He was born in Arabie at the time belonging to Corsier-sur-Vevey, today a part of Vevey. He was the son of a skillful marble worker in Vevey, but because his father lost the family fortune, Calame could not concentrate on art, but rather he was forced to work in a bank from the age of 15. When his father fell from a building and then died, it was up to the young Calame to provide for his mother.
In his spare time he began to practice drawing small views of Switzerland. In 1829 he met his patron, the banker Diodati, who made it possible for him to study under landscape painter François Diday. After a few months he decided to devote himself fully to art.