Our goal is to scan our 35mm color slide photos of Classic Maya architecture

Since I began my career in Maya archaeology as a student of Architectural Sciences at Harvard (1960’s), I am now returning to prepare PowerPoint presentations on Classic Maya architecture. The first topics we are working on are:

  • Corbelled vaults of Classic Maya architecture
  • Wooden ceilings in Maya sweat baths, palaces, and royal tombs
  • Roof comb size, shape, and engineering and differences per regional style
  • Lintels: wooden in Peten and solid stone especially at Yaxchilan, Bonampak and Puuc
  • Wooden cross beams in Maya temples, palaces and royal tomb chambers
  • Monster Face Mouths as entrance to Chenes style temples and palaces
  • Interior stairways inside multi-story palaces (Tikal, Santa Rosa Xtampak, etc.)
  • Masonry benches and thrones in Maya palaces
  • Ballcourt architecture (most reconstruction drawings omit the wide steps (best seen around the main ballcourt at Copan).
  • How did the Classic Maya make “cement” and plaster?

About two years ago the Ah Cacao guide’s association of Tikal asked for training courses for their guides. So our long-range goal is to prepare these lectures on Maya architecture and on Maya iconography. The idea would be to have an entire day of PowerPoint presentations on the different topics related to palaces, temples, acropolises. Then a separate entire day on iconography: Maya deities, Xibalba, symbols of warfare, examples of Teotihuacan symbolism in Maya art, celestial symbols in the Sky Bands, etc. But first we need to scan thousands of slides so we can select the pertinent aspects of art and architecture.


If you are an architectural historian, or an archaeologist, it helps to be able to see inside this Maya corbel vaulted passageway under this stairway. 31.4 MB

Nice contrast in the original scan. The RAW file. (DNG format) is a whopping 422.5 MEGAbytes. The JPG format reduces the file to 27.3 MB

This decades-old 35mm color slide was scanned with SilverFast 9 software. This is noticeably better than the helpful SilverFast 8 software that comes with the scanner. With SilverFast 9 software your raw file is 422.5 MB, quality MEGAbytes. The processing of the RAW format we do in Adobe Photoshop.

The advantage of the darker photo is that it shows the profile of the walls and the corbel vaults. You can notice that the corbel at the right is only three stone-layers high, whereas the corbel at the left is 9 stone-layers high.

The advantage of the lighter photo is that you can see inside the sides of the masonry. If you have endless time available you could isolate the inside of the tunnel and make that less dark rather than making the entire image less dark. Often Adobe Lightroom is better than Adobe Photoshop (and Capture One image processing software is even better, from Phase One in Denmark). But with many THOUSANDS of 35mm color slides of monumental Maya architecture I do improvements with Photoshop in a few seconds. Our next phase will be to learn which improvements can be made with the SilverFast 9 software.

These are our first scans with an Epson Perfection V850 Pro scanner with SilverFast 9 scanner software; scanned by Gaby Cabnal, FLAAR Mesoamerica; we still have a lot to learn, so will be issuing more FLAAR Reports on scanning old 35mm color slides every month.


This crop is still 18.3MB. If you are a professor and are projecting this on a screen for your class, you can see a lot more detail if your photograph is high resolution. In this photo you can see the size and shape of each corbel vault stone. At the left you can see that the two bottom rows of vault stones have a stone at their back end weighing down the back end so the front end does not fall. The balancing stone for the top course has fallen away during the recent thousand years. This Puuc palace was constructed circa AD 700 to 800, the Maya Late Classic. Photo by Nicholas Hellmuth. These type of stairway vaults are most common in the Puuc area of the Yucatan Peninsula.

The FLAAR Photo Archive has thousands of aging 35mm color slides, 35mm B&W negatives, medium format (Hasselblad) color transparencies, medium format B&W negatives, and dozens of 4x5” color transparencies (Linhof camera with Rodenstock or comparable Made in Germany quality lenses) and a few 8x10” color transparencies (8x10” portable studio Linhof).


The original slides were cheap low bid Eastman Color 35mm color slides

Decades ago, when I did not always have enough money for Kodachrome film, I would have to get the lower-cost Eastman Color. But these fade faster and are not recommended.

Today I need to scan Kodachrome, occasional Ektachrome, Fujichome and Eastman Color. We will probably also find a few other kinds of film in our archives. Fujichrome was too over-saturated with colors (for photographers who needed such colors for commercial clients). Since my interest was to document true colors, and since 90% of my photography was for my own research or other scholars, I was only doing commercial photography for occasional assignments (such as for a Japanese coffee table book in the 1990’s).


The first SilverFast software that I used was already a quarter century ago

While searching for “SilverFast” on my Mac computer, I found many files from August 11, 1999. That is almost a quarter century ago. Looks like Version 4.x.


Karl-Heinz Zahorsky is the German software engineer who was inspired to develop this scanning software. The brand is SilverFast; the company is LaserSoft. I met him several times at expos such as Photokina in Cologne, Germany and at other digital technology events in those past decades. We appreciate him providing SilverFast version 9 so we could test it. We will be working all summer and autumn on learning the many different digital abilities of modern software. It helps other photographers to see what is available since lots of us who took photos in the previous century wish to rescue our 35mm color slides from those past decades.


These are the SilverFast software editions that we are going to use, test, evaluate, and publish. The scanner is shown at the bottom. Earlier tests that our team did shows that this 850 model is much better than the model 600 or any others.

You can see more corbel vaults under other stairways on this FLAAR web page.


First posted August 4, 2023 by Nicholas Hellmuth

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