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Documentary Photography: Creating a Life in Storytelling

Lesson 6 of 13

Staying Grounded & Generating Confidence


Documentary Photography: Creating a Life in Storytelling

Lesson 6 of 13

Staying Grounded & Generating Confidence


Lesson Info

Staying Grounded & Generating Confidence

Multi-platform storytelling. So I have been working on my documentary "Legal Stranger" for nearly three years when the Supreme Court decided to take up the Defense of Marriage Act. This was what was preventing same-sex couples to receive those over a thousand federal rights. At this point, I had met dozens of families impacted by this issue, and I had documented three families in depth. This is Charlie Morgan, who was one of the first openly gay soldiers to come out in the military. She was also legally married in the state of New Hampshire, and they had a small child, and she was battling terminal breast cancer. Charlie was doing everything within her power to use her voice to advocate for her family to get the rights that she received as a child of someone who was in the military, the same benefits. What I loved about Charlie is just her joy for life. I mean, she had this laugh that was absolutely contagious. And just, every moment, she cherished it and was really goofy. You saw the ...

picture earlier of my family, of my dad, just these nice moments of sharing music and playing games with her child. She just really inspired me in facing her own mortality and to be so joyful. So, Charlie passed away probably about six months before the Supreme Court made their decision on DOMA, so her family wasn't entitled to those benefits. And it was really important for me to be able to share these stories as far and as wide as possible. So you heard me talk about earlier how I was shooting stills and also video. And someone asked online where I was posting this work. One place that I mentioned was on Vimeo. So I made some short videos that people could embed into their stories, so they could embed and they could share. Some of the photos were used in news organizations like ABC News. The videos were also used in part of bigger packages. And so, what I didn't mention is, I had been pitching these stories for two years before, and there wasn't an interest to run them because there wasn't a news peg. There wasn't a news topic to tie it to. So I was continuing to do this work, but then all of a sudden people needed content, and I had photos, film, video, so I had lots of content. So you could tell the same story in a different way that met everyone's different platforms. And so then I got asked by AARP to create a short film about 70 years of the gay rights movement, from Stonewall, to don't ask, don't tell, to DOMA. So they came to me and asked, "What would you do?" And I came up with a script. I had never done this before, had never been the director of a film, I had never acquired other people's material. When you talk about overwhelming, there was days I was like, heart please don't burst, heart please don't burst, 'cause I was so outside of my comfort zone, but then I did it! And I was like, whoa, I cannot believe you did that! You know? So I was able to include Charlie's story into a bigger package. So she was also part of maybe five other stories that became part of this larger project. And so that's the thing about doing work that you love, work that's important to you, highlighting issues that you think people should know about, being creative in what format you tell the stories in so that it can live in multiple places. 'Cause if the idea is to get the message out, to get the issue out, you want to meet people where they are. And so it was really amazing to be able to then be hired to create work that I wanted to do because of the work that I was putting out that I wasn't hired to do. So think about the type of work that you're drawn to, type of issues, type of photography, storytelling. Earlier in my career, I knew I was drawn to certain things, but I didn't know why, and it wasn't until way later in my career that I could connect the dots, and these are all civil rights issues. These are all issues of discrimination that I can say, oh these are threads that have been there the whole time and now that makes sense to me. So again, just follow that, but start to notice, what are those themes? What are those trends? And how can you connect it to a news hook or a trend to highlight your work? So say it's not news, it's not a news story, it's food. So what's the latest food trend? Keto. Plant-based. Yeah, so any of that, plant-based. So then you have photos that are of plant-based, you have plant-based photography. So you connect that to the trend and all of a sudden more people are looking at your work, right? So there's that in portraits, and beauty, and there's trends all around us. So staying on top of the trends, if you're not in the news realm, and staying on top of the news. And are you creating the work that you wanna get hired for? How many people feel like you're creating the work right now that you wanna get hired for? So maybe like eight or so, like half the room. Yeah, so a lot of times photographers who want me to review their portfolio, and I was this photographer too, it's like I have portraits, I have sports, I have food, I have all of these things because I just want to be hired. And it was like, I'm not good at food photography, I could be better. I'm not great at portraits, I could be better. But the thing that I loved was stories. So I just changed my portfolio and put all stories, 'cause I didn't wanna get hired to shoot portraits. Someone else is better at that than me. So does anybody wanna share about something that they're working on and maybe brainstorm about a trend or news hook? Yeah? A couple years ago I got asked, with my fiancee we make films together. Oh great, my husband's a film-maker. Oh, perfect! (Amanda laughs) And we got asked to cover a story about an animal shelter or a food bank that was helping out animals that belonged to people who lived on the streets in downtown, east side of Vancouver, it's a very tough situation for them, but this shelter was giving the animals and the people hope. And so we did that just to get the word out there. We followed up on it the following year just to get more awareness for it, and just this past year we just started working on a paid project that is related to it, so it's really nice to see, oh the work that you put out there, if you keep doing it, and put care into it, it actually is something that comes back to you. Exactly, and then the footage that you've already shot might find a way into this film that you wanna create, or this blog that you wanna create about fostering animals too. So it's content that you had from before can then be repackaged and reused in different ways. People are getting their news and their media in all different kinds of ways. So all of a sudden this becomes an Instagram story, and it might have been a few years old, but it's still an issue that's pertinent today. So don't think just because you shot it before, the photos that I showed you at the beginning of this presentation, I literally dug them up because I haven't shown them in so long. This was like 20 years ago, you know? But it's useful in this conversation.

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. ☺