Cowboys & Aliens, 310 to Yuma & More
What does Costner’s Wyatt Earp, City Slickers, 310 to Yuma and Cowboys & Aliens all have in common? They were all shot in part at Plaza Blanka. I’ve seen those white rock cliffs and often wondered if the location was only good for Hollywood. So finding that Plaza Blanca is not far from Santa Fe, we decided to see if we could find it and check it out for ourselves. Now, it is not easy to find unless you know the key, and that’s to find the pizzeria on 284 where you make the turn into the hills. The first day we went looking for it, we ended up in Taos which turned out great. But not wanting to fail, we looked for it the second day and had success finding it.
We arrived at the cliffs a bit early for the light but just at the right time for B&W photography. What’s the difference? Well, the light was still a little on the hard side. That’s to say the shadows were still pretty black. Now I honestly thought the white rock would bounce a whole more light around than they did. But not an issue, I just went into B&W mode. That’s using the contrast to bring out more texture, character in the rock. Now you might recognize this as the final fight scene from Cowboys & Aliens except the space ship is missing.
Keep in mind, we were all just cruising, photography was just a fun side note to the laughs and wonders we were enjoying. So I went on the walk light with just the Df / 18-35AFS and no filters. One of the amazing things was, there was literally no sign Hollywood had ever been on location here. We traveled extensively through Alabama Hills where you can finds signs of Hollywood 50yrs after the film was shot, but not a thing here. In fact, we had the place all to ourselves except for the Ravens that were performing overhead for us.
Key to making this all work is understanding that the highlights would be really bright, the shadows really dark and you arrange the elements in the frame accordingly. If there were NO clouds, there would have been NO photography. But such was not the case so they could be incorporated into the photos. With this understanding, shooting with the Df with its six stop range, the finishing was pretty simple. In ACR, the Shadow slider went to the right, the Highlight slider to the left and the White slider either way depending on the image. Because of the texture in the cliffs, I used Clarity a little more than I normally do. Then in Photoshop, I use Nik Silver Efex for the B&W conversion. It was a great start and as the light headed into the west, it just got better. mtc