So You Want to Learn Photography?


This is the first post of the series So You Want to Learn Photography?, a fun source for those seeking to learn photography to enhance their vision of this world, and capture the essence of everyday life. The basics of great photography from photographer and National Geographic Expert Kike Calvo.

Life acts in unexpected ways. As part of my ongoing project “World of Dances”, which started after a commercial assignment photographing the Panamanian National Ballet turned into a lifelong project creating fine art images of dancers, I visited New York’s Central Park during Winter Storm Juno.

From the feedback I got from my photographs taken in the extreme weather conditions around Manhattan the day before, I must have entered a different dimension. “Do you know that if your photograph of the Radio City Music Hall and the three men in the blizzard had no sign of Lady Gaga,” many people wrote on my Facebook page, “it would just look like a moment captured in the 50s!”

Winter Storm Juno arrives to New York.   January 26, 2015. by KIKE CALVO

Maybe they were right. After Kylie, the ballerina, rushed off to her class at SLK Ballet in downtown Manhattan, I was unsure if I should continue taking photographs. My feet were so cold by then. Since the previous day, I had been combing the streets of New York, camera in hand. A little angel in the back of my head whispered that I should make a final effort, and explore Central Park in search of unique moments. And so I did.


The energy that day was special. Those who had the chance to stroll through the park that day will remember. It was a gigantic movie stage created by nature. Every few minutes, I would stop and capture moments and people that seemed intriguing to me. I repeated the process over and over. While walking on a long, curvy path parallel to a frozen lake, I saw a charismatic character dressed in black engaged in a conversation with another woman. They walked peacefully as if they were part of a theatrical play that had been meticulously planned. 

With my particular Spanish photographic style, I engaged them in conversation, asking this woman for permission to take a quick portrait. She agreed. The truth is, we both knew that I had been photographing the two of them throughout the time that they took to reach me.

New York in Winter, Artist Beatrix Ost

This woman happened to be Beatrix Ost. The Coveteur described her as a woman with her own magnetic character: “somewhat mysterious, intriguing (…) but the minute she speaks, everyone around her goes silent and pays close attention.”

I must say that this moment reinforced the idea that, in a way, we photographers just harvest images that are given to us by destiny. It is up to us simply to become aware of them all around us.

Ost gracefully signs off all her e-mails with, “In your body is a good place to be.”

“When you approached me, I knew,” Ost explained to me later, “I was like a black and white photograph. You only needed to press down – click!

I was there, like the park itself! Black and white.”

I continued my haphazard search, driven by the sounds and sights of countless people playing in the snow. From a distance, I saw a large group of young kids sledding down a steep, snowy slope. I walked up the hill over the white blanket of snow, headed towards the highest point. Children with their parents were everywhere, so immersed in their excitement that they did not notice my presence. I captured dozens of these magical moments of true joy and exploration. 

What also captured my attention was a group of three grown-ups. One had an unusual cloak. His name was Doug. I ended up having a great unplanned conversation with these three, answering their questions and sharing with them the reasons why I became a photographer. I began to learn more about who they were, putting personalities into the faces I had just captured on film.

Doug Brochu by KIKE CALVO

Doug, the man with the cloak, happened to be Douglas Mark “Doug” Brochu, an American actor, comedian and voice actor. He is best known as Grady Mitchell in the Disney Channel Original Series, Sonny with a Chance and So Random.

Doug’s friend, whom I captured snowboarding on top of a plastic sled, was Cole. For a guy like me, who does not even watch TV unless there is a deep story behind it, Cole was just Cole. Little did I know that in fact, Cole is an American actor: Cole Mitchell Sprouse. Twins with Dylan Thomas Sprouse, he and his brother are collectively referred to as the Sprouse bros. Their first major theatrical film role was in Big Daddy, where they starred alongside Adam Sandler. They later appeared in several television sitcoms and starred in the straight-to-DVD films I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and Just for Kicks.


“Kike shows a severe interest in the human interaction with the natural world.  He finds passion in not only the places and things aesthetically appealing, but how humans operate and come to terms with those things.  His series utilizes ballerinas as a photographic referent, and creates a visual contrast to the setting they are placed within.  His photos ask questions, complicating the viewership experience.  Ultimately, this complication is all an audience member can truly want and, should, expect from photography.  Kike captures this relationship lucidly.” ~ Cole Sprouse

Cole, tired of people taking photos of him everywhere, has started a great concept on Instagram called Camera Duels ( @camera_duels ). When someone recognizes him from his acting career and tries to take a quick picture of him, he triggers his camera first and posts the images in his Instagram with a witty insight on the situation.

Unwillingly and with no warning, I entered a camera duel.


Sprouse described this funny encounter in this manner:

“A nice afternoon as the only people sledding over 10yo, when, like an unholy din, a red menace washed over the pale white snow, camera in hand. I was a bull driven mad by rouge, and I knew…duel was on. Poor humble Douglas was caught in the crossfire, but friends die all the time in the game of war. It was only after the duel had ended, and the bodies of hundreds of Central Park children lay all around us that I noticed the man wore a National Geographic emblem on his coat. He was a professional.

Used to shooting wild-beasts, my mannerisms must have been familiar to him. And the look of determination in his eye was characteristic of a man who had seen both fear and wonder. We talked after the fight, as duelist’s often do, and both held a mutual respect. He was @kikeo, check out his side of the story.”

I have to admit the “camera duel” ended with mutual respect, curiosity about each others’ experiences in life, and a common interest: photography.

I never really had a mentor in life. As many of you know, my dad passed away on my early 20s, and photography became my way of coping with reality. So for a while, I have been mentoring hundreds of students that attend my workshops in search of inspiration and knowledge.

That storm and its magical spell, in combination with the experiences and lessons I learned the previous week at National Geographic, made me ask myself: what if I took my lessons and guidance to my blog, so people interested in photography from anywhere around the world could take even a simple phone camera and start dreaming with me?

Would Cole, now an archeology student at NYU, be interested in learning photography with “the red menace” he encountered in that storm as a result of destiny? Probably if I had the chance, I would invite Cole to read 10 Keys to Being a Good Photographer and 10 Big Rules of Photography or So I Think. Will he be interested in learning to fly drones with me?

Follow Kike Calvo on FacebookTwitterWebTumblrLinkedIn or Instagram to learn photography with him or just follow his adventures. 

Learn more about Beatrix Ost:
My Father’s House: A Childhood in Wartime Bavaria
Als wärs ein Teil von mir

Further readings on Photography:

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