There's no doubt that modern digital cameras are advancing quicker and faster than film ever did, and amateur and novice camera users are able to generate stunning imagery with the tools available to them. All this gives rise to a question I keep getting asked over and over again... am I worried that some guy a few yards away can take amazing and technically perfect photographs with his phone? I mean this guy can just click a button and he's got 12+ Megapixels of the latest digital technology at his disposal. That's gotta be seriously worrying to a professional photographer right?
Well, in short, the answer is no, it's not worrying at all. For me, the advancements in camera technology are exciting! Sure, they've given a wider range of people access to tools that would be considered professional grade in terms of their output a few years back, but all this is doing is levelling the playing field. There's a lot more to creating a great image than the tool in your hand. It forces us professionals to be better... which surely can only be a good thing?
As professionals, we're not only being hired for our ability to create an image... we're being booked for being able to create a good or great image, over and over again, every time! Not only that, but we have to be able to convey a message or story in our images. We have to be able to do it quickly, professionally, within budget, and to an acceptable standard. That's what people are paying for.
Of course there are some people who are able to go beyond all that and create truly breathtaking photos that no one else could have conceived, and they're paid a premium for that. They're using the same tools, but it's how they see and think that makes them use them differently to the guy a few yards away.
We've all heard "oh your camera takes amazing photos", because that's how most people think. Well as I've said before (and I'm sure most people reading this already know), it's not the camera that takes the photos! The camera didn't decide to go to war zones and shoot public uprising. The camera didn't book a flight to Japan to capture the aftermath of a natural disaster. The camera didn't call up Kate Moss and tell her to come in to the studio for the latest Versace campaign. One day, the camera might be able to do all those things through some GPS Wifi enabled gizmo or other, but it's still going to be the person behind it has the idea and the vision to point it in the right direction at the right time and click the shutter.
If you're the sort of photographer that is worried about how great point and shoot cameras or phones are getting, then I would suggest you take a long hard look at yourself and what it is about your images that people are paying for. If you're just being booked for the quality your equipment, then you should be worried! The camera you use should be far less important than the thing you're trying to capture or the story you're trying to create. The camera is the brush, the typewriter, the hammer and chisel. It's not the one you started with, and there will be many more that follow. It's not what defines you as a photographer.
So when you see the guy a few yards away with his phone, don't ask yourself, "is he going to get a technically better photograph?" Ask yourself, "does he see how I see?" or "is he telling the story I'm telling?"