Photographer Amanda Lucidon had a front-row seat to the events in the Obama White House.
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For four years, Lucidon was the only female photographer on the White House staff and tasked with covering first lady Michelle Obama.
“To be one of the few female photographers in [White House] history was really special. But on top of that, just to work for the administration that had appointed more women and minorities than any other administration; that was a real special thing,” Lucidon said in an interview with ABC News’ Robin Roberts for “Good Morning America.”
Lucidon, 38, is stepping out from behind the lens for the first time and sharing her personal reflections in a new book, “Chasing Light.” The book is a collection of her candid photographs of the first family and is filled with the lessons she learned along the way.
Rule No. 1: Don’t be late. “The motorcade only waits for one person and it’s not you,” she writes in the book.
From mastering the motorcade, to taking her first trip on Air Force One, Lucidon traveled to 20 countries and countless U.S. cities with the first lady’s team where she listened and watched Michelle Obama at work and looked up to her as a mentor and role model.
“What the first lady has traveled around the country and the world saying candidly, which I learned from her, is that you can be anything; how you grew up and your circumstances do not define you,” Lucidon told Roberts.
“Working at the White House was a very transformative time for me. I found confidence. I learned about myself. I learned about pushing boundaries. I learned about embracing my own story and my own background. … The first lady always taught us the challenges that you've encountered in your life are actually your strengths. They're not your weaknesses. They're the things that teach you resilience.”
Lucidon shared some of her favorite photos -- many never-before-seen images -- and the stories from behind the scenes that highlight a personal side of the first lady.
“I wanted to make sure that this book is a collection of candid images that shows you something that you didn’t know,” she said. “She can adapt to each of these situations and she’s just really genuine and thoughtful. But also loves to have fun.”
Read on for Lucidon’s reflections on the photos in her own words.
"Chasing Light" is available in bookstores Tuesday.
Michelle Obama with Bo and Sunny on April 14, 2014.
Lucidon describes Obama as one of the "funniest people" and someone who “loves to have fun.”
"She's probably one of the funniest people that I know. She's really, really funny. I liked that she has such a serious role, but then she also has this lightness about her. She really loves to laugh. And some of the pictures, like the one of her with Bo and Sunny laughing, with her dogs, those are moments that I feel like was my responsibility to share that with people because it definitely shows another side of her. And I was fortunate to be around her.”
Surprising Turnaround Art students – Feb 24, 2014 – in the Map Room of the White House.
There were students from the Turnaround Arts program, which goes into the lowest performing 5 percent of the schools in the country and infuses the schools with arts. It's been proven that they can turn around the schools through the arts. A lot of these kids in the picture didn't ever expect to find themselves at the White House. And I could totally relate to that because I never expected that I would be there because I had grown up in probably similar circumstances as some of the kids in the photos. So it's like, "Oh, my gosh. The First Lady's in the room with me and she's hugging me.’ And I'm, like, ‘Oh, my gosh. I work for the First Lady at the White House. How did this happen?’ You can see pure joy on each one of the kids' faces. And it's just so raw. It's raw emotion."
A portion of the book’s proceeds will go to Turnaround Arts' reform efforts.
First Lady hugs her daughters Sasha and Malia as they visit the Great Wall of China in Mutianyu, China, March 23, 2014.
"As a child I'd always dreamed of traveling to faraway places. And I never thought I'd actually be on the Great Wall of China, like, by myself. Just to be at the Great Wall of China was an amazing experience, but to be there with Mrs. Obama and her daughters, I still don't believe that I was actually there."
“I love that picture because it just shows that for all of her initiatives and all of the important work that she's done, being a mother is still her most important priority. And, as a new mother, that's a great thing for me to see too. And when I look at that picture I just see love.”
President and first lady Obama share a moment in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, March 27, 2015.
Lucidon captured this sweet and “spontaneous moment” of the Obamas together when they had a free moment on a shoot taping greetings for the 2015 World Expo.
"That's what love does to all of us, right? It was nice to be able to document that moment because this is another one of those situations where people were there taping a segment, and they were switching the camera, so [the Obamas] just had a few minutes to themselves while everyone was working. Since my job is just to document the scene as it's happening, I'm not the person moving all the cameras and everything, I was able to witness the moment."
Initially, Lucidon writes that she thought the photo was cluttered with equipment in the background but an editor convinced her otherwise. The candid shot went viral after the president tweeted it on Valentine’s Day.
Michelle Obama received travel advice from girls during a taping for Cosmopolitan in the Diplomatic Reception Room, June 22, 2016.
"It’d be easy to make [Michelle Obama] central to every picture because she's so beautiful and wonderful. But it's also all these other little girls reacting. They each have a different expression. They were giving her travel advice about what she should do after her time at the White House. And one girl was, like, "You should get a car." And I was, like, "Yeah, that's a good tip." You know? But, she can adapt to each of these situations, and she is just really genuine and thoughtful."
Visits with Camron Stevens in his room at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, Sept. 17, 2014.
"Mrs. Obama would surprise children at children's hospitals [like] St. Jude, what an amazing place. She wanted keep it intimate, so she had all the staff stay out of the room. .. I would go in quietly behind her. And then she would spend some time with the patient. And, you know, it's different for every room you walk into, and so she would just adapt to each one of those situations and she could be silly and joking with them, or talking about the latest Beyoncé concert with someone, or asking them about their treatment.
I always knew that my cue was when she said, "We have something special for you." I'd keep-- cookies of Bo and Sunny in my suit pocket-- and I would know that it was time to hand over the cookies so that she could give it to the patient and their families. So it was always nice to see them light up. To be able to give those pictures to the family -- because their kid's just getting surprised by the First Lady of the United States -- is pretty awesome.”
The first lady participates in a panel discussion with students during a dance workshop in the State Dining Room of the White House, Feb. 8, 2016.
"This image is from a dance workshop they put on for Black History Month. ... It was a really special day for me because when she actually comes onto stage and talks to them but there are also the girls that are practicing all day long to get ready for it. I went into the State Dining Room and there were about 75 young girls barefoot practicing their African tribal dance under the portrait of Abraham Lincoln. I’m like, I’m pretty sure that this has never happened before. So I had chills on my arms and just to see how determined they were.”
President Obama and first lady Michele Obama sing songs with Girl Scouts during the White House Campout, on the South Lawn of the White House, June 30, 2015.
Lucidon joined the Obamas and members of the Girl Scouts for the White House Campout event and slept over on the South Lawn.
"President Obama and Mrs. Obama -- they all sat around a campfire and sung camp songs -- definitely something you didn't expect to see there, but I was happy to be able to camp out that night too.”
Michelle Obama learns about composting with students at Philip’s Academy Charter School in Newark, New Jersey, April 7, 2016.
A gust of wind sent Obama's hair flying while she was checking out a worm found by a student during the composting demonstration, Lucidon recalls.
"My dad was a landscaper, so I grew up in gardens, too. And so it was always special for me to be able to go with her and see her surprise the girls or the students at the different garden programs across the country. We see the picture of her with the worm in the background there. And just to be able to expose the kids to something that they may have not known much about, like the arts or, like, gardens or healthy eating, or highlighting the 62 million girls that don't have the opportunity to get an education."
Lucidon is one of few women in history to serve as an official White House photographer.
Lucidon, who gave birth to now 9-month-old daughter Eden during her tenure at the White House, writes how she considered Michelle Obama one of her role models.
"She taught me so many things, but if I had to identify things that I visit in my daily life, one thing was to be fearless because fear can stop us a lot of times to reaching new heights and possibilities,” Lucidon told Roberts.
"I just hope that people chase the light inside themselves. I hope that people see the light inside themselves. And sometimes we need other people to bring that out in us. Mrs. Obama was one of the people who brought it out in me. So I'm really grateful.”