In the days of film photography, photographers manipulated their images in the darkroom. Ansel Adams himself was very accomplished in the darkroom – and he wasn’t afraid to stretch the boundaries of possibility. I think we take ourselves entirely too seriously if we aren’t willing to let photography be the art form that it is. Of course, there are limits to what I believe is acceptable. First and foremost – I believe in honesty. If I adjusted an image in Photoshop, I believe it’s important to be honest about the changes I’ve made. And if I am presenting an image for documentary purposes – newspapers etc – then I need to make sure my photograph is true to the reality of the original scene. That said, as far as I’m concerned… there are no limits to what is acceptable when it comes to your art work.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that a JPG image directly from your camera is also a manipulation… it’s just manipulated according to the settings you select in-camera, and the algorithms that the software developers choose.
Film was very different… there were no built-in, digital algorithms. No JPG or RAW or PSD… and yet, photographers used colored filters to produce effects that are similar to what we can achieve in PS. They dodged and burned and cropped and rotated. They chose Velvia film to produce saturated colors. They used circular polarizers to enhance colors and reduce reflections.
They used kaleidoscopic lenses to create bizarre manipulations, and fish-eye lenses to create extreme distortion, and wide-angle lenses to mess with perspective, and long lenses to get close to faraway objects, and macro lenses to make little things look big. They created double exposures.
They used soft focus, or a long exposure, or a narrow depth of field to change the look of the scene they were photographing.
And they even used masks – carefully cut from dark paper, or even created with the help of a microscope – to build images that were not so different from what we can do with Photoshop today. If photography is art – then who decides what is right or wrong? The artist, of course!