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Documentary Photography: Creating a Life in Storytelling

Lesson 10 of 13

Building Community


Documentary Photography: Creating a Life in Storytelling

Lesson 10 of 13

Building Community


Lesson Info

Building Community

Build Community. I feel that we've already started a lot of that here in this room and with our viewers that are asking questions and you know, leaving The White House, maybe think about like, what do I believe in? What do you believe in? I think about President Obama and Mrs. Obama saying time and time again, "Once you've done well and reached that door of opportunity, "make sure you're reaching back and helping others." It made me ask myself the question, what opened the gate to The White House to me? Education, you know. There are 98 million girls in the world that don't have the opportunity to get an education. This was really important to highlight in Mrs. Obama's Let Girls Learn initiative. So this is in Liberia and I made reference to this photo earlier 'cause the question was about how do you photograph in some sensitive situations? So to give you the backstory we arrived in Liberia in a rain storm. We drove 45 minutes on washed-away roads to get to the school. As you can see, ...

there's just a dirt floor. There's no electricity in the classroom and it was made, the room was made darker by the passing storm. So you can see there's only, there's light coming from this wall because it's just basically a cinder block wall that's exposed. So air comes through. The light was really, it was really really dark in this room. But I'm always prepared, right? So I have a flash. I could put a flash on to make my beautiful pictures if that was the intention. It that was the reason that we were there. But it wasn't. The reason why we were there was so that Mrs. Obama could connect with these girls and they could share their personal and intimate stories in a way that felt very comfortable. How do you think they'd feel if (announcer blows air) my flash was going off? Everybody in this circle would turn around and look at me, right? And then hopefully at some point pretend not to notice. But we speak a different language. Maybe they would still notice. They definitely would be uncomfortable. I was aware of that. And I was aware about keeping my needs in check, right? So you know, leaning on my foundation of photography, I used all of my skills to be completely still to lower my aperture and to crank up my ISO as high as I could without having grain, stay really still, make a tri-pod out of myself, and in the decisive moment, (takes deep breath) take the breath so my breath doesn't shake the camera, and take the photo. And to you it looks like there's light in the room. But I know there was not light in the room. And I also know from my time as a newspaper photographer, that you never come back with a long line of excuses of why you didn't get the photo. Because when people pick up their newspaper, they just wanna see the photo, and when people wanna learn about Let Girls Learn, they don't wanna just "Oh well, it's too dark," and "I didn't wanna put my flash on "so I didn't take the pictures." No. You figure out a way to take the pictures. And so these girls were sharing, you know, about all of the challenges they have to go through to get an education. This young woman talking about how she has to walk to school. Two hours, each way through dangerous conditions to get to her school that has no electricity and very few books but is extremely proud for her opportunity to get an education. Because she knows what doors are gonna open for her. I mean I was in tears behind my camera just hearing their stories. I mean, they were so excited to meet Mrs. Obama but like, we were totally blown away by them and I'll never forget this day, you know, and thinking about, you know, what I can do in my personal life to empower young women and girls. I love this photo. So this is a group of Turnaround Arts students and Turnaround Arts was a program started under the leadership of Mrs. Obama and it started as a pilot program in five or six schools in the country and showed that if you integrate arts in to the curriculum, not just in art classes, but all day long, empower kids to think creatively. That you can actually turn the school around. So these kids were from the Boston area and they were once one of the lowest performing schools in the state and after a lot of work they became one of the most improved. One of the top schools. So Mrs. Obama invited them to perform at The White House and they performed in the room next door, which is called The Diplomatic Reception Room and they had a luncheon for Mrs. Obama and her guests and the girl in the pink bow, she wrote a poem about not judging a book by its cover and not letting your circumstances define you, and she worked with her community, the other students, to make it into a rap and a dance that they performed. And so after they were just waiting in this room called the Map Room, they thought they were gonna after their performance get on their bus and go back to their school. But Mrs. Obama was so impressed with these kids and after we left the luncheon, you know I'm always a few steps ahead of her, I hear her say, "Where did those kids go? "They were amazing. "I wanna surprise them." Which I'm always like, "Yes!" 'Cause that's gonna make a great photo. So I hear that, I slip in the door just a few seconds before her and she just opens the door (announcer blows air) and says something like, "Hey everybody!" (crowd laughs) and this is the moment, you know? Like thinking about a surprise, how long does a surprise last? (snaps finger) That raw moment, I love this kid's face. (crowd laughs) You know all of these reactions. And you know, I loved photographing Turnaround Art students every time they came to The White House whether they performed or oh we did this thing called a White House Talent Show. You know, seeing young kids who haven't had a lot of opportunity find that spark of creativity in themselves you know, sometimes it's just a flicker at first but then it becomes this effulgent light you know, that they, "Wow, I didn't know", and I was in tears behind my camera because I saw myself in these kids. You know? I didn't grow up with very much money. I didn't have a lot of resources. I didn't have a lot of encouraging voices in my life. But I had art. I had my creativity, I had my imagination. This was the thing that gave me hope that allowed me to dream and opened up doors for me. Even the doors to The White House. So after The White House, (announcer chuckles) I continued to work with Turnaround Art students. Turnaround Arts now lives in The Kennedy Center. So a program of The Kennedy Center and they've designated Turnaround Artists around the country. A lot of celebrity artists and I got to be on the list. (announcer laughs) And so I go around and visit with students and lead them in photo workshops and you know, here we're using frames but most of the time I just use a piece of paper, you know, I just fold a piece of paper in half and rip a little square. Just rip a little square and show them how to use a camera. Because I know a lot of people can't afford a camera. I couldn't afford a camera when I was younger. But doesn't mean I can't be a photographer, you know, so accessibility is really important to me, bringing arts into underserved communities and allowing people that opportunity to dream.

Class Description


  • Identify what stories you’re drawn to photograph
  • Trust your instincts when documenting real-world scenarios
  • Overcome fear and doubt to step out of your comfort zone as an artist
  • Approach subjects creatively when capturing a story
  • Understand how to pursue a career in documentary photography
  • See all sides of a situation through empathy to improve your photos


Documentary photography captures real-life stories as they unfold, highlights social change, and, often, simply captures everyday life. In this class, former Official White House Photographer Amanda Lucidon inspires and guides a beginning audience into a career as a documentarian. Through a mix of sharing her own journey and providing insightful questions and actionable steps, Amanda helps budding photographers refine their goals and focus their efforts.

Utilizing her untraditional path and experiences, Amanda will discuss how to improve your photography through creative storytelling and how to grow professionally. Rather than sharing basics like exposure settings and post-processing how-tos, Amanda leads photographers on a path of self-discovery through photography tips on creativity, challenges, and launching a career in documentary photography.

As one of only a few female White House Photographers in history, Amanda talks through how creativity, resilience, and community helped her land a role documenting the American President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama from 2013-2017. Through her journey and a series of actionable steps and questions, you'll learn to turn your own creative passions into a career focused on the issues close to your heart.


  • Photojournalists
  • Documentary photographers
  • Documentary filmmakers
  • Beginner and Intermediate photographers


Amanda Lucidon is an award-winning documentarian, filmmaker, teaching artist, public speaker, and author. Lucidon served as a United States Official White House Photographer responsible for documenting First Lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama from 2013 to 2017, as one of only a few females in history to hold such a position.

Lucidon is the New York Times best-selling author of Chasing Light and Reach Higher. In 2018, the John F. Kennedy Center appointed Lucidon as a Turnaround Artist, highlighting the importance of the arts in underserved schools. Currently, Lucidon is working with her husband Alan Spearman and a team of artists on implementing a pilot program that introduces arts and mindfulness practices to at-risk youth in Memphis, Tennessee. Amanda’s work has been honored by Pictures of the Year International, National Press Photographers Association Best of Photojournalism, and the White House News Photographers Association, among others.


  1. Class Introduction

    Meet the instructor and hear Amanda's non-traditional path towards a career as a professional photographer in the photojournalism and documentary photography genres. See what to expect in the class.

  2. Learning to Leap

    Photography as a career often involves a leap of faith -- learn how to find the courage to make that leap, how to assign yourself projects to prepare for documentary work, and how to capture photos before you have press credentials. Gain insight into overcoming personal and professional challenges, building resilience, and trying again after real-life failure. See how Amanda went from assigning herself projects to freelancing for the New York Times.

  3. Making Time for Creativity

    Creativity doesn't just happen on a whim. In this lesson, Amanda discusses the importance of making time for creativity and keeping space for personal projects even as you start to pick up paying work. Carve out space for personal, creative projects and your professional work will benefit too.

  4. Creating Your Own Path

    Looking at the lives of documentary photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Lewis Hine, and others, and it's clear there's no one "right" pre-mapped route to becoming a professional photographer. In this lesson, Amanda discusses learning how to fail as you try new things and explore your own path -- including how she failed when she first tried video. Build your own unique path by answering questions about your own work.

  5. Budgeting

    When working as a freelance photographer, how do you keep track for taxes? How do you make sure you are earning enough? How do you set your rates? Tackle these questions with Amanda in this lesson.

  6. Staying Grounded & Generating Confidence

    Where do you focus as a professional photographer? In this lesson, Amanda shares how she found her focus and confidence. Learn how staying on top of trends and breaking news can put your work in front of more people. Then, apply the same ideas to your own work with action items at the end of the lesson.

  7. Multiplatform Storytelling

    Learn how Amanda found the opportunity to work as an official White House photographer -- and how she learned to look for emotions in her subjects. Finally, build your own steps to create your own opportunities for your own career through mentors and actionable steps.

  8. Thinking Creatively

    Working in genres like documentary photography and street photography, many moments are repeats. In this lesson, Amanda discusses getting creative with familiar moments -- like yet another speaking engagement -- along with pushing through at the end of a long day, troubleshooting, and assessing a scene quickly.

  9. Embracing Emotion

    Emotion shouldn't just be in front of the camera-- it should be behind the camera too. Here, Amanda discusses using your own emotions to connect with subjects and the viewer to create images with impact.

  10. Building Community

    Capturing a moment shouldn't interrupt the moment -- in this lesson, Amanda shares strategies for getting the shot while being unobtrusive. Learn to build a community of support -- and how to contribute to that community yourself.

  11. Defining Your Pillars

    Determining goals helps documentary photographers to focus their efforts and evolve their work. Learn how to define your own pillars to create a focus, find a story to tell, and more.

  12. Writing the Next Chapter

    When one project ends, what happens next? Here, Amanda shares how she found her next projects after working in the White House, including writing a book and going on a book tour. Use the fear of getting out of your comfort zone to stay on your toes.

  13. Q&A

    Finish the class with insight gleaned from a question and answer session with students like you. Learn about adapting your schedule, finalizing projects, and more.



I feel the class was a great honor to witness through Amanda’s eyes, as the journey of one of the most beautiful First Ladies of our time and to be able to capture the most personal moments of stillness. the class was so inspiring and I think it will be future lifetimes to come before we realize how important the Obamas were To our growth as a nation and evolution of humanity! thank you Amanda for your vision to capture the moments of stillness and sharing with us I loved this class In Gratitude ROBIN

a Creativelive Student

Amanda is an inspiration. Her hard work, dedication to her craft and in all the ways she pays it forward. This class will help you get beyond your creative blocks, see and create your own opportunities. All the while being reminded to BE KIND to yourself. With stunning images and fabulous stories, you'll learn from this class each time you watch it!


Thanks Amanda and CreativeLive. Great class. I'm studying photography and just finding my feet as a documentary photographer at 58yo. It's a wonderful thing to be able to record those moments. I may never be a White House tog, but thank you for the inspiration. ☺