Processing versus no processing?
This is one of the moral questions of photography. Shall I process my images or post them straight out of the camera? Some people are moving this to a different moral level :processing images, especially by adding or removing elements, is cheating and the authors are persons with a low ethical standards. According to them, only very few tweaks are allowed on an image (contrast, saturation, maybe cropping if it is not really changing the overall feeling). In this way the reality is not altered at all, and the photography has a documentary role, reminding the next generations how it was life these days. All of these are true in a way, but this theory is built on a false premise: that the photography should have an exclusive documentary role.
Analyzing this, you can just say that it is just a small argumentation mistake. But looking from a different perspective, those people are actually excluding photography from the broad category of art and they recognize only its documentary role. A bit ignorant I would say. A quick look on Wikipedia reveals the following definition:
"Art is a diverse range of human activities and the products of those activities; this article focuses primarily on the visual arts, which includes the creation of images or objects in fields including painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and other visual media."
Encyclopaedia Britannica also offers a rather similar definition:
"art, also called (to distinguish it from other art forms) visual art, a visual object or experience consciously created through an expression of skill or imagination. The term art encompasses diverse media such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, drawing, decorative arts, photography, and installation."
So we can say that is broadly recognized that photography is art. Well, now this allows me to make a parallel with the older brother of photography, painting: are all the painters reflecting the naked truth in their works? This might stand for the classic ones, although also here we can see different levels of manipulation of the reality: simplified, romanticized or abstracted. This of course culminates with modern ones, whose reality as so distorted as it is subject to different interpretation from the viewer. So if painting is allowed to reflect its own version of reality, filtered through the artist vision, why the same is not allowed to photography?
Photography in a direct translation from Greek means “light drawing”. The art of drawing or painting with light. Capturing lights and shadows on film or on camera sensor fits this description.But also a dodge and burn action in post-processing. Light drawing on the negative or in the file.
So reading all above, there is no scientific argument against post-processing.
And about the moral question, a very good argument that I read recently in a book (it belongs to a known landscape photographer Guy Tal): asking everyone to picture the reality in photography is like asking every writer to do journalism. This is very narrow-minded – someone needs to write poems, fantasy or science-fiction. Of course false pretenses are not welcome here. If a photographer is not honest with the tools that he used to achieve the final result, something is definitely wrong. And if it happens that the photographer is a photo-journalist and he is presenting a highly altered image while pretending this is the truth, that is even worse.
That should be the real moral war of photography: making sure the reality is accurately reflected whenever photography is used to document some event. And in the end, I would ask everyone : don’t criticize the tools, but rather the end result. If you like it, ignore the methods used to create it. If you don’t like it, just say why.