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Documentary Photography: Creating a Life in Storytelling

Lesson 12 of 13

Writing the Next Chapter


Documentary Photography: Creating a Life in Storytelling

Lesson 12 of 13

Writing the Next Chapter


Lesson Info

Writing the Next Chapter

I distinctly remember the sound of the gate latching, the metal gate latching behind me, as I walked out of the White House for the last time. So many times (imitates sound of gate latch) you know? I'd gone in and out in and out in and out. But as I'm walking out knowing, "This is the last time, that I'm walking out of the White House." And so many people had wondered, although few people would ask, but I could see it in their eyes, "What are you gonna do next?" (audience laughing) "What are you gonna do after this?" And the truth was I had no idea, because I didn't have any time to think about it. Again my role was to document for history. There's no like wondering. There's no like straying thoughts. Like you have to be completely focused and present, and that's what I was. So one thing I did know, is that I was gonna be a new mother. I had worked 'til December 23rd and had my daughter on December 29th. (audience laughing) So for the mouths dropping (laughs) and the math, the computin...

g. Everyone who's wondering, yes I did travel to different countries, different cities in the U.S. I did carry my own equipment, I did you know swift walking, maybe I wasn't running so much anymore and for most of my pregnancy. And I wouldn't have done it any other way. So you know, on December 29th, I welcomed a healthy baby girl into the world and I knew that I would be a Mom and have to figure out how to do that (laughs). And a few months later, I would have been contacted by a literary agent, to ask if I wanted to make a book, of my photos, with my story about being a White House photographer. A few more months later, I'd have to come out from behind the camera. Can you imagine that? Can no (laughs) (audience laughs) I'm speaking to the camera man and as the photographer it was a lot more comfortable for me to be behind the lens. So when my publicist said "Oh we're scheduled you for, to have an interview with Robin Roberts, on Good Morning America and Anderson Cooper and I was like "Ahhh I don't know if I can do this anymore, can we cancel the book?" You know? (laughs) Because it was a space that was very, very uncomfortable for me. And then I'd be on a book tour, talking to crowded rooms across the country, about this work. And then I'd adapt the book, for children ages eight to twelve, with lots of fun facts about the White House, things that I loved and admired and all different first families and how they used the rooms and so then I'd be on another book tour. Why am I telling you all this? Because all of it scared me to death. (audience laughs) Right? All of it absolutely scared me to death. I had never made a book before, I had never been on a book tour, I didn't like to be in front of the camera. The comfort zone whoop way back there! Way back there! You know? "What if I make a book and no one likes it?" "What if I make a book and try to rely on my journalism skills, from way back and I'm not a good writer?" You know? "What if I get out there and I mess up?" All of these things could have happened right? But, "What if I don't try?" "What if I don't see?" "What if I just stay here on this side of the comfort zone?" So I've come to realize that, fear is not necessarily a bad thing. It isn't a bad thing, it's just the thing that keeps us on our toes. You know? To make sure that we're doing a good job. So now, when I recognize that I'm feeling fearful, (deep inhale) I just take a breath say, "Oh hello fear. Thanks for being here, I know you want me to do a good job, you're kind of in the way." (audience laughs) "And I'm tryna' get to the other side, so if you'll just excuse me. I wanna see what's on the other side." So thank you so much for being here and listening. And I hope that we can all push ourselves past our comfort zone. Because I feel like that is where life and your work, gets really really good.

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. ☺