Robert Alvarado is a photographer who mostly shoots in his signature “Modern Pin-Up” style. The “Alvarado” look has now become an industry standard term signifying not only his photographic skills, but also designating him a true Photoshop artist. I am a big fan of his work and he never ceases to amaze me with his unique take on this sexy genre. In our newest-technology-gear-spec-lens-collection-chasing word Robert is a proof that you can create kick-ass artwork with an aging camera and a trusty workhorse of a lens. Of course it wouldn’t hurt to have some passion, imagination, a whole lot of talent to create such an awesome body of work. And to top it off, he is one of the most humble photographers I have had the pleasure of corresponding with. Be sure to check out Robert’s books to see more examples from his awe inspiring portfolio.
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
Honestly, I’m just a regular kinda guy. No ego, I just love what I do.
I’m basically like a big kid. Grew up in Southern California and still live here in the area. Growing up, my Mother nurtured the creativeness in me. She was always making stuff and I loved helping her out.
How did you get started in photography?
I think, ever since I can remember, I’ve had a camera in my hand. Kind of the only hobby that has lasted throughout my whole life. But I think the spark really began in Jr. College when I took a Photography class. From that class I really learned the foundation of Photography.
Best class I ever had.
How would you describe your current style?
Stye… Yeah, well I try and describe it as Modern Pin-up. But feel free to amend what you see. One of my missions is to bring the Pin-up genre into the 21st Century. By that, I use current themes, wardrobe, props, etc. I still enjoy doing the “Classic Pin-up” but I really have more fun doing current themes.
How do you come up with the themes, do you have a list of characters you would still like to shoot and are there themes you stay out of?
I get my themes from my memories as a kid, or just the stuff I grew up with. For instance, Jimi Hendrix was huge when I was growing up. I love his music and he had a big influence on my life at that time. So I got a Monterrey Pop look alike Guitar, Tie dye T-shirt, Jimi Hendrix hat, add a model and whola… Jimi!
I also do a lot of military themes. My father was in the Navy during WWII, so I am partial to the Navy/Marines and Navy Aircraft. Also, growing up Viet Nam was going on and my best friend was there for 2 years, so I like to do tributes to any of or servicemen and women. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I’d be doing this.
Where do you get your props from? Do you do your own search or do you hire somebody to so it?
I search my own. Google or ebay works great! If you see any guns (usually Military) in my images, none of them are real. All props with the barrel plugged.
Models will also bring over great wardrobe.
Where do you find your models? Is there a certain criteria you are looking for in a model?
I usually pick em up at strip clubs… jk 🙂 I started finding models on One Model Place (remember them?). Then I started using Model Mayhem, and now it just depends. I usually get messages from models who want to work with me so it’s nice to be able to pick and choose now.
Your images often feature beautiful models with elaborate tattoos, is that something you specifically look for?
Yeah, that happened oddly. When I first started to turn towards the Pin-up style with my work, I decided to go to a Car Show, just to get some pics of vintage cars. Well, I start noticing all these girls dressed up as Pin-up, but with tattoos. And not just one or two, I mean these ladies were tatted up. It honestly took me awhile to get a perspective on that because when I grew up, people with tattoos were usually not the most upstanding citizens. And a girl with a tattoo….
no way! hahahahahaha! But I just took a step back, looked at the work and realized it was just another art form AND times had changed, it’s not like it was when I was growing up any longer. Different world, different views, and hey… it’s a free country right?
Have you tried or consider trying themes with male/female combo or just male portraits?
Yes! I have done (one of my favorites actually) a dancing theme. Male and Female together. In fact that inspiration is from one of my favorite movies “Strictly Ballroom.”
How do you get your models to relax and express emotions?
Yeah, that’s a good question. Believe it or not, I think it all has to do with my Mother and Father. They taught me manners! And to respect people. The first thing I do when I meet a model is to sit down and chat with her for 10-20 minutes. Let’s them get to know me and I get to know them. To get expressions or looks, I first describe what I’d like to see and if that doesn’t work I will actually do the look for them, that usually gets a big laugh 🙂
Not always, but MU is always done by someone, either the models are able to do it themselves, they bring someone or I will take them to the local MAC counter where I know a couple good MUA’s.
Which camera system do you use?
Canon 5D MkII
What are your most used/favorite lenses?
24-70L 2.8 and 85mm L1.2. I use the 24-70 on 90% of my images.
Which light system do you use?
Alein Bees! Never had a problem with them, great service (I dropped one once) And I now have a couple Einsteins.
Besides your camera, what is a must-have at each session?
Concepts and a general idea of what you want to capture for that session.
Do you plan on buying any new equipment and if so what do you have in mind?
Not really, I’d like to upgrade my camera, but it’s been good to me.
Maybe a faster computer though.
Do you have your own studio, rent or shoot at home?
Are you on Mac or PC and what software is a must have for your editing/processing?
PC. I use lightroom and Photoshop.
I am sure you are often being asked about your editing technique, would you mind sharing how you achieve that unique style?
Yep, get that asked all the time and it’s not something I can answer in a paragraph or two. I used to do one day workshops and just show people what I do from taking the image to all the post work, but I’ve since retired from that as I’m getting older and don’t really care to travel that much anymore. I would just encourage photographers to take photoshop classes. I think I’ve taken 8-10 hands on classes, along with a few books I’ve read and develop ones own style.
What has been your most memorable shoot and why?
Most memorable…. I think it was Tiffany Taylor because she asked to work with me and I was just taken aback as she is one of my favorite Playboy Centerfolds. So, just go with me here.. I’m a regular kinda guy, no ego, just having fun and a Playmate want me to shoot her? That was F U N!
Do you have an assistant/2nd shooter?
No, just me…. I know… I think I should have some sort of entourage, right?
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about your work?
I think working with new models is most challenging because they maybe have one or two poses and that’s it. From then on it’s up to me! 🙂 So posing them, working on expressions and trying to get the shot, yeah, where’s my assistant!?!?
What do you think of the photography industry at the moment and where do you see it in 5 years from now?
I like where it’s at. I think digital has enabled photographers to be more creative, IF they want to. If not, then they can just shoot what they want.
The future, ha! I was thinking maybe in the not too distant future we won’t even need models, everything will be created digitally.
Who are some of the people in the industry that inspire you?
Norman Rockwell! He is my biggest inspiration and I am the first to admit I am ripping off his style. Currently, Dave Hill, August Bradley.
What advice do you have for somebody who wants to pursue pin-up and beauty photography?
Take classes! Photography and Photoshop. It will enable you to create exactly what you want.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
Embrace technology. It took me awhile to convert to digital.
If you had an unlimited budget, what kind of a shoot would you do?
Simple, I would hire Milla Jovovich and shoot every concept I could with her. She is my DREAM shoot! Ok maybe Scarlett Johansson.
What superpower would you like to have?
To fly! Who wouldn’t want that…. 🙂
What are you still learning?
What do you love most about being a photographer?
Working with creative people.
What is your greatest fear related to your work?
Shooting outside (Location) I suck at natural light!
What do you do on a typical Friday night?
Edit! I am constantly editing. But I love it!!!
What is your favorite photo you have shot recently? Can you describe the process behind it (location, equipment and setting used), as well as your thoughts about creating the image and what it means to you?
Sure, this was shot with Eliza Winn. And honestly, this is how 50-60% of my ideas come to me. Eliza brought over some Hi Fashion (expensive) Sun glasses and this cool leather puff bolero and latex high waisted shorts. So I say hey! Let’s add a black wig, Snow White top and red bow and Whoola! High Fashion Snow White! Simple right?