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Creating Your Own Path

Lesson 4 from: Documentary Photography: Creating a Life in Storytelling

Amanda Lucidon

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Lesson Info

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.
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Lesson Info

Creating Your Own Path

Creating your own path. As I continued my documentary project on same sex marriage I discovered something jarring in my research. Even though Amy and Alex were legally married, they would be denied 1138 federal rights under the Defense of Marriage Act. So rights that they were discovering, they didn't know of. They were discovering as they decided to grow their family. So this is Amy and Alex and the doctors office as they participated in fertility procedures to have a child. So things they would learn is that Alex's insurance wouldn't cover Amy 'cause technically she was a legal stranger. Even though they were married. Or financial or tax benefits that are automatically granted to a heterosexual married couple. Alex would later struggle to adopt her own child that they decided to conceive together as a married couple. As their journey as newlyweds continued, and parents, their lives were full of legal complications. In addition to the normal challenges of parenthood, they were endurin...

g so much more. It was apparent that this story was more complex than photos could actually tell. The story needed a new medium, video. And at the same time when I was considering this leap, as life so happens, my friend was selling his video camera. (crowd laughter) And it was quite an investment but I know being the frugal person that I am, that if I actually bought the camera I would have to use it. So I guess important to note that while I was doing this story and while I figured out when the video camera came into my life, I was shooting stills and also video at the same time. So I had a Sony X1, I had a big camera with two inputs of good audio and then I would have one camera with a 50mm lens so as soon as I realized that the story became too complex, video became the priority and I would just take stills as needed. And I'll talk more about that later. So learning video, I should share with you that the first video I shot was of Amy and Alex's wedding and it was blue and it had no sound. 'Cause I had no idea what I was doing. Right? So how was I supposed to be good at it? But I'll tell you that from that experience I grew and I never shot blue video again and most of the time going forward it had sound. That might've been a harder lesson to learn. But you know, the thing is, when you're trying new things you should expect perceived failures as much as perceived successes. Because I think they're connected. You can't be successful without being willing to fail, right? My father was a landscaper and he had a poem by his office, in his window of his office and I always remember the one line that says, 'take sunshine and rain with equal grace'. It's a gardener's poem, right? Because you can't have growth without sunshine or rain. Another one I like is 'no rain, no rainbows'. Right? So it's learning to accept both of those things and being kind to yourself when you're learning something new. It's really easy to be hard on yourself like you should be better at that, like oh I can't believe you shot blue video. It's like yeah, I can because you never done it before. So being kind to yourself and whenever you hear kind of the not nice voice coming you just be like go away, who are you anyway, right, go away. I don't wanna listen to that negative voice. So this is my mantra. And surprisingly several years later my video project which turned into a film was then being screened at film festivals all across the country. They even gave me a badge that said film maker and I felt like a total imposter, you know? 'Cause I was like, oh, err, do they know about the blue video? But I looked around the room and I wondered how many other people are here just the same way that I got here? They were just willing to try something new, they were willing to fail and now we're a filmmaker. Now we can call ourselves an artist, right? We can call ourselves a photographer. So I wanna ask you is there something you've been wanting to try or do? It could be professionally, it could be personally, and what seems to be holding you back? What could that next step be and how would you feel if you actually accomplished that goal? It was great to hear, you shared your story earlier, that you actually accomplished that goal that you set out to do and what a feeling of pride. As I mentioned earlier, I'm a food blogger and one of the things I really want to do is start doing videos of recipes and things like that. What's holding me back is nothing more than my own confidence in it and I'm nodding along as you're saying all of this because I'm terrible for needing to be a perfectionist at it and for not wanting to fail. I'm glad you used that word, let's talk about that. Yeah, please go on. Perfectionism, it's dangerous. And the next step is me just taking the leap and doing it and accepting that it may turn out blue. There may be no sound, I may mess it up and that's okay and if I accomplish the goal, if I actually did it, I think it would feel great and I don't think it would feel anywhere near as scary as it kind of does not trying it. I'll never regret it, I don't think so yeah. Thank you for sharing, and to talk about perfectionism. I think a lot of creatives want to own that label of 'but I'm a perfectionist', and I did too. To my detriment because what is perfectionism? What is perfectionism? It's a barricade. That means you don't wanna learn anymore. That means you just wanna get it perfect, you wanna know it and you don't wanna do it anymore. I love being a life long learner, I love being a student, I love learning new things. I don't think anything I will ever do will be perfect from this point 'cause I have this clarity that perfectionism is BS, right, you know? It's just the thing that's keeping you away from the goal. But when you embrace like yeah, I'm gonna do something new, I am not gonna be good right away, it's gonna be a little scary, it's gonna be a little uncomfortable but guess what, I'm gonna do it anyway. 'Cause all you really have to do is take some steps. And even if you're taking your steps and you're like oh, that didn't turn out so good, 'cause next time I would do it this way. And you're learning and you're growing. So if we could all just woosh, get rid of the term perfectionism and just think about that slide. Life is short, right? Do you wanna be perfect or do you wanna live? Do you wanna be perfect or do you wanna create? There is beauty all around us and we just have to choose to see. Recently, I've been wanting to create something in the realm of foster dogs which I do just throughout just normal life. I'm at I think 23 different foster dogs we've had now. Wow, that's amazing. Thanks. So I really want to share my experience with people. Hey, you can do this too, especially creatives because you have so much time kind of hanging out in front of your computer. I just really am struggling with the format to put it in and so I think that's been holding me back from putting it out there. Whether it be a blog, video, photo or a little bit of everything but it's with the perfectionism idea, it's been holding me back from actually putting it out there. Yeah, so that's a good question. I think that's the cool thing about having different skill sets is that you don't have to go and define it right away. So the block that I'm hearing from you is that you're trying to get to the format. Forget about the format. Just, how many? 23? 23, okay. So think about the keywords when you think about fostering a dog. What emotions does it come up for you, I mean, say a couple of them. From actually fostering them? Joy, excitement, friendship, community, companion, it's rewarding. What have you learned from fostering dogs? That they're amazing, that they can bounce back from pretty much anything. Resilience, yep, mhm. Yes, and they really just put love into everything that they do. Whether it's just going on a walk, a hike or just hanging out on the couch. Who do you think benefits more, you or the dog? Probably me. Okay so here's your script, right? So you know intimately because you've had this experience 23 times. You know what this brings into your life. You have the story. So just writing the script and see what it ends up. Is this a photo story, is this a blog, is this all of these things? But you just have to you know, start taking those steps. So do you think that's helpful? Absolutely. Okay, great, thank you. So one thing I've had the idea of doing recently is my partner just came back from like 8 months doing solo travel. So I really wanted to create some kind of video that shows all the different ways that we've been communicating through like voice messaging, normal messaging, video calls, Skype, like everything, you name it. So I wanted to create a video that kind of capsulates like the ups and downs and the trials and tribulations of long distance. But it's hard to think of everything we've been through and then also I would like eventually to share with other people too but it's something that's like private and intimate to us. So approaching it with that idea at first like okay, it's just for us and then it's so hard figuring out what to make it about and how start that off. What do you think is holding you back, what part's holding you back? The wanting to keep it to yourself, or? I think just the script itself. It's like how do you tell the story. There's so many different ways to approach it and trying to think back to the story of what it was actually like being in a long distance relationship. He's only been back for like four days, so. He just came back. But yeah, just the script itself and how do you like, write about yourself in that story and then from his standpoint too, so like I don't know, a couple things. Yeah, that's interesting. I think that sounds like a great idea and we'll talk about multi-platform storytelling later. But also thinking about you having this experience that you're uniquely familiar with and that you can, if you're not quite ready to share your story, you don't know what it looks like yet, you can interview other people who have been in long distance relationships. There might be an older couple that live around you that did that at some point. You could interview people from different generations and find out, well you have text messages and you have Facetime now but like people used to have to write letters, you know? We did the letter thing, it was shorter. Right, so maybe something like that might be interesting to you and just taking small steps of gathering the content and maybe writing the script and you said that parts of it were hard so making sure that it's actually represented. 'Cause I think that sometimes, earlier in my career as a photographer it's like I would just wanna show the good things, you know? Like or, if I had an idea that this was a bad situation I'd just show the bad things. But there's joy and suffering in everything. So making sure that we accurately show both. Yeah, I think that would be the biggest part, is just trying to capture it as it was, but there's so many different sides. Another interesting thing might just be to interview your partner and say this is how I felt, how did you feel? 'Cause it might be a whole different story. Thanks. Thank you. I mean I wanted to share one from online, and this is Gale who says "I want to try portrait photography, I have some lighting equipment but I don't have the perfect space and my husband doesn't like his picture taken so I can't practice on the fly. And I hesitate to ask others because I don't want to impose on other people's busy schedule". So I think a lot of people might relate to that, especially when you're afraid to ask other people to help you in whatever the thing is that you want to do. Yeah, thank you so much for sharing. For me, when I left the newspaper, I wanted to tell documentary stories but I didn't have an outlet anymore. So I had some of the same challenges. I didn't want to ask people to be part of a long-term project and not be able to say I have a place to put it. But I had to realize that was just in my own head. I had to get out of my comfort zone and just when I approached people and said this is a really important story to tell. I don't know where it's going to go but I'm dedicated to telling the story. People were like oh great, come on in. Like we didn't even need to have the conversation. So it might feel like she's inconveniencing people asking to take their portrait but they probably would be absolutely flattered. And I think that's a great way to build community or to get out there and to get to know more people or if that's still uncomfortable, you can start practicing portraits on yourself, right? Set up a tripod, that could be a starting point. We just need to get that next step, whatever it is. And so maybe that's just slightly outside of your comfort zone. Like we said, the word perfect is gone. So I find some of the most imperfect places are beautiful places to take portraits. And portraits were something that I really struggled with because I wasn't good at lighting, you know? I would say oh, I really don't like taking portraits, ugh. I'm not a portrait photographer. And it was really just 'cause I wasn't good at it. And I could stop saying that just as soon as I got good at it, and I would have to learn, right? So I think a lot of these things are just sort of let me let go of all of the judgment, let me let go of all of the labels, this is something that I'm drawn to for some reason. It's not going away. I can't ignore it, 'cause it keeps coming back. So what step can I take and so thank you for the question. I have one more that I want to discuss and share because I think it's representative of a lot of blockage which is money. So this example is from Alex Rubio who says he or she want to try gumoil printing, but was is holding her or him back is, not sure which kind of Alex you are, is money. Afraid of failing and having known that I have lost all the money that I put into it and so other people have talked about wanting to travel as part of the work. So any advice on that? Yeah well, I don't know what gumoil printing is, but it sounds fascinating. It sounds like it's a special kind of thing that might not be available everywhere. So I know in my community there are maker spaces and sometimes places at public libraries have maker spaces that you might be able to have access to this without funding. Another thing that you could do is crowd funding. A lot of people do that for film projects, you know. When I worked on my Legal Stranger project I did a crowd funding and at the time we used Indiegogo. And I basically just got money, raised money to pay the editor to edit the film. So you can share your story, say I'm Alex, I really have a passion for doing this but I don't have the funding to do it. Will you support my efforts? Or find someone in your community that is already doing this, ask can you shadow, can they be your mentor, can you work to have access to their facility? So creativity, let's turn on the creativity to think how many ways can I get around the boulder that's right in front of me. And I think because the passion is there, that Alex will figure out a way to do it. When you're in the beginning phases of a project, how do you figure out like what the story is, kind of like she was asking about her project. It could go a lot of different directions. You have a lot of different mediums that you have an interest in. Is there a way that you narrow it down of like how you'll capture it, or what's that one thread of story that you wanna follow. Yes, I do a lot of research so that I have all the information and then I know that the information is still coming, so you be a good listener so that when things are changing, have some concepts in mind but know that just like my early days at the newspaper. It's like that might fall away. And by being well versed in different mediums, you don't have to define it. You sorta just keep doing it and then you let the story tell you what it is. Am I a photo story, am I a blog, am I an audio story, am I an animated story. You know, so just keep doing the work and keep following it and it will tell you, I promise. I was wondering if you ever encounter overwhelm, like so many projects like how do you know which one you want to follow and that kind of thing? Has anyone in the room have not been overwhelmed at one point? Actually, I was gonna raise your hand but please stand up so we can all applaud you. Yeah, I mean, I have a two year old, I'm working on projects and currently about to launch a non-profit and so there's a lot of things that are being juggled all the time and I always have to remind myself that this is all good overwhelm. There's so many great things happening and I need to just be grateful so like okay, I can't do everything at the same time. So what's the priority? What am I gonna focus on first. I'm gonna put these things to the side, write them all down, you know you can even have, in my freelancing days I had like a sticker on my refrigerator. It was like this big green sticker that I think I got at like Office Depot or something. It was like my priorities, it was like need to do. Want to do. In the future. So it's like okay, and those are the things. So has anybody else have procrastination issues here? (crowd laughter) Only a few of you? Aren't we creatives? Come on, let's be honest here. So I also would make my priorities like, whatever's the top priority for the day I would make myself do it by noon so that I didn't leave the whole day. And so I get my top priorities done by noon, I'd send out my emails and then I'd be able to create some space for myself in the day because people wouldn't be returning your emails until later on. So I got my priorities done, and then I started on my 'what I would like to do'. And then I had another sticker that was like future projects so I just make sure I'd caught everything on paper, because that's why it cycles around. Because you don't wanna forget it. And that's what creates being overwhelmed I think, is this constant 'quiet up there', you know? So I think if you catch it and follow your heart on what do you wanna work on first, and just work your way through and be kind to yourself because you can't do everything at once. Question from online, a couple of people, both Darren and John who were asking when you were showing your earlier work, this is a question that always comes up. I figure we just get it out there about releases. So you're doing documentary photos and what types of permissions or releases might one need and is that based on what the usage would be? Yeah, definitely based on the usage. So the earlier work that I showed you, where it was all work that I produced for the newspaper. And so that was run in the newspaper, we would just get the people's concent to do the story and to take the photos and that was good for that usage. So obviously if you're doing portraits that are part of a commercial project you wanna sign releases. There are plenty of places where you can download what a release form looks like. Plenty of examples online that you don't have to create your own. Did you wanna share, do you have to do anything for releases for your project? Yeah, for being part of the project. Right now I have a general release that it'll be in the blog and on social media but with the caveat that if in the future this were to become a book or a gallery show that they would be reintroduced for other usage. And having to say yes or no to that before it went formal. Great, thanks for sharing and I think that's what we can do too, is like rely on the other creatives in the community to say hey, how do you handle this? Being willing to reach out to people and ask those questions so thanks for sharing. Stephanie Hooper, and you talked a little bit about this, had asked when you were shooting for yourself, personal projects, self assignments, where were you sharing that work again. I'll talk about that a little later in multi-platform story telling, but I was sharing on my own Vimeo account for the videos. I had also created a blog and I used diary entries that Amy and Alex were writing, a very intimate, first hand account and I was using photos in that too. And had a photo shelter site for my website, so I had it on my website too. And then you'll see in multi-platform storytelling how I sort of segment into the same content to live on multiple platforms.

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Creating a Life In Storytelling Links and Resources
Creating a Life In Storytelling Workbook

Ratings and Reviews


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. ☺

Student Work