Recently my trusted Nikon d700 felt it needed a rest. The camera’s shutter is rated for 150,000 clicks. I’ve put this poor camera through the mill taking 149,652 photos over the years. The shutter needs to be replaced at a cost of about $200.00. Not bad, but it maybe time for a new camera.

This got me thinking. How many images did I take at the several FREE sporting events I shot or the many, many, many FREE photo shoots I’ve done? If I hadn’t volunteered for these shoots, would my d700 still have life? Yes, but honestly I choose to do those non-paying shoots, I have no regrets. I’m not the type to put plastic covers on my couch so it will last longer. I like to use the things I have.

So how much did these free shoots cost me?

Let’s stick with a simple black and white answer. If we take the cost of the camera body when new; $2999.00 and divide it by the rated shutter life of 150,000 we come up with $0.02 cents per click. So that 2013 High School Lacrosse season where I took 10,170 photos cost me $203.04 and the 2014 season’s 17,439 photos cost me $348.78.

Digital isn’t free but it’s worth it

Before we stop volunteering for events or think twice about taking a shot, digital is still relatively inexpensive. If I repair my camera at $200.00, I’ll add that to my initial investment of $2999.00 for a total of $3199. My shutter count returns to zero giving me an additional 150,000 clicks for a total of 300,000. This brings the cost down to $0.01 cent per click. Great for a back up camera.

Budget in an equipment fee

My d700 did us a huge favor by dying. We took a look at our budget and reviewed the gear we use on a regular basis. Studio strobes, speedlights, pocket wizards and even gaff tape. We’ve started to add a fix cost of $250.00 per shoot as an equipment fee. The fee is set aside for camera repairs and miscellaneous cost. The idea came to us after watching a video training course “Budgeting Video Projects” by Richard Harrington on The same concepts for video applies to photographers.

Continue to take those shots and budget in for your next camera. Digital may not be free, but it’s well worth it!

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Join the conversation! 16 Comments

  1. Great article, though one thing is that by replacing your shutter you aren’t resetting your camera back to 0. You are merely resetting your shutter back to zero. The rest of the camera is still sitting towards the end of it’s lifespan, I’d be surprised if you can get another 150,000 frames out of it without more repairs.

    • I have to disagree with you Ryan, though the camera body may well be ‘older’ it’s by no means ready to be sent to Kodachrome Heaven, sakes… there are plenty of the original Nikon F out there that STILL work perfectly… like any good tool, a little maintenance now and then is all that’s required.

  2. Good article… though it got me thinking of the non-digital days…
    let see (and assume these are all estimates)

    6.00 for a 24 exposure roll of film
    8.00 to get it processed
    14.00 / 24 exposures = .60 per picture…


    The 2013 High School Lacrosse season where you took 10,170 pictures = $6,102 ish… ;)

    … and digital wins :-)

  3. There is one factor that I haven’t seen and that is the total of what you learned while doing all those ‘free’ shoots. Learning curves aren’t flat but bumpy. You learn different things in different environment and sometimes those things you learn can be used in multiple places. just think, all those free shoots were actually ‘free instruction’. You can’t place an accurate price on the things you learn that saves you future errors.

    • Great insight. The only time I felt it was a waste of time, both from the learning sense and financial benefit, was when I wasn’t having fun or learning something new. At that point I usually took on an intern and used the time to develop my teaching skills.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. Excellent article. I was shooting at a church event and of course I didn’t charge them for taking pictures. But this one lady came up to me after the event and wanted to know if we were related. Anyway, after finding out our family tree, she has an event that she does every year and she hasn’t had much luck finding good photographers. She wanted to know if I would shoot her event for free and if I knew anyone else that could help. I must have been caught up in the family tree/church event/kumbaya feeling that I said I would shoot the event free. She said she would pay for the film. (She knew that I don’t shoot film.) Well, later on, after the evangelical feeling left me, I thought, hell no. I don’t any more free “experience events” to shoot. So I am gonna email her back and tell her my event price. Now I have to figure out how much each digital picture would cost me.

    • I feel for you. Tell her the shoot is free, but you need to charge for an “Equipment Fee” to cover the cost of your gear. That way you give her a chance to back out or pay the fee…

      let me know how it goes

  5. Can you possibly do a quick edit on this, so the math actually works? Please change .02 cents per click to either “$0.02 per click” or “2 cents per click”, and similar for the .01 cents per click examples. If you say .02 cents per click, that means it’s 50 clicks for one penny, whereas the corrected 2 cents per click means it’s 50 clicks for a dollar, and that’s a lot different.

    • $200.00 / 150000=$0.00133333
      So .02 cents per click is right.

      • Peter was fixing the way I wrote 2 cents. The math is right, the way I wrote.02 then added cents to the end of it was not proper. adding the $ to 0.02 or just typing 2 cents would work. Either way we get the point :)

    • Peter,

      I fixed the math! I’m glad you caught it and not Sister Paula my 4th grade teacher :)

      Thanks for catching that

  6. Well that begs a question – for a newbie buying their first camera, is it worth it to by a used one then? If replacing the shutter costs, say half of what the used purchase price is, would buying new better?

    • Missy good question. It’s hard buying used gear unless you know the person you’re buying it from or the company. You can ask for a shutter count and see how many photos were taken. I did buy the D700 used from a close friend who hardly used the camera. It served me well for years. My D810 ia new. Since we bought it a week ago, we found there is already a recall. Buying new means you know for sure if maintenance and recalls were handled.

      Last advice… it’s better to invest in high quality lens than the camera when starting out. Camera are easy to replace in a few years, great quality lens can last forever.


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About Vanelli

After a successful career as a three time Triple Crown Karate champion, Robert Vanelli turned his attention to teaching. As an educator for over 30 years, Vanelli has created several photography and digital workflow program including a special program, Click for Kids. Borrowing concepts from the martial arts, Vanelli instilled values such as integrity, and goal setting using photography as a vehicle to motivate children. As the lead photographer for Exposure Photographic Art Studio, Vanelli has had the opportunity of capturing images of special VIP’s, including the President of the United States, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former president of Toyota, Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda, CEO’s of companies such as Yahoo,the Oakland A’s and several martial arts legends.


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