Skip to main content

Documentary Photography: Creating a Life in Storytelling

Lesson 1 of 13

Class Introduction


Documentary Photography: Creating a Life in Storytelling

Lesson 1 of 13

Class Introduction


Lesson Info

Class Introduction

(clapping) Thank you. Thanks so much. Thank you, Kenna, and thanks so much for all of you for being here today. I'm really excited about the conversation we're about to have. You know, I'm gonna be, throughout this course, sharing stories, and tips, and lessons that I've learned through my career as a photographer, filmmaker, artist, and educator, and author, so I hope by the end of this class that you'll be able to find the confidence to trust your instincts, to push through creative challenges, and to move outside of your comfort zone, because I think that's where life and work gets really interesting. So, one of the most common things that people ask me is, "How did you get that job "as a White House photographer, right?" And usually I only have a few seconds to answer that question. But my story starts far beyond getting that phone call, you know, back to my path, which was not a traditional one. And I think that's important to share, is that I didn't go to a photography school. ...

I would've liked to, but I'm one of 10 children. Looking for those expressions, yeah. I'm one of 10 children, so I picked my college based on who would give me the most financial aid. And then I also worked three jobs to supplement what financial aid didn't cover. And so, although I couldn't get a photography degree 'cause it wasn't offered, I crafted my own degree in communications media as a major, with a minor in journalism, and a specialization in photography. So, I was even creative in that exploration. So, you know, when it was time to start to apply for internships, I couldn't compete with the kids that were coming out of photography schools. So, you know, but what I lacked in skill, I made up in perseverance. So, I reached out to a local paper that I knew ran photos really well. I admired the way they used photos and I asked to meet with an editor. So, she sat down with me and reviewed my portfolio and then delivered the news, "I'm sorry, "we've already given our summer internship "to someone else." I said, well, that's okay, I can do an unpaid internship. I just wanna get my foot in the door, I just really need to get experience. And so, she said okay, 'cause I don't think I gave her an option to say no. And so, I spent the summer working incredibly hard, trying to make the most out of all the opportunities. And so, I did another internship after that before landing my first full time job as a newspaper photographer. And so, from 2003 to 2008, I worked at a newspaper in Riverside, California, called the Press Enterprise. And you know, just, many of you know what newspaper photographers cover, all the things that you see in the newspaper. So, that could be, you know, anything from daily news, to food, to features, portraits, parades, fires, you know, anything, you name it. So, it was really great for me to able to build my foundation in photography, to learn how to troubleshoot on the fly, right? Because there's what you think is gonna happen, and then what actually happens time and time again. There's the plan, and then, you know, abandoning the plan and going with the flow. And so, that, you know, learning to do that over, and over, and over again really helped me in my career, you know, later on, and you'll hear about that too. So, we talked a little bit earlier about, you know, being drawn to certain subjects, maybe not knowing why at first. And so, in the earlier part of my career, I noticed that I was drawn to certain types of projects. You know, I really loved working on long-term documentary photo projects, so in addition to the stories, the photos I would shoot for the newspaper, I would work on projects. One thing that was interested in, interesting to me was the preservation of culture. So, I learned about a Purepecha community living in the Coachella Valley, and the Purepecha are an indigenous population of Mexico. And so, I was really interested in seeing how families tried to preserve their culture through generations. I was interested in finding out what was being preserved and what was vanishing. So, many of the Purepecha community have moved to this area for farm work. They, you know, just like everyone in American dream, wanted to make a better life for their family. So, I also wanted to look at why was this group of people being discriminated against? You know, how could we look deeper, challenge the eye to look deeper and make those connections? I also wanted to document moments where past and present converge. And, like, in this makeshift shrine where the community members were able to celebrate. In continuing to explore tradition, I wanted to look at similarities and differences as girls mark a rite of passage through different cultures. So, I'm just gonna show you, this was a series I ended up calling "Five Different Girls," and I'm just gonna show you a few images from that series. This was a young woman who was celebrating her sari ceremony, and friends and family came, and she wore her sari, and celebrated with fruits, and family members coming together with gifts. And so, this was a mark marking her transition from childhood to adulthood. Which also happens in a quinceanera, right? I love how pink. Could it get anymore pink, right? And so, you know, marking that transition from childhood to adulthood. The way this picture sorta speaks to me because, you know, I like seeing the teddy bears sorta just tucked in the closet, and you know, the posters. But then, also, like, contrasted with this really serious moment where she's focused on, you know, making sure she's prepared for this special day. And her practicing her dance with her brother. You know, I just love the expression on her face, you know, just such joy and innocence. And then, just knowing that, like, these celebrations are not just about the girl, but they're also about the parents, the friends and family, the community members. So, it was my hope that, through these stories of celebration, that we could see our own story of celebration, and maybe we could make those connections. I was also really interested in highlighting under-reported issues. Like, each year, thousands of farm workers flock to Mecca, a small town in the Coachella Valley, for the grape harvest. And this influx of people, there's not enough housing, so most migrant workers sleep in parking lots on cardboard, some stay in their cars, and some who are lucky enough to find a place are often in dilapidated trailers that are overcrowded. This man seeking refuge from working out in the hot desert sun all day bathes himself in a contaminated drainage ditch. And this man talks about the legacy of Caesar Chavez, and he wonders if anyone else will fight for farm workers. I'm also interested in documenting issues that are typically surrounded by stigma. I spent a year in a California women's prison documenting two inmates that were pregnant. This woman was hopeful that she'd be part of a new pilot program that would allow mothers and their child to stay in a secure nursery for up to 18 months after the baby was born. But, like with a lot of programs, funding stalled, and she was, she was almost convinced that she'd be part of the program, only to find out that it wouldn't be in place when she had her child. So, she had her child under the watch of this correction officer, and was separated quickly after the birth of her child, and then a few days later was back in prison. So, what was happening in the newspaper was, you know, the, we call it a shrinking news bowl. There was a need to sell more ads at the time, which made less space for us to be able to share stories and photos. So, you know, while that was a hard, challenging time for reporters, for photographers, you know, I saw it as a need for innovation. So, this was shrinking, the newspaper was shrinking, but then there was the internet, right? So, how could I find ways to train myself to be innovative, to tell my stories in new forms? Because obviously the first thing that's gonna lose space is documentary projects that need a lot of room to run. So, you know, I thought, well, I'll come up with a solution. So, in 2004, I did my first audio slideshow with a cassette recorder. And it was for a project about homeless youth, so we put this online, and you could see the photos, and you could click and listen to the voices of the interviews. So, in 2005, I went to a workshop and learned Soundslides, which was a new software program that allowed editing audio slideshows really easily. So, all of a sudden, there was this new software that made it really easy. And so, I upgraded my recorder to a little digital, like, Olympus or something, so it was only slightly better than a cassette recorder, because you know, technology was still evolving. But then, I wanted to expand this skillset. So, I wanted to find a story that could help me with these tools. So, I was looking for something that was really interesting visually and audibly. And I guess that's an important thing to point out too is, like, if you're, for me, I set goals for myself, 'cause, like, I want to make sure that I'm staying up-to-date with the trends, and that I'm expanding my skillset. So, I always said I wanna do one to two workshops per year, and one is gonna be like an intensive workshop that I might have to spend some money on that might be a week long where I'm gonna learn video, I'm gonna learn audio, or editing software, Final Cut Pro, or Premiere, or whatever you use. And then I would also say, I'm also gonna do something like a weekend workshop, or come to something like today at CreativeLive, or sign online to do a class, so that you are just staying up-to-date on the trends. So, I found a story that I was interested in. This was about a beautiful young girl named Alana who loved music and dance, and she also happened to be deaf. I was really inspired by the way that she heard the music, 'cause she felt the music through vibrations and through watching, and through the help of her classmates. Alana was innovative. Alana was using creative means to express herself to her classmates. She was writing, here she's writing on a notebook, sharing with her friends. (laughing) And her friends were innovative. Some of you might recognize this Game Boy, and they were writing notes to each other back before, you know, the iPhone existed, so. So, throughout my, (laughing) yeah, and just being expressive, right, and communicating? All the ways that we can communicate. And so, for me, I found that, you know, my willingness to want to try new things and being okay with not being good at those things right away, to be innovative, and to find solutions when there was a barricade, you know? I find that that has done a tremendous amount for my career. So, throughout this course, I'll be sharing stories and tips, and I'll also be challenging you and asking questions to push outside of your own comfort zone.

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. ☺