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Documentary Photography: Creating a Life in Storytelling

Lesson 13 of 13



Documentary Photography: Creating a Life in Storytelling

Lesson 13 of 13



Lesson Info


So does anybody have any questions about anything? Anything we covered. Yes, great. I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about how becoming a mother has impacted your work and time, and Oh gosh, yeah. Are you still doing the Wednesdays for yourself kind of yeah. For your creativity? Yeah. So wow a lot of questions. So, oh every way, being a mother has impacted my work in every way. You know just right before I left my daughter was finger painting, which for her means dipping her whole hands and painting her body and so like that creative expression, that's just so wonderful. And outside of the box, I mean, just seeing just seeing all that she's interested in. The way that her brain develops and like everything is so fascinating. So just a wonder of life. So it's really inspired me in every way. She's my Wednesday every single day, you know? Right before I came here, my husband sent me a picture of her like kind of riding her dog, like laying on our dog. (laughing) She...

was trying to paint his paw prints the other day. You know, so. (audience laughs) timing, there's been a lot of times that I think I have time to prepare for something and then, something like the flu happens and my child just wants me for the week that I thought I would prepare for something and then, I just I'd be there for her. And remind myself that picture of Mrs. Obama, on the wall with her girls like even though she was First Lady of the United States, it was her most important priority to be a mother. So that's a good reminder for me. And sort of let go of like when I show up to do something, it's like, I'm going to do my best every single time. Your best changes per day and sort of accepting with a small child. It's different. I have an incredibly supportive partner. So that's very helpful, he's also creative. So I think that the Wednesdays are every days with us with a little different kind of work that we're doing and... But earlier on my life I didn't prioritize that. Hey let's go, let's go to botanical garden. Let's go walk around. And then it was like work work work work. And I could work all the way through the weekends. My husband and I, both, before we got together, like we go really deep into our work. And so now it's like, Friday night is date night with my husband and our daughter. Like she gets to pick what we do. And so we go and do our Friday night date night and Saturday night's mommy and daddy's date night. And so like putting those things on the calendar too. So for me, putting the creative stuff on the calendar hasn't been an issue for a long time. But it's like scheduling that other time. Like okay. She's two and a 1/2 but I probably get to like a yoga or an exercise class soon. (laughs) So I can't really, oh I just had a baby, that was a long time ago so. So I need to sort of own up to like okay, I need to put some of those other things on the counter for myself. So yeah, having a child has changed my life in every way, for the better. Hi again. Hi. So, how do you know when you've reached the point that you finished a project. Mm hmm. That's just a question that's been lingering on. Yeah. Yeah, sometimes a project tells you, just like the format tells you. I remember walking away from Charlie, the last time I saw it last time I saw her was in a train station. I knew I was being considered for this job at the White House. But I wasn't sharing that with anyone yet. And we had this conversation 'cause she had been an advocate for, for same sex couples fighting for rights and she said, she was really interested in juicing and using a lot of plant based foods to sustain our health which kept her living a lot longer. And, we had this conversation and I said, "Are you gonna continue to be advocating?" And she said, "I feel like our family has done a lot "and it's really stepped up and the movement is happening. "We're starting to see progress "and I feel really good about that. "And I feel like this next chapter of my life "is about sharing what I've learned "about how I've been healing my body." And I was like, "Wow 'cause I was sort of struggling "with taking this job because I had been working on this "for four years." And so just to hear her say like, it's not a closed book. It's just a new chapter. Right and at any point, that might emerge again. Like them being at the White House and then, being on the other side when the White House was lit up and sort of these paths converging. So I think you don't have to worry about that. Let the story tell you. Going from photographer to foundation founder, Yeah, yeah. What's that experience been like? Yeah well everything new is always scary. Transitions are always a little hard. So we're launching a non-profit that basically looks at art and mindfulness and how it can address trauma, and especially childhood trauma. The organization we've worked with a range of artist, really talented artists and our organization's called Grounded. So we have musicians and sketch artists and mindfulness practitioners. We work with the Zen Buddhist nun who is also in juvenile detention center with us. So really drawing on all creative forms and the arts to address trauma. And so, for me it's just another layer of storytelling. It's the way that I felt when I upgraded from my cassette recorder to my audio, digital audio recorder, to the video camera to a book to now having this sort of multidimensional creative forms to be able to, to tell stories. So within our organization, we're making films. We're making books. We're making implementation guides, so that this work can be replicated. Because we know we don't have all the answers and you might be able to do a program like this better in your city or in your school. So it's still all different kinds of content. And it's still storytelling. So it feels a little unfamiliar and a little familiar at the same time. So thank you. I'm wondering when you work with clients, you know they're hiring you for a documentary coverage where you're not necessarily, you're not posing anything and you're wanting right. The moments to happen naturally. Yeah. How do you deal with, you know, for example, the clients understand that but you know other people at a wedding may not understand that. Right. And they're opposing and they're you know, constantly looking at the camera. Yeah. 'Cause we're so trained to do that. Yeah. Like how do you handle those types of situations? Yeah. Yeah so, so wedding photography, early on I did like a second shooting and I would so there would be a person who was like doing the portraits and I would just be there to be the documentary photographer. So that might be a way to approach it. That you have someone, it's like, oh yeah. Jen is doing the posed portraits and and also might be, like your approach, so if you sort of maybe have a longer lens, you maybe stay back. Maybe you're looking for a little while, letting things happen before trying to take the picture. That things will just happen naturally. And if so so someone's posing for the picture, you put your camera down. You look in another direction. You wait, something will, those people will get what you're doing. And when I did shoot second shoot weddings, I thought like I don't wanna take the posed pictures. I disliked taking posed pictures 'cause at the time I didn't know that I only disliked it 'cause I wasn't good at ti (audience laughing) and I didn't so all of these thing right? And so I was like, why do people even need posed pictures at their wedding, ugh! (audience laughing) And then, and then, and then my father passed away. And it's like these are records, right? And so there are they're also important moments. Those posed pictures are also important moments. They might not be like what you prefer to shoot. But like, the people who all waited in line to have many photo lines we photographed at the White House. Posed picture, two shots, right? They will be on their mantle. They will be on their kids' mantle. It'll be passed down to on their grand kid's mantle. Like, or wherever, if you don't have a mantle. Like (laughing) whatever. These are images that are posed pictures that are our significant and their a historic record. So I guess, presenting yourself as a certain kind of photographer but also appreciating those other moments too. And then, you could sort of handle that and having two photographers at a shoot if you didn't wanna do that at all. So thank you. Hm. Yes hello, I'm Cynthia. Hi! I was wondering, I see that your style is very unposed. Like you've spoken of, and you said something early about setting the sort of protocol of diplomatic photos when you were first beginning. Yeah. When did you feel comfortable stepping away from taking those protocol photos. Yeah. And posing your style. Yeah. And kinda breaking tradition and did you do that. Yeah. And how is that received? That's great, that's a great question. I'm glad you brought that up. So I guess I wouldn't, I don't think I was ever changed in like proto... Well protocol, well I guess, maybe just the way that you set up a photo line or how we have the lights and you know. But for me, it was more about logistics. Like walking into the structured environment. And even going in an iron gate to get to your office. All of this as an artist was relatively new from me. And then, learning the motorcade. Like there's a long line of black vehicles. They all look the same. But somehow you're supposed to know which one you're gonna get in because it's gonna leave without you. (audience laughing) Because the motorcade only works for one person, and it's not you. So like figuring this out. There's a lot of people that you work with that are heavy armed officials. How do I be friends with these people? (laughs) There were a lot of logistics. Where's the... Where's the diplomatic reception room? How do you shoot in the cabinet room? How do you shoot a state arrival? Blah blah blah blah blah. Like so many things I didn't know about. So one way I could refer to the archive, the database that was there to look cabinet room and then I could see before I go in. Oh this is what it looks like 'cause I've never been in there. This is what the lights kinda look like. So I did my research. And then, and so for me I think it took about six months. Six months before I felt like okay, I understand 'cause I was walking in there like okay. Get the photo. Your job is to document for history, right. Get the historic moments. And six months. And then I made the picture that we used for the advertisement of the course. A Mrs. Obama laughing with her dogs, Bo and Sunny. And, it was like a really candid and fun moment that I made. Like the there's a video team there. They were trying to get Bo and Sunny to like sit up straight for to do a PSA about like Easter egg roll. And Bo was ready but Sunny was a puppy, and she just kept rolling over and like wanting to do cute things. And everybody was hysterical, like including Mrs. Obama. And I'm a dog lover. And this was like a really moment that I was so refreshing and that I connected with. And I walked out of the room and was like. These are the kind of images that I wanna make. Now that I feel comfortable, now that I understand how the job's going, like now that I have, feel like I can move people know who I am, know my role, now I'm gonna make creative images. These are the kind of images I want. Candid, intimate, revealing, connecting. Sure. Did you ever get any push back when you stepped over that line? I don't think there was a line to step over because at that point, I was there for the last four years. So they were very used to having people around them, staff members, photographers. We were in a trusted position and so, I was never asked not to take any pictures. And again I wasn't shooting like the way that I used to. I wasn't like going in a room then ch ch ch ch ch. It was very decisive. And my career got me to the point where I felt confident in doing that. You've mentioned mindfulness and then I think of all these days documenting history. How did you celebrate and or react emotionally privately to all these things you experienced when it would be classified and you couldn't share? Like how did you process for yourself so that you could get up the next day and do it with a smile if there was a sad event, or like the most joyful, funny thing like you know the dog photo. Mm hmm. How did you take care of you? Yeah. How do I take care of me? Again, just going to my breath in times where I'm feeling stressed, Making sure that I'm fed is important to me. Like having snacks and like for long days. Choosing that when I know that I'm gonna be in situations that were long or strenuous. Being mindful of what gear I'm carrying. 'Cause it's a lot of gear, I'm a little person. You know two cameras, lenses, batteries, cards. Because you don't wanna run out of cards when you're in charge of documenting history. There are a lot of situations, especially traveling in other countries where you would think things were gonna go a certain way. And they would go absolutely different. And then so, I distinctly remember 'cause I kept getting locked out of my room in a particular country. That I had to keep walking up and down these hot stairwells. With all of my gear on me because I was told to carry every piece of equipment that I had because my technology could be compromised. So throughout the whole time at the country, I was carrying all my gear. And so, I relied on my resilience. So every step I took up the steps, hot, tired, hungry, getting shorter 'cause my gear was so heavy. And I was like this is not the hardest thing I've ever done. I'm gonna get through this. This is not the hardest thing that I've ever done. And you know, sometimes it's like, going to that mantra. Like going to take sunshine and rain with equal grace. One time, arriving in a country, I was being removed from a this country's secret service agents. They were like literally picking me up. As I'm supposed to be getting pictures of Mrs. Obama walking down the plane and greeting guests. And that's just because they were being protective of their own First Lady. You know so I have to understand what's happening here. Okay so while this is happening, I still need to get my picture so I'm being carried away, (audience laughing) I'm shooting photos. And thankfully our secret service agents were like, um she's with us. (audience laughing) You know? So, like just having this like steadfast like, I know what I'm doing. I know why I'm doing it. And no one's gonna stop me from doing it. So, So those are some of the things. Thank you. Amanda we have some great questions coming in Okay. from folks online. Wonderful. And so I wanna address a couple of those. We did talk a little bit about finding community and seeking out help. But a lot of people are still asking about finding mentors and so Lindsey, in particular says, "How do you find and approach other photographers "to become your mentors." That sounds like you have had some incredible ones Yeah. In your career. And it's never gonna be the same but, what other advice might you have. Yeah, that's a great question. So just, you know when I was working as an intern, I asked to spend extra time with the people who I really like their work. When I was at the newspaper, I spent time with all the different photographers and try to like learn from all the things that I really admired. And put that into my skill set. When I was new in DC, I joined organizations like women photographers of Washington. And I volunteered to start a mentorship program. So I was able to actively bring community members together by being helpful. I'm not very good at networking. Like I'm not that, I can't promote myself. Or like I can have one really good conversation with one person at a party and like but I can't, I'm like I know that my personality. I'm more of an introvert. And so, so doing what was comfortable for me. And being able to have one good conversation and say, hey can I follow up with you? Would you mind if I, we'd have coffee. Reaching out to people who's work I really admired, whether I saw it in the newspaper. Or met them at an even and being open to they might say no but that's okay. I'll ask someone else. When I worked at the New York Times, Doug Mills and Steven Crawley, working with them and them being able to give me advice. And being able to ask questions and going to workshops. And learning a new skill set and then meeting an instructor there that I might continue to talk with. So lots of different ways. And I'm sure there's all different kinds of ways that you can find a mentor. So I hope those tips help. Awesome. I have one final questions for you. Sure, yeah. So, if you are talking to Amanda, when she's first starting her career Yeah, yeah. now. And so you're mentoring yourself. Okay. What, what advice would you, would you give yourself back then if you're starting again. Well my daughter says this a lot. She's like it's gonna be okay. (audience laughing) Right, so like, it's all gonna be okay, right? Now that I know about the balance and scheduling in that time and like sort of not having, I mean, intensity is good. But trying to find those ways to bring in balance. Mostly I would just say, be kind to yourself. Like mostly I would just say, don't be afraid to fail. Like that is what you're supposed to do. 'cause you're at the early part of your career. So if you're not failing, you're probably doing it wrong. So I think mostly, it's like, hey let the voices in your head be nice. Or just tell them to go away. Because it's like this critical, oh you should've done it this way. You should've done it that way. Well you know what I haven't done it before. And I'm gonna do it different next time. I learned from it. I grew from it. You know so I think mostly just just being kind. And giving yourself room to grow. That would be the best advice I think. Beautiful. I love the sound of your daughter's voice. It's going to be okay. (laughing) It's gonna be okay. (laughing) Oh and that perfectionism is not actually a thing. Don't try to be a perfectionist. (laughing) Beautiful piece of advice. (laughing) Amanda, thank you so much. I wanna make sure that everybody knows where they can follow you. Where they can find out more about your book, "Chasing Light" as well as "Reach Higher". Where's the best place for people to follow you. on Instagram, it's chasinglightbook and also alucidon. Perfect. Thank you so much for being here.

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. ☺