Skip to main content

Documentary Photography: Creating a Life in Storytelling

Lesson 11 of 13

Defining Your Pillars


Documentary Photography: Creating a Life in Storytelling

Lesson 11 of 13

Defining Your Pillars


Lesson Info

Defining Your Pillars

So, after I left the White House, a friend and colleague of mine said, "You know, you need to do, "there's gonna be a lot of opportunities coming, "and you need to figure out what's important to you. "What are your pillars?" And I was like, "What do you mean, what are my pillars?" It's like, you know, what's holding up this foundation, what are your pillars, what's important to you? By defining that, you'll be able to see what aligns with your goals. It also allowed me permission that when things didn't align with my goals, to be able to say no to them. My pillars. These are different for everyone, right? My pillars, which are authentic to my own story, is creating connection through impactful storytelling. Cultivating creativity born from resilience. Empowering women and girls, and bringing arts into underserved communities. And so this, this is my work and my priorities are constantly evolving, and like I mentioned earlier, that currently I'm working on the pilot arts program in the ...

juvenile detention centers, so first I started out bringing arts into schools, and I believe that everyone should have access to arts, and so, you know, just like many of you who, you might not know what's coming next, I'm in the same boat with you, but I have my pillars to help me figure it out. So, you know, in our action items and for people who are online, you can work through these in your workbook, but challenging us, and you might have some that come right to your mind, and it might be something that you have to think about for a while, and it might be something that changes and you have another pillar and then one drops off, and then you have more pillars, you know that's okay, there's no right or wrong with this, but what is important to you? And are you finding these themes in your work? I'm willing to bet you might be. They might be in your work. Because these are things that are important to us, so these are things that we're interested in, and so maybe by having pillars, also helps us find what stories we wanna tell. Does your pillars have to do anything with dogs? (laughs) You'll have 23 pillars now, I'm just kidding. (laughs) So, I'm, does anyone, something come to mind? Yeah? I, this is my third year that I'm an art docent in a school which does not have art for some reason, and I found my path through that, volunteering and teaching children art, and children that didn't touch a brush ever, like painting, never. At the end of the year, they all were so empowered, and felt they are creative, I actually made, I had a lot of workshops through the year, but the last one also incorporated my passion which is photography, and I called that project I am creative, and I printed them, it's a long story of what the project is, but we, I printed them out old photos, and everyone got to bring home a work that was a photo that I took of them and their art piece, and I put it together in Photoshop, and it had the words I am creative. Wow. That is a passion of mine, and I understand that it's also a thing that I want to do, a dream job, to go and give these workshops in different communities, I can make it for any age, any given time that I have, I was thinking of going to hospitals. Mm hm, absolutely. You know, bringing it to children that need it the most, that might not have the opportunity. What you just said, wow, yes, it's a pillar of mine to bring, to motivate children and bring photography and art into their world, enriching it. Thank you. Yeah, because we all deserve that, right, and I think we're all creative. Everyone is creative, doesn't matter whether you consider yourself an artist, but like, just the act of thinking or figuring things out, parenting, like there is creativity in everything that we do, or there could be, you know, and everyone should have access to that and that should be nurtured, right, and for some reason in some places, that's not nurtured, and I feel like that's not fair. And I also feel like that sometimes there are financial restraints because, to be a photographer, it can be expensive. Does anybody have a piece of paper that I can have? You know, but, the project that you mentioned, bring in an old photo, thank you. And having a call and response happen, I mean, you could also say find things in your neighborhood, or in your backyard, that represents your community. It could be things people find on the ground, like, there's ways to be creative with what we have access to. So again, like I said, when I go into schools, I just say, does everybody have a piece of paper, does everyone have access to a piece of paper, right? And then I say fold your paper in half, and then fold your paper again, and find, this is really important to say, find where all the points meet (laughs) and the flaps are here. And you just rip a little square, one line down and one line across, and all of a sudden, you have your very own camera. Right? And you wanna put on your tight lens, work on details, and you wanna get a wide shot, and you wanna get low, and you wanna get high, and what does this look like from the back? And it's so exciting to see the way kids light up with their camera, and they're like walking out of the class and they're like (makes camera shutter sound) "Can I make this into a video camera?" Yeah! (audience laughs) "Can I put buttons on mine?" Yeah! You know, and so this is creativity. This is imagination, this is accessible. And we can just use our own creativity if we wanna go into these spaces, and see what the challenges are, find some solutions, and keep trying things. So thank you for the work that you're doing, it's very important.

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. ☺