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What It’s Like to Be Michelle Obama’s Personal Photographer

Amanda Lucidon reminisces on her time in the White House—and on the Great Wall of China—with the former first lady.


Courtesy of Amanda Lucidon from Chasing Light: Michelle Obama Through the Lens of a White House Photographer (Ten Speed Press).

It may just seem a little too endearing that Michelle Obama describes herself as a “dog lover” in addition to “former First Lady” in her Instagram bio. Let Amanda Lucidon—her former official White House photographer—assure you, however, that the descriptor is far from simply an attempt to appear relatable: “Everybody knows that there are two things that Mrs. Obama absolutely adores: kids and puppies,” she writes in Chasing Light, her new book of photographs documenting the first lady during the Obamas’s second term, which came out earlier this month and hit the New York Times best seller list this weekend.

The photos, for example, include the moment that Obama, having learned that the wife of Japan’s prime minister loves dogs, introduced Akie Abe to the family’s pets, Bo and Sunny, at which point they all sat on the White House floor together, formal attire forgotten. There’s also the time Obama went on Animal Planet to tape a segment of its annual Puppy Bowl, and the occasion, one of many, when Obama passed out cookies frosted and shaped to look like Bo and Sunny on a visit to a children’s hospital.

First Lady Michelle Obama tours the Mirror Room in the Italian Pavilion with Agnese Landini at the Milan Expo 2015 in Milan, Italy, June 18, 2015.

Courtesy of Amanda Lucidon from Chasing Light: Michelle Obama Through the Lens of a White House Photographer (Ten Speed Press).

Lucidon spent her fair share of time running into Bo and Sunny padding down the halls of the White House while at work in between assignments, but the job often took her to far off locations. Over the course of four years, she traveled to more than 20 countries with the first lady, including jaunts to countries like Morocco for Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative, accompanied by none other than Meryl Streep. Those trips first began with China, where Lucidon was the only photographer—and therefore the only one present to capture Obama embracing Sasha and Malia on the Great Wall—and ended with Obama sliding down a toboggan.

“I think at some point, my husband’s going to wake me up and tell me I’ve just been dreaming,” Lucidon said at a certain point after recalling those moments and more from her home nearby Washington, D.C., where she moved to eight years ago after leaving her job as a newspaper photographer in California to try to make it on the East coast as a freelancer. As it turned out, that was just in time for President Barack Obama’s inauguration, and she promptly spent hours in the freezing cold trying to take the best photos she could of the historic moment without a press pass.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama walk from Marine One on the White House South Lawn, September 29, 2015.

Courtesy of Amanda Lucidon from Chasing Light: Michelle Obama Through the Lens of a White House Photographer (Ten Speed Press).

Four years later, Lucidon found herself almost too close to the Obamas—to the point that to this day, she doesn’t remember what she said in her flustered first encounter with the first lady. That was thanks to an unexpected call from Pete Souza—then the chief White House photographer and now known as a master of throwing shade at the hapless Trump administration—who wanted to know if she was interested in joining him on the job. Pretty soon, Lucidon realized that if she “didn’t ground myself, I might not be able to do my job effectively.” By watching the four other official White House photographers on staff get to work, she eventually she got so close to Obama that it wasn’t just Souza who became her mentor, but the first lady, too.

Obama, however, wasn’t Lucidon’s only assignment: in addition to larger events like state arrivals that required the efforts of all five photographers, “because when you’re documenting history, you want to make sure you have all your angles covered,” she also spent a decent amount of her time documenting the president, which is how she ended up capturing the image that he tweeted for Valentine’s Day earlier this year, a post that’s since gotten over a million likes. (Before her editor’s intervention, Lucidon had in fact planned on cutting the image: “The moment was there, but I just thought it was one of those that was almost there because the background seemed a little messy,” she recalled with a laugh.)

Moments like that were normal between the Obamas, whom Lucidon also captured reading aloud Where the Wild Things Are to children on the White House lawn, but there were definitely some surprises in store for the photographer while she was working with the family.

She may have been the only one assigned to the first lady, but she’d heard no talk of practice or anything particularly special about her appearance on The Ellen Show to promote Let’s Move, Obama’s public health initiative, in 2015. For the occasion, Ellen Degeneres had assembled the cast of So You Think You Can Dance to perform a routine to “Uptown Funk,” which it turned out Obama could also execute “flawlessly,” to the surprise of Lucidon, who’d long been used to the first lady’s love of music, but had never actually seen her dance. Once again, she found herself struggling to keep her cool, but for a much better reason than nerves: “I was cracking up behind my camera.”

First Lady Michelle Obama joins children for a yoga class during a Let’s Move! after-school activities event at Gwen Cherry Park in Miami, Florida, February 25, 2014.

Courtesy of Amanda Lucidon from Chasing Light: Michelle Obama Through the Lens of a White House Photographer (Ten Speed Press).

Michelle Obama Might Be the Best Dressed First Lady Since Jackie O

Michelle Obama in Alexander McQueen at a state dinner in Washington, D.C., January 2011.

Photo by Getty Images.

Michelle Obama in Azzedine Alaïa in Baden-Baden, Germany, April 2009.

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Michelle Obama in Ralph Lauren in London, England, May 2011.

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Michelle Obama in Michael Kors on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, January 2012.

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Michelle Obama in Thom Browne at President Obama’s second inauguration in Washington, D.C., January 2013.

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Michelle Obama in Carolina Herrera at a state dinner in Berlin, Germany, June 2013.

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Michelle Obama in Marchesa at the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, D.C., May 2014.

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Michelle Obama in Bibhu Mohabaptra at the Congressional Black Caucus dinner in Washington, D.C., September 2014.

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Michelle Obama in Zac Posen at the BET Black Girls Rock! special in Newark, New Jersey, March 2015.

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Michelle Obama in Mary Katrantzou in London, England, June 2015.

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Michelle Obama in Christopher Kane in London, England, June 2015.

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Michelle Obama in Carolina Herrera at the arrival of Pope Francis in Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, September 2015.

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Michelle Obama in Vera Wang at a state dinner in Washington, D.C., September 2015.

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Michelle Obama in Tanya Taylor in Washington, D.C., March 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Jason Wu at a state dinner in Washington, D.C., March 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Carolina Herrera arriving in Havana, Cuba, March 2016.

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Michelle Obama in BCBG at the opening ceremony for the Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida, May 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Naeem Khan at the Nordic state dinner in Washington, D.C., May 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Hugo Boss speaking with Oprah in Washington, D.C., June 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Marni in Monrovia, Liberia, June 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Proenza Schouler in Marrakech, Morroco, June 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Peter Pilotto in Marrakech, Morocco, June 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Proenza Schouler arriving in Madrid, Spain, June 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Preen in Madrid, Spain, July 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Christian Siriano arriving at a memorial for police officers killed in Dallas, Texas, July 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Christian Siriano at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Brandon Maxwell at a state dinner honoring the first family of Singapore in Washington, D.C., August 2016.

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WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 08: First lady Michelle Obama speaks during the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities poetry reading to honor student poets at the White House, September 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. The first lady honored five students with the nation’s highest honor for teen poets presenting original work. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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Michelle Obama in Naeem Khan at the Phoenix Awards dinner in Washington, D.C., September 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Self-Portrait at the Broadway Shine a Light event in New York, New York, September 2016.

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