A question that often comes up that I hear asks if a photograph is ‘real’, or whether it has been enhanced in any way. My immediate answer is “does it matter?”
Many look at photography and see it purely as a snapshot of reality, misunderstanding the art-form that it represents. Yes, in some forms (ie photojournalism, documentaries) a photograph needs to closely represent the sight as seen, especially so if the photographer identifies images as a true representation of fact.
However, in most cases images are created with the sole intent of providing visual appeal - in that respect then it is up to the photographer, to provide their own artistic impression to an image.
Is this cheating? Compare that to an artist - here a painter may perhaps paint a wonderful landscape, but do they paint exactly as seen, or do they leave out unsightly elements, add drams to a sky or make a sunset more vibrant etc to enhance the finished product?
Photography should be viewed in a similar light (excuse the pun) - in this case most often the ‘artist’ composes and captures a scene, having to remove elements that detract from the composition, and adjust other elements so they fall into the overall balance.
“But what about Photoshop?” I hear you say. Granted, the old masters did not have access to such digital tools, but do not think their images were manipulated any less. Yes, they could not merge images or add components, but every single print they made was adjusted heavily in the darkroom and before, starting with the choice of film and lens, the type of paper to print on and the chemicals to do so and the dodging and burning, all to create the desired look to the final image.
So again the question - if you see a wonderful image that takes your breath away, does it really matter that the photographer/artist worked creatively to produce such artwork? To me, that is the art of good photography.
Jamie Windsor covers this so well in his following YouTube video - view and draw your own conclusions;