Those who are capable of making awesome changes/modifications will continue to do so while those who are incapable will continue to crib that it is unethical.
Blanket statements like "compositing is not photography" don't hold up in all cases. HDR photos are composites of several shots. Are they not photography, simply because they were combined after the fact? You could have achieved the same thing if you used a grad-ND filter, so does using a filter mean the photo is 'not photography'? What difference does it make if you did the composite before the click or after?
Also, compositing doesn't always mean introducing something that wasn't there. The photo below is 3 different exposures, composited together in Photoshop. Point to the element that wasn't actually there.
Loving this topic, it's one of those topics I try real hard to read everything before replying, but, well, I guess I am breaking that rule..
As shown here - HDR - is it still photography? Others say that even just a composite isn't photography. If this set of bracketed images where taken as layers in photoshop and manually combined - is it less or more of a 'photograph' than the hdr? ANd yes, as pointed out below, this is pretty much the poor mans way of preserving dynamic range in the image because yes - you could create a very similar effect grad ND filters and polarizers..
Given the tools we have to push and pull images..when is the line crossed? reading through this link that was brought up earlier - http://www.creativepro.com/content/scanning-around-gene-old-way-photo-retouching,
a lot of what we're doing is really been there done that - new tools and tech make it easier, but I do remember back in the days of the darkroom - in my first photography classes in 1992 being instructed on how to take a print and use markers to add color (yes, the dreaded selective color!!!!).
Getting it in camera ---yeah, its an awesome and amazing feeling - I love using external lighting to create images - I show my clients what things are looking like on the camera back and they say - that looks more like a painting. But, sometimes like on a wedding you just don't have the time to set all that lighting up. Your also not picking the time of day to shoot, and its generally in high sun, 2-5 PM, worst time of the day for shooting. So you end up with a shot that has the people exposed right but the sky overblown. I will often take a single image (depending of course on how overexposed the sky is), duplicate it, process one for sky and one for the people the people, then export to PS and merge/composite.
We toss around these words - manipulation, graphic art, digital art, true photography...where is the line? Unless we back track and make cameras that lock images so what you see at the time of exposure is what you get ---it's all manipulation. So you used a grad filter in lightroom...it's still manipulating the image.. Like in the process above - duplicating then pushing one and pulling another -- it is something that can be done in camera, with the use of external tools (lights). I'm attaching an unedited image here, showing a scene that uses external lighting to balance the sky and the people - camera exposing for wonderful sky, lighting for the people or they'd just be dark shadows, part of the landscape, not the subject. what would happen here if I did not have those extra lights (or a reflector/multiple reflectors)? You'd be stuck exposing for the family at the expense of the surrounding environment. The only way around that is to be creative in post, or go the other way of shooting on a tripod, and using 2 images (one exposed for sky, one exposed for people) - or the quick and dirty way of pushing and pulling duplicate images and merging... selective brushing, digital grad filters, or snagging a purely landscape shot and using that sky ....or just sucking it up and saying bye bye sky!
this is only scratching the surface of this --- when you consider all that can be done in post...I'd say doing a composite to preserve the DR of a scene is a much more true photograph than one where you remove every facial blemish, remove the double chin, wrinkles gone....poof, you look 20 years younger...or wow, I just puppet warped you and now your 20 pounds lighter! Where is the line? I often struggle with this for portrait/wedding clients --where you want them to be beautiful, but, if you take it too far, yes they look wonderful but then you get people saying ---I didn't even realize that was you!
yes, landscape/.nature work is different than portrait/wedding work...I do both ! And you know what, one of my fav things to do is night time work, long exposures (I'd love to do day time ones, just don't have enough ND filters to slow things down enough) - and more times than not right out of camera the image is surreal. With both of these kinds of shots (externally lit and long exposures) most assume it's all photoshop trickery.
So again, where is that line in the sand? Is it as simple as ---if you can pull it off in lightroom it's real, but the moment it hits photoshop it isn't? Oh wait, there's that spot removal tool in lightroom...
Really now, why do we shoot in RAW at all if we aren't going to push and pull our images?
? If a real photo is a non processed image - then why don't we all just shoot in jpeg and save our $$$ by not buying software, what comes out of the camera is real and that's that?