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Documentary Photography: Creating a Life in Storytelling

Lesson 7 of 13

Multiplatform Storytelling


Documentary Photography: Creating a Life in Storytelling

Lesson 7 of 13

Multiplatform Storytelling


Lesson Info

Multiplatform Storytelling

So staying grounded and generating confidence. While Legal Stranger project started winning photo and video and multimedia awards, and I try not to put too much emphasis on this because personally I feel like you should just do the work that you love and then that is the reward, that is the award, but I do realize that it was beneficial to my career at the time when I was trying to break into a competitive industry. And by winning these awards got me invited to places where I could meet influential people at events, one was a National Geographic photo seminar where I happened to meet Pete Souza through my mentor, Susan Biddle, who he was a friend of hers and we happened to have lunch and I tried to get through the lunch and not say anything stupid (laughs) 'cause I was so nervous 'cause this was my role model, one of my role models, and I thought I made a pretty unremarkable impression. But surprisingly he called me up a few years later and asked me if I wanted to apply to be an offici...

al White House photographer. So you can imagine that I thought it was a joke. (audience laughing) I was certain he had the wrong Amanda. And of course there was only one answer to that question even though doubt came right away. Am I right for this job? I'm not a political photographer, I'm a documentarian. Like I don't know, this feels like, am I right for the job? But then like time does, allows you to connect the dots, and it's like, most of the work I've ever worked on is civil rights issues and to be able to be asked to document the first African American first family? Incredible honor. So your job as a White House photographer is to document the official events of the President and First Lady for history. No pressure, right? (laughs) (audience laughs) You know so it's also a job that not many people have had. So it's a very unique position. There have probably been about 50 White House photographers total, maybe like 15 women, ever. You know? So being able to reach out to a Susan Biddle, was a mentor of mine, she worked for Reagan and Bush, be able to reach out to the community of women who had served into this role before was really helpful to me. So this is the first time I ever met Mrs. Obama. And luckily my colleague documented the moment. So you can see I'm smiling so big I can hardly see out of my eyes. I'm looking up and thinking, wow you're so smart and pretty, and tall, you're so tall, tall, very, very, very tall. Like what is your name, oh your name is Amanda. Your name is Amanda. My name is Amanda, and I think she said something like "Welcome to the team, we're so happy to have you." She walked away and I was like, I don't know what just happened. It was all a blur 'cause I was all swirly and excited and it was so important for me to have this moment because I would see it over and over again for the next four years in other people when they met her for the first time. (audience laughs) You get my point, right? And so that's why I was looking for that raw emotion. And it would be so easy for me to just focus on photographing Mrs. Obama's face all the time, but then if I did I would have missed this moment. Like it's only her arm, but you know it's her, because the way the girl's reacting, right? She's having her own swirly moment of excitement. This was the first day that I photographed her. So I shadowed my colleague Lawrence Jackson at the White House. Again a really unique position so you wanna learn how to do it before you're actually doing it. I probably only made six or ten, six to ten photos this day. So at the White House we do a lot of photo lines. Before and after an event Mrs. Obama and President Obama will meet people, they'll take a posed picture, so when I wasn't good at lighting, I had to learn how to get good at lighting right away. And so she had just met with a couple hundred people, it was an especially long photo line, and then she went into the next room which is the green room and had just a few minutes to herself before she went to the next room and delivered remarks. And so I had you know, long lens on and I was just looking at her through the lens of my camera in this quiet moment and I was thinking, I wonder what she's thinking. I wonder if she gets nervous the way that I do before I have to speak in front of a crowd. You know, this was a unifying moment for me because this person I had seen on TV so many times was a person that was real and had thoughts and emotions and feelings, and it was this connecting moment that allowed me to ground myself. Because if I had that swirly feeling all the time I would not be able to take pictures, right? You have to be able to focus and do your job. So you know, I call this generate confidence because I don't know many people that are naturally confident. Like most of the artists that I admire are full of self doubt but they're also highly accomplished and when I started at the White House I can't say that I was completely confident because it was a new role and I had to find that in myself. And being surrounded by a team of people that believed in me, that trusted my instincts and my abilities, and then when I had questions, either doing my research and looking back at the archive to see how do you photograph a State arrival, so that I was comfortable when that time arrived, or my first time going overseas, reaching out to a mentor, my mentor Susan and saying, like what do I need to know about going to China? And having those conversations. Being willing that when I don't know what's happening or when I don't have the answers that I can just ask for them. I could just ask for help. And that really helped me gain my confidence. So I want you to think about what is your dream job, and who could give you some advice on this career path. What are some active steps that you could take to make it a reality? Dream job? Anyone wanna share your dream job? Sure someone, oh you have a big smile back there, I think you want to share your dream job. (laughs) I'm Kirsten and the last few years have kind of led me to this place to think about this specifically, and I think it's directing film, and I think it's probably a combination of both like fiction and documentary. Excellent, so who could give you some advice? Your advice so far has been really helpful (laughs) Thank you I'm glad. Thanks for teaching us today. Yes of course. There are a couple filmmakers in the room and I think you might be sitting next to one right? So here's our community here, we can start here. I'd be happy to talk to you. And what are some active steps that you think you could take to help get you closer to this goal? I think it's the prioritizing and the creating time and honoring that time and just like getting over that first step, like when you said you do the hardest things or the highest priority things first thing in the day and making that the routine. I don't remember which writer it was but he said if the hardest thing you do in the morning is eat a frog, then everything else is easy. So thinking about what's my frog, and eat it first. That's a great analogy. (laughs) And then the rest will fall into place so yeah I think it's just stepping off the ledge a little bit. Well that's great, we're all supporting you in that effort. Thank you (laughs) Thank you. Anyone else wanna share a dream job? Hi I'm Carlos. Hi Carlos. Well I jumped from filmmaking into portrait photography and I'm more interested right now in I wanna photograph cultures from different parts but I wanna do it in a fine art kind of portrait photography and I don't know who to reach, I mean I know some people on Instagram but it's so distant you know, sometimes, to know how to get the funding or go to these places or locations to have your in to these type of communities. And are there these communities locally that you can start with that? Yeah I'm doing the research in that, that's where I am. I'm from Mexico so for me it's like you know I moved here and I'm like oh my God there's so many things I could do down there, but the plane ticket and everything is (laughs) Right so one fascinating thing that I discovered while living in Washington DC was that there was the largest Ethiopian population outside of Ethiopia. So I think sometimes we think we have to travel to a faraway place to tell stories about culture but they're right in our back yards. We can whatever communities that you're interested in we were talking about this yesterday, is food, food is a great way to connect with people. You know I wanna go into a certain neighborhood, and I wanna hang out at this coffee shop and get to know people, or experience a culture through the food and just sit and ask questions and see what comes up, so I think when you don't have the funding there's a way for you to start locally so that you don't need that expense. And you said about reaching out to people on Instagram, it feels so distant. That is a way that people connect now and so sometimes I early on had trouble wanting to reach out to people 'cause I'm like well what if they say no? And it's like yeah that's an option. They might say no, they might say yes, right? So it's like it's gonna be the two things and there are gonna be people that are busy in their own personal life, and like not to take that personally but just keep tryin' because if you keep knockin' on the doors eventually somebody's gonna open it and be like "Come on in, Carlos!" So I hope that helps. Thank you. You're welcome. So my dream job I guess to be honest is kind of what I'm already doing so food blogging but to be very successful at it, would be my dream, and encouraging people to eat more veggies and things like that and just to eat more healthily is kind of my motivation behind it and I think listening to your advice has been really useful and Carrie in the audience actually gave me some really good advice Oh great! On creating recipe videos and things like that that's been really helpful, but I think just getting advice from people who are already kind of on that trajectory who are perhaps already doing it successfully would probably be the most helpful thing so I think I'm gonna go away from this and actually try and reach out to some people who are already successful bloggers and speak to them, and get advice just generally. Yeah that's wonderful and let me ask you what would you define successful? I knew you were gonna ask that. (laughs) That's the tricky thing isn't it? I mean for me financial stability is important but I from the age of about three I always wanted to just do a job I loved so to be honest it sounds really cliche but I already kind of feel successful because I'm happy each morning. (laughs) Yes I'm so glad you said that right? Because you're already doing it, you're already doing what you love, you're already successful right? Yeah and it feels so good, it feels so much better than any other job I ever did. That's great, so now you can put aside perfectionism and you can put aside success like I'm already living it, now all I have to do is do. Right, you just have to keep taking those steps and reach out to people that you admire and build that community and I could see you easily being up here and speaking about healthy eating. You know so thank you. Thank you. (laughs)

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. ☺