Photoshop, how far is too far?

Before I get into this, I'm not going to class processing a RAW file as editing an image. I feel there's a strong divide between editing and processing an image, so for the purposes of this article I'm going to assume that you are working on a JPEG file (either produced by your camera or after processing a RAW file.)

Living in the digital age has given us so many opportunities to express ourselves, with the advancement of digital imaging techniques almost everybody on the planet can now take an image and share it online, and the power of digital editing tools makes it incredibly easy for things to be altered in an image. I think we're now at a point where we can't always take an image at face value and make any assumptions as to it's integrity, is that a good or bad thing?

Well, I guess it depends on what you see photography as.. Is a camera a means by which to capture the world in which we live, or is it a tool to express yourself? I'd like to think there's a happy medium here, and in the recent weeks & months I've begun to realise that what I'm doing is expressing myself by capturing the world in the way in which I see it, and by reacting to the scene around me as a method of expression, a common phrase which I find myself coming back to when asked the question by my peers is "There is no substitute for the right light.".

I think really, to flip the question on its head a bit, you need to answer the question "What am I trying to achieve by using Photoshop?", the answer to that question really then tells you if it's appropriate to manipulate the image or not. Say, for example, you were out on a lovely warm summer's morning and snapped some shots around sunrise, you hurried back to load up your raw images and found each shot you took seemed to be missing a sense of warmth, so decide to use some luminosity masking to add some orange to your highlights and make the image warmer - I don't see anything wrong with that, because you are using Photoshop as a method by which to express an emotion/feeling you felt whilst taking the image, but were perhaps "let down" by the dynamic range of your camera, you're not trying to deceive the viewer, you're trying to evoke empathy..

Let's take another example... You head to Corfe Castle hoping to capture the elusive "castle above the mist" shot. After spending 2 hours up a hill you don't see any mist, but having loaded up your raw files you decide you're going to add some mist to the scene using tools in Photoshop. I think this is a step too far, because the image you end up with is not designed to represent a feeling or emotion you felt on that day, and would deceive the viewer into thinking the conditions on that day were something they weren't..

I think that's the bottom line, am I using Photoshop because my camera (or I) weren't able to capture an image to reflect my emotional reaction to a scene in front of me on that day, or am I using Photoshop because I want to add/remove something from an image to create a scene that did not exist?

It seems to be a hugely debated subject which causes a lot of controversy amongst the photography community, with some strongly against any form of digital "manipulation" and others who aren't too fussed about what goes on behind the scenes. I feel like at some point or another I've sat on both sides of the fence, and I do now feel there is a "too far". What do you think? Do you try to do everything in camera, or make full use of the tools at your disposal? Would you be happy to share your workflow with your photography friends, or would you feel they might judge how much/little editing you do?

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