10 Things I learned at the 2015 National Geographic Seminar

10 Things I learned at the 2015 National Geographic Seminar by KIKE CALVO

Every year, photographers, editors, storytellers, filmmakers and world travelers gather at the National Geographic headquarters in Washington.

Along with the long-awaited annual seminar, National Geographic Creative convenes all its members and the Magazine presents “Works in Progress.” Meetings, dinners, hugs, stories and smiles are shared by the photo community. “As journalists, our worlds can be intense, stressful, serious and sometimes gut-wrenching,” posted National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen. “We come together once a year to let our hair down and inspire one another to enter the trenches for another year of photography and essential story-telling.”


Like every year, I returned home from Washington full of emotions, inspiration and dreams. Humbled by such creativity and talent around me. Inspired by overwhelming passion. Happy to see old friends and meet friends to be.

Before my upcoming projects take hold of me, and while these great memories are still fresh in my mind, I decided to share some of the things I learned last week at the Geographic:

1. We admire National Geographic photographers for their work. If the world just knew their unique characters, sense of humor and willingness to make this world a better place through their commitment to capture moments, tell stories and raise awareness, their universal recognition will grow even more.

2. Now I understand what David Allan Harvey referred to as “The Tribe”. The Geographic congregates a community of some of the most amazing and creative people. One where people respect each other professionally and admire each other personally. One where you never get tired of seeing old familiar faces and discovering new ones. It is a space where you love to hear stories and share your own.

3. The road to becoming a professional photographer is full of uncertainty. Never underestimate the value of a strong photo community in your life. As I explained in “Ten Keys to Being a Good Photographer”, professional photographers live to produce content-charged images and go through similar hurdles to achieve so. In the process, we experience lots in common. We share dreams, passions, problems, achievements and portfolio rejections. For many, photography is the way they can express their emotions, or it is at least, their most powerful tool to do so. For Diana Markosian, who presented her work at the NG Seminar last week, photography is a way to reconnect with one’s past and future. All of us have a story to share on the reason why and the way in which we do photography.

Mitch Epstein. Photo © KIKECALVO
Photographer Mitch Epstein. Photo © KIKECALVO

4. Teamwork can be a powerful tool to create a unique project. For instance, Mitch Epstein, a 2003 Guggenheim Fellow, along with cellist and composer Erick Friedlander, joined forces to combine photography and music in a very powerful way to communicate a much-needed message. And yes, Erick is the son of legendary photographer Lee Friedlander.

National Geographic Photographer Lynn Johnson on stage with National Geographic Photographer and Seminar emcee Vincent J.Musi. Photo © KIKE CALVO

5. “The people—the relationships and experiences—are more important than the photographs,” commented National Geographic Photographer Lynn Johnson on Robert Caputo’s Photography Field Guide: People & Portraits. “As journalists, our responsibility is not to manipulate people, but to honor them and their stories,” she said. I knew this statement and was familiar with her work, but it was not until I heard her talk on stage at the seminar this year, that her committed nature shined to its maximum expression for me. Through her work documenting the human condition, she spends time observing altruistic and humanitarian behavior around the world and concludes that an important attribute in people is the capacity of serving just to benefit others with no reward expected.

6. Artist Endia Beal’s hair is great. But her aura and personality surpasses that by far. Like her, I had the chance to sit on Todd Papageorge photography class “Core Curriculum” at the Yale School of Art. She reminded me one more time that a smile paired with great work can do wonders, not only for your career, but also for your own happiness.

National Geographic photographers by KIKE CALVO
National Geographic photographers Steve McCurry, Mike Yamashita and Ira Block. Photo © KIKE CALVO

7. When Mike Yamashita asks you to take a memory shot of Steve McCurryIra Block and him at Jodi Cobb’s home, all compositional rules are erased from ones’ mind. The photograph enclosed is proof of this effect.

David Allan Harvey by KIKE CALVO
National Geographic photographer captures with his phone Senior Photo Editor at National Geographic Magazine Sadie Quarrier and National Geographic photographer Lynn Johnson. Photo © KIKE CALVO

8. David Allan Harvey can not only capture the moment and move around a room capturing moments like a fly on the wall. He can be part of a photograph while photographing others, and show up in the frame as if he is not only using a camera, but also giving a temple massage to a hologram.

9. National Geographic Creative hosted a panel on Monetizing Social Media. The panelists included Kira Pollack, Director of Photography and Visual Enterprise at TIME; Allen Murabayashi, social media guru, musician, and genius of all things creative; Richard Kelly, President of the American Society of Media Photographers and Amy Yvonne Yu, Senior Integrated Content Producer at AKQA. The panel discussed a rather timely topic: the seemingly simple yet complex task of transforming our passions into a livelihood through the use of the different platforms. Drones and Instagram were hot topics during the week.  It reminded me of some of the ideas that I covered on a blog post called “Cómo convencer a nuestros clientes a que apuesten por nosotros en Social Media”, a simple reflection on monetary return on investment and other mysteries for photographers. I will soon publish the English version.

Visa Pour L´Image Founder Jean-Francois Leroy talks with the Director of Photography at the Washington Post MaryAnne Golon by KIKE CALVO
Visa Pour L´Image Founder Jean-Francois Leroy talks with the Director of Photography at the Washington Post MaryAnne Golon. Photo © KIKE CALVO.

10. The conversation hosted by MaryAnne Golon, Director of Photography at the Washington Post and Jean-Francois Leroy, founder of Visa Pour l’Image, made me think about the efforts photographers make in navigating the photo world, which seems ever so invaded with visual content. “Never in my life have I been in the company of a group of photographers more deserving to make a living out of their profession,” posted Yu on her reflection of her week at the Geographic. “These are the men and women who risk their lives to reeducate us of the importance to staying connected with our world.”

10+1. Aaron Huey’s golden shoes have superpowers. And this connects with the most important lesson I have learned on my career: ¨Never Stop Dreaming¨- Kike Calvo.

I want to dedicate this brief reflection to all those who have lend me a hand along the way. Specially those at National Geographic, whose timely advise and support have made a strong impact in my career and life.

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Further reading:

10 Keys to Being a Good Photographer

10 Big Rules of Photography or So I Think

10 Lesson Learned with the Heart of a Photographer

Learn more:

The Unforgettable Photograph: 228 Ideas, Tips, and Secrets for Taking the Best Pictures of Your Life

The Beginner’s Photography Guide

Mastering Digital Photography: Jason Youn’s Essential Guide to Understanding the Art & Science of Aperture, Shutter, Exposure, Light, & Composition

La vision del fotografo: Entender y apreciar la buena fotografia (Spanish Edition)

Fotografia Paso a Paso, La (Spanish Edition)

National Geographic Stunning Photographs

National Geographic Image Collection

Visions of Paradise

Through the Lens: National Geographic Greatest Photographs (National Geographic Collectors Series)

National Geographic: The Photographs (National Geographic Collectors Series)

In Focus: National Geographic Greatest Portraits (National Geographic Collectors Series)

How-to Photography Books:

Perfect Digital Photography(Second edition)

National Geographic Complete Photography

National Geographic Ultimate Field Guide to Photography: Revised and Expanded (Photography Field Guides)

National Geographic: The Ultimate Field Guide to Landscape Photography (National Geographic Photography Field Guides)

National Geographic Ultimate Field Guide to Travel Photography (National Geographic Photography Field Guides)

Travel and Street Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots

Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision

Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera

The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos

The Photographer’s Vision: Understanding and Appreciating Great Photography

The Business of Photography:

How Photographs are Sold: Stories and Examples of How Fine Art Photographers Sell Their Work

2015 Photographer’s Market

Marketing Fine Art Photography

Pricing Photography: The Complete Guide to Assignment and Stock Prices

The Photographer’s Survival Guide: How to Build and Grow a Successful Business

The Photographer’s Guide to Marketing and Self-Promotion

ASMP Professional Business Practices in Photography

Best Business Practices for Photographers, Second Edition

MORE Best Business Practices for Photographers

Copyright Workflow for Photographers: Protecting, Managing, and Sharing Digital Images