My vision at Antelope Island State Park, Utah (developed in Adobe Lightroom)
I've never been big on overly processed or overly "worked" imagery. I've tried to stay away from it. So much, in fact, that when I got Photoshop at an amazing price from a friend who works at Adobe, I was hesitant to even use it as a part of my workflow. It has taken me awhile to come to terms with the fact that using Photoshop doesn't necessarily mean the photo has to LOOK Photoshopped. Let me explain. The digital world has created skeptics out of all of us; we question photos that may seem unreal or altered. Did it really happen this way, or look like this? Photographers feel the need to defend their work more and more. I find the debate interesting, and I have to wonder if it's all that valid of an argument. I understand the ethical issue it can bring up when working in photojournalism, but why is it an issue for any other photo media? Isn't photography an art?
Photography has been everybody's hobby since there was the opportunity to pick up a camera. To some, the art comes easily. To others...well, not so much. I believe this to be the same for all art forms, including what you may see coming out of Photoshop. Photography just might come "easier" to more people, than, say, painting for example. We have a whole lot of talented photographers. What sets a hobbyist apart from a professional is, well, not much, to be honest; one makes a living at it and the other does it for fun. I guess it may be characterized better to ask the difference between a talented photographer from a not-so-talented photographer. In my opinion it's all about vision. The photographer's vision is the most artistic aspect of their overall creativity.
The idea that your vision and artistic license are what set you apart is what I hold on to most as a young aspiring photographer. That vision and how you create that vision is what's most important, including how you manipulate a photo in Photoshop (or whatever post-production program you use). If your vision is to take pictures of the differences in cows, then use every mean necessary to create the kind of imagery you want to portray. If that means coloring the cows purple in your post-process then by all means. No one is going to stop you. And no one should feel "betrayed" that you used Photoshop in order to color the cows purple.
I guess what I'm getting down to is this: The photographer should not have to defend whatever process they use. Photoshop techniques, HDR (High Dynamic Range), tilt-shift techniques are all tools to help (or sometimes hinder) our creativity. Embrace it. Embrace the tools and know when to use them. And, more importantly, when not to use them. It's a powerful thing to be able to express exactly what you want in a photograph, or any other art form, for that matter. So use the tools we have with discretion. Just because it's trendy doesn't mean you should do it (I'm looking at you, HDR). Figure out what moves people, what makes people think. Then put your own twist on it. But most of all, have fun doing it. Believe in it. And don't let anyone tell you you're doing it wrong.
Travel photographer and videographer based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Available worldwide. Ready for hire.