An Airstream Caravel

Dying of Exposure

Richard Charpentier Commercial Photographer, Economics, Notes from Rich, Photography, Portrait Work, RLC Design Leave a Comment

When the body of a person who was lost in the woods is found, it’s often said the person died of exposure. What does this mean? Exposure to what? Some may wonder how anyone could die of exposure during fall or spring, when temperatures seem so comfortable.

Fairly easily, it turns out, if the person is not prepared. Hypothermia can occur in temperatures as warm as 60 F, and heat stroke can occur in temperatures as cool as 80 F. All it takes to put one’s life in danger is to get lost in the woods during a cool, breezy night, or to hike too long without water on a warm, humid day.

The above quote comes from a nifty little website, Discover the Outdoors.  I’ve heard many times when living back in New Hampshire about people dying of exposure during the summer in the White Mountains.  This past year multiple hikers have died of exposure while visiting the famous “Wave” in the Vermillion Cliffs.  And usually when you’re dying of exposure you might not even know its happening.  It’s not always the extreme blizzard that gets you……Sometimes it sneaks up and you’re done for.

The Photographer’s Death by Exposure

For many in the photography community, death by exposure can sneak up on you as well.  Many photographers don’t even know it’s happening until things have gone too far, and they find themselves exposed to death as well.

Fortunately, I’ve left behind the notion of an actual career in photography.  From 2008 – 2012 I plugged away, spent thousands on training, and thousands more on equipment, printers, software, etc.  But November of last year facing bankruptcy, inability to cover my monthly expenses (health insurance, rent, gas, food….forget the debt), and feeling pretty undervalued I made the decision to close my doors and go work in WV on a contract in the gas & oil business.  It was a good and sound decision.

In a nutshell, I knew that I was in the middle of dying of exposure.

Today’s photographic marketplace is a tough nut to crack for new photographers.  There are so many people hanging out the photo shingle in front of their homes that you’re facing a saturated marketplace.  And with everyone competing to underbid each other, getting an actual real paycheck out of your business is nearly impossible.  Finally, the offers of getting you “Exposure,” by letting companies, bands, start up businesses, etc, use your work for free leads to your own business dreams ending in death by exposure.


I arrived in Prescott AZ March of 2007. The Dells were photographed over and over (and over) for years until August of 2011 when I captured this one. “The Dells Defined.” What’s the value of an image that took 4 years to perfect?

The Exposure Calls Keep Coming

On November 1st, the day I left West Virginia to head West once again, I received a call about using my photography for free in a for profit publication in Prescott.  That night I was so hot under the collar I posted about the call.  What I haven’t posted about since is the fact that I’ve had one to two calls a week with similar “work for free” requests.  And I got another one this morning.

I handle these calls very differently now then I did a few years ago.  A few years ago while trying everything under the sun to build my business I thought maybe “exposure” would help.  And it did in a way.  More people came to me looking for me to do free work.  The exposure I got was that I was willing to work for free.  Let me tell you, there’s a million clients out there like that, and you can keep them.  I don’t want them.

When people call offering me exposure now I cut right to the point.  “Your work is valuable, mine isn’t.  Is that what you’re telling me?  What you’re asking me is to work for free you know?”

I have actually said that to multiple callers over the past few weeks.  Oh, you can actually hear them squirm through the silence on the phone, the stuttering, and the major discomfort as they speak again.  Let me tell you, I actually enjoy rejecting the exposure callers.  My work, be it engineering, network design, database design, or even photography, has a lot of value.  It took me almost a year in West Virginia to remember how valuable I am to any job I undertake.

Sunrise Bands

It took 2 years and 4 separate trips to White Pocket to achieve the results I wanted. 16 days not at the office unpaid, well over $1000 in gas money, etc, etc. The value of my White Pocket series is hard to estimate.

Let’s Turn This On Its Head

Last month my website had 47,000 page reads.  That’s pretty good.  According to Technorati I’m in the top 100 Travel related blogs globally (number 33 right now).  Pretty neat.  That means this website has reach.  That means this website offers good exposure, right?  So, I think I know the approach I’m going to take when dealing with other businesses.  I could offer them “exposure” in exchange for their work.

Next time I go into Lamb Nissan for repair work on my Titan I’m going to offer to plug them on my blog, giving them “exposure.”  I’ll trade the exposure for a few thousand dollars of repairs on my truck.  Sound reasonable?  Or here’s one.  I’ve been dying to rip the dinette out of the Airstream and make a cool wrap around work station for my computers.  Do you think there are any cabinet makers and construction folks who would forgo payment in exchange for exposure on my site?  Ooh, or how about this.  I’d like another post and beam home like the one I had in New Hampshire.  Do you think I could find a builder willing to do the work for free in exchange for exposure here?

Somehow I think none of those scenarios above would work.  More importantly, I don’t think anyone out there would be that much of an ass to devalue the work and skill of any of those business people.  So, why is it so easy to do it to photographers?


From 2008-2011 I said no to portrait sessions until I perfected off camera lighting the way I wanted it. Additional equipment, countless classes, reading everything I could, and finally offering portraiture. I can’t count the man hours, education, or final expense that went into honing the skill set required.

So Glad To Be Doing Something Else

As I said before, photography is not my primary business any longer.  I still work with commercial clients who understand the value of photography and my time, and I will continue to do so.  But in the realm of private photo sessions, fine art pieces, etc, I’m out of that.  The frustration I’m expressing here is for my fellow photographers still trying to make a living in today’s market place.

Do I still love taking pictures?  You bet!  Can I blow the walls off of a portrait session?  Sure.  Am I actually creating a new body of work since I hit the road?  Yes, and most of it does not show up here.  I’m saving it up for future business plans.  🙂

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