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Documentary Photography: Creating a Life in Storytelling

Lesson 8 of 13

Thinking Creatively


Documentary Photography: Creating a Life in Storytelling

Lesson 8 of 13

Thinking Creatively


Lesson Info

Thinking Creatively

So we all have challenges in our lives, you know, we all have days that feel mundane. So how can we be creative, flip the switch and seize the moment. So, this might be surprising but even at the White House there were slow days and days that were, felt ordinary, right? You know, how do I, how do I make this state dinner look different than last state dinner? How do I take a creative picture of President Obama, or Mrs Obama speaking at a podium. Again, right? (laughs) And I think these are the, I think these are the most rewarding images. You know, I always felt that when I worked at his newspaper when I was doing the same kind of thing over and over again, rather than think of, oh gosh, you know, I don't really wanna do this again. It's like, okay cool, how am gonna make a creative picture? How am I gonna make a picture that no one's seen before? That I haven't seen before, that I haven't shot before? And so it's looking for these little surprises, like when Mrs Obama decided to kick ...

off her shoes after a really long day while she was talking to a group of White House interns. (laughs) So this is a image that's more revealing of her character, she's very comfortable and you know, it's in those moments where we lean into our creativity and show something that hasn't been seen. So on this day, I had just returned from a long international trip. So I'd worked 10 days straight without any time off. Long days when you're traveling overseas. And my colleague said, hey there's not a lot going on today, it's kind of a slow day, why don't you head home? You know, get some rest and stuff. I said, oh that's really thoughtful, thank you so much. But I'm hearing rumors that they're gonna light up the White House as a rainbow to honor the Supreme Court's decision of the Defense of Marriage Act. A project that I had spent several years working on. And now this was happening, so I was like, I could go home and rest or I could stay late into the night, until it got dark to be able to photograph the first time ever in history the White House lit up like a rainbow. So, that's what I did. You know, and I think sometimes it's pushing that last 10% that really makes the difference. Or even the last 2%, right? It's like, oh I don't wanna edit this film again, I've looked at it so many hundreds of times. Like, come on, 10%. You know you got this, right? And so, I think that's you know, pushing through those, pushing through those times. So we talked early on about building my foundation at the newspaper and constantly troubleshooting. This is what I did most of the time at the White House. Let me explain to you, we'd get into a motorcade and sometimes that was, we'd get into a plane and then a motorcade, arrive at a place we had never seen before. So, sometimes I would, and I'd have to get out of the car, 'cause my car and the motorcade was several cars behind. Run so that I could be in front of Mrs Obama when she got out of the car and her car was ahead of me, so she's already ahead of me. I spent most of the time running. (laughs) 'Cause she's really tall and I'm only 5'4, so even when she's walking I was running. (laughs) So, I would get ahead of her so that I could be able to make those images. Sometimes, imagine this photographers, I'd be on an elevator and they'd say, there's gonna be a photo right when we get off the elevator. And it's like, wonder what the light looks like? Wonder how many people will be there? I wonder how much space I have? And it'd be like, ding. (camera shutter sound) And then moving, right? So, I'm like, math. You know, what does the space look like? What, you know I'm like quickly assessing. What does the space look like? What does the light look like? Where are the moments gonna be? Be quick, stay ahead of her, you know? (laughs) And troubleshooting in my mind, right? So while that feels very overwhelming, right? I can connect with something that's always with me. My breath. I can go, (inhales) (exhales) That's like three breaths getting up the elevator. (inhales) (exhales) Ding, ding, ding. Boom. Got this. Math. Boom. Got this. Having confidence in your ability 'cause you've done it time and time again. You've built your foundation, you've done your training. Having your confidence in yourself. I'm gonna get the shot. I'm gonna walk into this room called the Mirror Room for obvious reasons, in Milan, during the World Expo. And so, there's all these mirrors. On one side there's a projector. This scene in the back is constantly changing exposure, right? Every maybe 15 seconds or so. They're only gonna be in this room for two and a half minutes. My challenge is, how am I gonna make myself disappear in a room full of mirrors? (laughs) I know from Alana's story, the ballerina, that I find where the mirrors meet in the corner of the room. I turn myself sideways, make myself as small as possible. And think thin thoughts. (laughs) And it worked. So as a White House photographer, I also knew that I had a unique vantage point. And we've talked about this to everyone's background you have a unique vantage point from your experiences, from what you're interested in. So, being able to use that. So, a lot of people have seen what this photo looks from the other side. This is the Kennedy Center Honors. The press is staged below waiting for President Obama and Mrs Obama to come out and wave. But this is actually shot from the presidential box. And there's only me, another staff member and a secret service agent, who by the way does not care if I get my shot. (laughs) That's not his role. So I had, I was able to get like two frames before the door was closed. And something unique about this photo is typically President Obama and Mrs Obama attend the Kennedy Center Honors together. But on this night President Obama stayed behind in the Oval Office to deliver remarks about the San Bernardino terrorist attacks. And so I think that's also what pictures can do. Is to provide another layer of information. To give us moments and reflection points. So, what are assignments you don't look forward to? And I try not to use the H word, 'cause that's how I used to feel about portraits but that's very strong, right? So like, what do you not look forward to? That was softer. How can you challenge yourself in these situations to make a creative and informative photo? You know, so I had showed you some images like, speaking at a podium, that needed some creativity to look for little surprises. What unique qualities do you possess that enhance your ability to make creative images? Does anyone wanna share something they don't very much look forward to? Assignments that often pay money. Sponsored posts on our blogs, so we aproach- Can you say it again? Sponsored posts. Sponsored posts. Yeah, so we approach like food companies and say, I don't know, they make nut butter or something. We'd create a recipe using the nut butter, we'd publish it on our blogs and give them permission to use it, but the work can feel very corporate, sometimes. Well, a lot of the time it can feel very corporate. What about it feels corporate? I guess because you're having to endorse their product and I think, ideally you pick products that you feel passionate about, that you like. That fit with your dietary requirements or whatever the perimeters of your blog are. But I think in a sense you still feel a little bit like, does it seem like I'm selling out? And the photography has to be a bit more specific. It's harder to make, it feels harder to make the photos so creative, I think. I can totally relate to that. Because in those times, in the early days when I was trying to buy time to work on my projects, and I was doing you know, like a, I mean, people refer to it as a grip-and-grin. I'd stand there and there'd be handshakes happening in front of me and I would just like, I would be like, two hours, two hours and then I got a whole month to work on my projects, you know? And so it was like, it was like letting go of that judgment of like, oh am I selling out or something like that. It's like no, what I'm doing is buying my time to work on my projects. To be able to create work that I love. That I will eventually get hired for. And then I can make better decisions and I won't have to do this anymore. I won't have to endorse a product that I don't believe in. I can make better choices because I have better options. So, thank you for sharing that. No problem.

Class Description


  • Identify what stories you’re drawn to photograph
  • Trust your instincts when documenting real-world scenarios
  • 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 allows you to tell a story and give an inside look at a variety of situations. If it’s to serve as a memory for a family, or to inform the public- it is a powerful medium used by photographers daily. Former Official White House Photographer, Amanda Lucidon, inspires and guides a beginning audience into a career as a documentarian.

Utilizing her untraditional path and experiences, Amanda will discuss how to improve your photography through creative storytelling and how to grow professionally.

As one of only a few female White House Photographers, Amanda will talk through how creativity, resilience, and community helped her land a role documenting President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama from 2013-2017.


  • Photojournalist
  • Documentary photographers
  • Beginner and Intermediate


Amanda Lucidon is an award-winning documentarian, filmmaker, teaching artist, public speaker and New York Times best-selling author. Lucidon served as an Official White House Photographer responsible for documenting First Lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama from 2013 to 2017. She is one of only a few female White House Photographers in history. Lucidon is the 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.


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. ☺


I loved this class. Amanda is an excellent speaker and I found her advice and insights really useful, particularly as a budding creative. Not only is her journey an interesting one to listen to, but she offers valuable pointers and reminders to anyone in the creative world! Highly recommended.