Just a note, Cambodia's countryside is not epic. Ive lived here three years and have yet to find those breathtaking views. Im actually out in the provinces now. It's 5 in the morning herre and me and my friend are going out in a while to capture the sunrise. Will see what I get. Vietnam is epic.My view is quite a simple one. If you look at National Geographic magazine you will see photographs beyond what we see on here. Yet,they were all taken in camera. If such can be taken in camera, why do you need a computer to make your images look better when they dont?
The thing about this statement --for the most part...nat geo shots are carefully planned voyages (sometimes multiple voyages) to epic locations ---- EPIC LOCATIONS!!!!!!!! (and yes they do post process things too)... I live in Buffalo NY, and while there may be some nice spots to shoot... other than niagara falls is there truly anything epic here? --- nat geo Epic? I do not have thousands of dollars in travel budget...and my wedding and portrait clients don't have thousands of dollars to spend to have their wedding at the top of Mt Everest, or the jungles of Brazil, or deep in greenlands glaciers, or off in the magical hobbit land that is new Zealand...we aren't going to the tops of the Andes, not hiking through Cambodia, no sleek desert dunes of Tatooine (LOL...Tunisia), no engagement shoot at the great wall of China, no South African Diamond Mine, and not in a tribal village in New Guinea......I could go on and on but you get the point I hope. Nat Geo goes to EPIC places!!!!! They also have the budget to wait out the weather if need be. They also have the budget to go back if they wait 2 weeks and the weather doesn't work out. They have their own submarines for crying out loud, subs, helicopters, planes, large boats....so yeah, Nat Geo can hold to a more natural approach...because they are generally going places that are so epic they don't need much manipulation. Most of us don't have EPIC locations at pur doorstep, most of us are engaged in the art of pulling the beauty out of and or creating magic from a mundane scene. LOL... in the portrait/wedding world, it's like wondering why you handle a sports illustrated swimsuit model with full wardrobe and makeup crew differently than a plus sized bride at a budget wedding....
But I agree on your point.
Steve McCurry's Afgan Girl (the most famous portrait / Nat Geo shot ever) was originally shot in a landscape orientation. It was an over the shoulder shot which he gave no thought to. When his editor saw it he "converted" it to portrait by re-shooting the difference using a model and a room set up....and merged the two together. Most of his images are tweeked in some way (vignetting, dodge burn etc) by his editor. So don't think that all Nat Geo shots are a perfect in cam shots....some are quite convoluted and anything goes to get the shot.
Even the late great Ansel Adams used to do extensive post production to each photograph. So I don't see what the problem is here. How can we ask about purity and subject integrity where we are photographing a 2D representation of a 3D world. It's all representation of some sorts.
Even the choice of focal length and aperture are distortions of nature. You never "in real life" actually see what a 600mm lens sees, nor what a 10mm lens would see. The eye cannot replicate f22, nor can it replicate f1.0. Thus, photography reality is not as black and white a line as people would often indicate. We make edits long before photoshop.