Who hasn’t secretly dreamed of being a runway star, on the cover of Vogue or on a part of a celebrity photoshoot mingling with the elite of Beverly Hills?
Today’s celebrity culture gives us a glimpse into how good life could potentially be, and how much we wish we had. We enjoy glossing through pages of magazines envisioning ourselves living a life a glamor, on a yacht with Kylie Jenner, or in a Lamborgini with Paris Hilton, or on a private jet with the rich kids of instagram. But life isn’t as idyllic as it seems, and even celebrities go through challenging times.
The unfortunate part is that not everyone possesses the star power it takes to be in front of a camera. However, there are still opportunities to be part of that glamorous world behind the scenes, capturing the life of the rich and famous.
It takes a certain amount of talent and patience to be able to have the vision and ability to capture celebrities in all their glory so effortlessly. David LaChappelle did it the best, capturing celebrities in a unique and artistic way. However, there were many other photographers who followed in his footsteps like Italian born photographer Roberto D’Estes, who could’ve been a model or actor or star himself, with a strong and dynamic persona and vibrant energetic demeanor.
Roberto has an impressive repertoire of stars that he’s worked with. From Victoria Secret models like Alessandra Ambrossio to star actors like Daniel Radcliffe, he has an eclectic and extensive portfolio, capturing just about every star and celebrity persona on the scene including Paris Hilton and Heidi Klum.
But how did he get there? How does one climb the ladder from doing small-time events like bar mitzvahs, weddings and family gatherings to shooting stars? In this interview, Roberto gives us a glimpse into his world of glam and glitz and shares his journey working for and shooting covers for the top magazines in the world.
Having worked for esteemed fashion photographer Mario Testino, Roberto served initially as his muse and was eventually able to emulate his approach to photography at the same time developing his own style, which can be classified as a Euro-centric blend of fashion forward allure with a bohemian twist. What distinguishes him is that he is able to adapt to the vibe of each of his subjects flawlessly, his photography conforming to their aura and capturing their unique individuality and authentic spirit.
He has an impressive background shooting for a surfeit of magazines and his career continues to grow. As an artist and visionary his goal is to live a fulfilling life through positive thinking and by enjoying one’s surroundings. We sat down with him to talk about his career and future ambitions.
Tell me about your background as a photographer. How old were you when you started taking pictures and did you always know you wanted to be a photographer?
I knew from an early age, probably around 12 to 14 years that photography was my passion .
My dad was supportive of this and made sure we had a dark room in our home where we could develop and print the pictures we took. I would take shots of nature on my balcony, using props like flowers and fruits almost akin to how a beginning painter paints still lives. I wanted to achieve the aesthetic of the images I saw in my mom’s magazine so I experimented with different filters and lighting. My photography evolved when I started using mirrors and glass as special effects.
What do you think it takes to be a good photographer? Do you think anyone can pick up a camera and claim to be a photographer? How do you develop the skills
I think photography is one of those things that you either have or don’t have. However, there is always room to develop your style through experimentation of various techniques and aesthetics. What I realized is that growing up around an urban environment brimming with culture helped me develop a vision and eye for what true beauty consists of, through music, fashion and art.
I was born in the center of Milan and have throughout my life been surrounded by people in the arts, which helped me evolve my ability to have an unbiased perspective of trends and the Golden ratio.
Also, travelling is important to grow your awareness of diversity. When your sensibility grows, your vision grows along with it.
Tell me about working with Mario Testino and Annie Leibowitz and what you learned
It was truly an honor and blessing to have had the wonderful opportunity of working with such legends such as Mario Testino and Annie Leibowitz. While I only worked with Annie for a few months, I stayed with Mario for five years and learned a lot from both. Mario taught me to master style, he had a deep love of fashion, but on a very refined level, and always had something to say about how the models were styled, whereas Annie was more of a portrait artist so she taught me the importance of preparation for the shoot.
Working with them both gave me the opportunity to enable me access to the best of the best in the fashion industry; hair stylists, makeup artists, and art directors which opened a door for me to branch off on my own in the future.
Who are some stars who were difficult to work with?
I guess I was lucky. I never encountered a difficult celebrity. I mean everyone has had a rough day before so I try to keep an open mind, and not everyone will be in the best mood all the time when shooting so it’s my responsibility to lighten people’s mood.
But in terms of approaching celebrities, making an impression is crucial. Those first 15 minutes are essential in establishing a rapport, because it could mediate the flow of the day
I noticed that bigger celebrities have a stronger sense of self-awareness than the low-tier newbie celebrities because the older celebrities have already met their career goals. So sometimes the less known celebrities feel camera shy and I almost have to convince them and work extra cautiously.
What stars haven’t you photographed whom you’d like to?
There are some icons in the celebrities sphere who I’d still like to photograph. I would say Natalie Portman, and Charlize Theron and also some older actresses like Sigourney Weaver , Sharon Stone, and Nastasia Kinsky .
How do you arrange a photoshoot with celebrities? Do you contact them? And how?
When a celebrity decides they want to shoot for a publication or ad they rely on the help of their publicist to orchestra the shoot. The magazine or client will suggest some photographers they think would be a match for the job and it is up to the celebrity and their publicist to choose one.
Most of the client, celebrity, and publicist are able to reach a mutual agreement on the photographer who would be the right fit for the project.
What was the launching point of your career as a celebrity photographer and how can other photographers be successful the way you were?
When I was sought out by Interview Magazine to shoot Kiera Knightly that’s when I realized I was doing well as a photographer. It was actually one of my favorite shoots and put me on the celebrity market. The shot I shot was actually syndicated for the cover of various magazines. That picture put me on the radar for a variety of PR agencies in L.A., and from that day on I was contacted to shoot many others, kind of like the butterfly effect. My shoot with Keira was my breakout as a celebrity photographer.
For photographers just starting out, the best way to start shooting is to feature lower-tier celebrities first and work your way up to bigger ones. You have to gradually build a portfolio and pitch yourself to celebrity photography agencies to get represented.
Working with all these stars, what does it take to be famous now compared to in the 80s and 90s before the internet?
The business has changed completely since the arrival of digital photography and social media. It is quite different now from how it was in the 80’s and 90’s . Everything is so instant now, and being a photographer is more difficult and easier at the same time.
Before, you had to master developing the pictures which is a long process and not easy to learn. Now, you can just shoot and send the images off to a professional retoucher, so in this case now it’s easier and faster.
When I say more difficult, I say this because there’s hundreds the amount of photographers than you had before and the amount of clients to match up to that is the same. So to land a job is a lot more competitive. Also, social media affects your chances too. In fashion, a client will chose you not for your talent, but over the amount of followers you have on social media. This is totally different to how people marketed themselves back in the day. Now, because of social media, photographers are getting their 15 minutes of fame and they move on to the next big thing because the industry is constantly looking for the new, hot thing.
To shoot Robert uses a Hasselblad medium format (https://amzn.to/345eyXf), a Cannon 35 mm (https://amzn.to/2T1yPXJ), Nikon 35 mm (https://amzn.to/3kl7RGB), Pentax (https://amzn.to/2FAUTFh), Sinar p 2 with Polaroid 889 large format.
Alexa Caroline Modugno is the US Consulting Associate Editor. An NYU graduate, she was a viola performance major with a minor in French studies. She currently also works as an arts journalist and culture editor of Frontrunner Magazine where she has interviewed and featured many prominent figures in the arts, film and music world. She also has an active role in the film scene, working as an actress for several indie films and has been a Q&A moderator, film judge and presenter for Winter Film Awards and Chelsea Film Festival. More about her here.