First off…there are photographs and there are graphic arts. Both are valid. Both can be beautiful. Both are fully ethical.
My only gripe is when someone uses their graphic arts or Photoshop skills to enhance a photo in ways that are not real…and then fails to tell anyone.
Case in point…if you add flowers to a Italian mountain scene and those flowers only grow near the beach in Hawaii…and you don’t mention you added them in Photoshop…I have a problem with that image.
If you take a white sky and buy a package of fake skies online and then add that fake sky to your image…and don’t mention it…I have a problem with that image. Worse yet, you buy a perfect lightning bolt to add to the photo…so now you have a fake sky and a fake lightning bolt.
I know one famous image where the photographer took a perfect photo of one flower and then clone stamped that perfect flower over and over again until he or she had a whole field of perfect flowers. I actually love the image. I sure wish that photographer just said what they did to achieve that image instead of trying to fool the viewer.
And don’t get me started on those who add themselves in next to a shark or lion or celebrity…fake fake fake.
Everyone uses some of the editing tools to improve a photo…but I hope you choose to keep those changes minimal and realistic. If you go over the line…just say so…disclose that it is a manufactured image…people buy those all the time.
Guys like me can tell what is real and what is fake…most of the time. You want respect from your fellow photographers…just disclose your techniques to achieve that image and there will be high fives all around. Try to fool us…and the whispering starts behind your back and online. I love creativity and really do not like liars and cheaters. Just say it like it is and you will get the respect you deserve. Try to fool us and you will also get the respect you deserve…none. And I promise I am not a zealot about this…everyone deserves to make a mistake or two along the way as they try to be increasingly creative…just learn from those mistakes and go back to what is the most honest form of photography…editing without the tricks or full disclosure of the techniques you employed.
By the way…when you get to the point of entering big time photo contests…they often require you to send them the RAW image of the shot along with a description of every editing change you made to the shot…kind of hard to fool the judges with your RAW image in their hands.