A camera captures light and converts it into usable information, but is limited in it’s ability to so. The very best cameras and display technologies cannot duplicate the brilliance, detail, and depth that nature has to offer. They simply map a dynamic scene into the limited palette of the device. Through layers of processing, the data is interpreted to create the illusion of brilliance and depth. Just as a photographer might use converging lines in a composition to create the illusion of depth, they might also darken midtones so the brights look brighter. Another technique that creates the illusion of brilliance, say of a sunset, is to saturate the highlight colors while desaturating the darks. This mimics the human eye which is less sensitive to color information in dim light. All these techniques for making your photograph shine are digital image manipulation. But are they dishonest? I would argue that the tools in our digital arsenal actually make it possible to create images that are more real and more closely approximate the photographer’s experience.
Photography has long been the black sheep of the visual arts for the simple reason that it’s perceived to be a mechanical process. The limited participation of the artist, perceived to be largely confined to composition, gives the impression that all you have to do is be at the right place at the right time. I believe that the digital toolbox has turned this on its head, allowing for creative input from the photographer that rivals any other medium. The irony is that now there are claims of too much creativity. The power of digital image post processing has inserted the photographer’s creativity into the medium in an unprecedented way. This is a good thing, so long as there is no intent to deceive the viewer.