your connection, could end up taking weeks. iDrive offers a one-time free service allowing you to send your data to them on a drive which they then upload for you. This would certainly be convenient but I’m not clear how this affects the security of your data. Any additional uploads this way carry a fee.

I’m still working with Backblaze to see if I can solve the current problems and if I can, I plan to keep it and run both in parallel since my current Backblaze subscription is good until September. At that point I’ll decide which I prefer.

Adobe Super Resolution And Film

Given how well Adobe’s Super Resolution feature worked on digital images I was curious if it would deliver the same results on scanned film negatives, so I tried it with two photos – one shot on Ilford Delta 100 and another on Ilford HP5+. While I normally scan my own images I used scans done by the local store where I get my film developed. I believe they use Noritsu scanners.

Below are the original and enhanced images from the scanned TIFF of the Delta 100 negative. The original is 3999 x 2666, while the enhanced is 7998 x 5332. As with previously enhanced images I think the outcome is excellent and the larger jpeg is essentially indistinguishable from the original. In particular I don’t see any negative impact from the detail enhancer on the grain.

Original 3999 x 2666
Enhanced 9828 x 6552

The next shot is with the grainier Ilford HP5+, but despite the grain I got the same excellent outcome. The original scan is 4917 x 3276, while the enhanced image is 9828 x 6552. As well as being able to print bigger an additional benefit specific to film scans is that instead of trying to stretch my scanner to the limit on resolution, I can now scan at a slightly lower resolution and then upres using Super Resolution. As with previous posts you can download the images and make your own comparison. Right click on the image and select ‘open file in new tab’ to get around WordPress’s image scaling.

Original – 4914 x 3276
Enhanced – 9828 x 6552

Adobe Super Resolution

Exceptional. I think that’s the only word I can use for Adobe’s new Super Resolution feature. I tried it this evening with an old favourite from my 10MP LX3 which, when cropped to taste gives me an 8.1MP image.

I chose this image to see how well Super Resolution worked and the results are spectacular. I won’t bother with crops and comparisons. Instead look at the two images below – the first is a JPEG from the original RAW file as edited in Lightroom. For the second I saved the edited file as a DNG, opened it in Bridge and applied Super Resolution via ACR. (This slightly convoluted route is necessary since Super Resolution is currently only available in ACR but will be coming to Lightroom eventually.) The end result is a file that is twice the pixel length and height, and four times the overall area, coming in at 32.3MP.

Original – 3479 x 2319
Enhanced – 6959 x 4639

I’ve compared the two closely in Lightroom and I can see no reduction in quality in the enlarged file. The file I chose has been heavily edited and I suspect this feature might work better still when applied to the initial unedited RAW file. When it does finally arrive on Lightroom it should be possible to apply it to the RAW file then paste existing adjustments from the history panel onto the new, higher resolution file.

The two versions of the image above are full size so feel free to download and compare directly for yourself. (To get round WordPress’s irritating practice of scaling large files, right click and choose ‘open link in new tab’ to get the original full size image.)

I have many, many images taken on 10MP sensors, generally good enough for a 12″ x 8″ print, and plenty of images cropped to that size or smaller. This feature means I can now print my smaller and cropped images at much bigger sizes without any loss in quality. It also means the 24MP sensor in my X-T2 is effectively an 96MP sensor!


So, here is an image from my 24MP X-T2, slightly cropped to 22.4MP. The end result after applying Super Resolution is an image that is 88.4MP with 11,585 pixels on the long edge, meaning I could comfortably produce a three feet wide high quality print.

Original – 5791 x 3861
Enhanced – 11583 x 7722

Note also that this is a Fuji X-Trans file. Adobe applied their machine learning technique to produce a version for Bayer sensors and then did it all over again to produce a version for the relatively few of us using Fuji X-Trans sensors. As a Fuji user having learned to live with occasional frustrations with software that doesn’t always play nice with Fuji’s unique sensor technology I hugely appreciate Adobe’s commitment from the off to make this available to Fuji users.

Again, to get round WordPress’s image scaling, right click and select ‘open link in new tab’ in the pictures above to see the full size image.


My first digital camera was a Canon A520 with a small 4MP sensor. At that time I was using my photographs to illustrate my blog from Albania, Our Man in Tirana. This was back in 2005 – 2007 when the internet was not quite as zippy as it is these days and I generally resized my already small files to 800px or 1000px after editing them in Picasa, then deleted the originals. Some of these pictures are not bad but I have done very little with them, since at 800px they are not much use for anything.

So I tried Super Resolution on a few of these old jpegs and was pleasantly surprised. Here are a couple of images enhanced to 1800px for the first and 2048px for the second. They are not great but that is more a reflection of the limitations of my sensor back then and these compare very well to my ‘originals’. At 1800px I can at least display these at a reasonable size online and could even get a 6″ or 7″ print out of them. I have around 1,700 images from that old camera and I’m looking forward to reviving a few of them.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_4730-Enhanced_1.jpg
Enhanced 1800 x 1440
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_4731-Enhanced_1-3.jpg
Enhanced 2048 x 1566

My initial impression is that this looks like a genuinely revolutionary step up in processing capabilities. The only down side is that on older, slower computers this may not work so well since it does use a lot of computing power. My laptop was state of the art five or six years ago when I got it and has a good i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a separate graphics card, all of which help. That said, despite a message telling me processing of these images might take five minutes even the biggest of them from the X-T2 0nly took 45 seconds.

You can read more about the Super Resolution feature on the Adobe blog.