A question I get asked a lot when I show photos is "was that Photoshopped?" What people don't realize, is when you shoot a photograph in JPEG, the camera does a small amount of post processing. This adds some saturation, contrast, etc depending on how the company set up the camera. The camera essentially "Photoshops" the photo for you. Photographers shoot is RAW mode. Shooting in raw gives you all the data possible but the photo is very flat looking. A standard jpeg file is around 3 to 8 megabytes in size. I use the Sony A7Rii and the raw photo is 82 megabytes. This allows a very large amount of data to be present in the file for post processing. The photos below show the difference between raw and edited.
In the days before the digital dark room (Photoshop, Lightroom, etc) photographers were in a normal darkroom doing the same post processing techniques only with chemicals and other tools. All the greatest photographers such as Ansel Adams did a lot of post processing to their images. Using "dodging and burning", Ansel was able to create the amazing black and white photos he is famous for. Dodging and burning is used to lighten and darken certain areas of a photo. For saturation, you would add some color filters to the light that is making the print. The artist had to learn which colors of light canceled others to get the proper color on the photo.
Aside from the saturation, contrast, etc, we are now able to blend images together for the proper exposure. While dynamic range of cameras is getting better, they are no where near the human eye. When you look at a nice sunset, everything is exposed properly, the sky colors are perfect, the foreground is perfect, etc. The camera sees the perfect sky or the perfect foreground. It cannot see both. Here are some examples of this. The one on the left is exposed for the foreground, the one in the middle is exposed for the sky. The image on the right is the 2 images blended together. To do this in film, you would need to use graduated ND filters then some dodging and burning to get the detail in the buildings. Blending exposures makes this process much easier and faster.
Another real advantage to Photoshop is the ability to focus stack. Focus stacking is when you take the same photo but move your focus through the photo. With film, the photographer had to decide what part of the photo needs to be in focus. Now with digital, the entire photo can be in focus. With this technique, the artist can really emphasize the foreground element while keeping the background in focus. These 9 photos were used to make 1 image. You can see in each photo there is a different part that is in focus.
Now you can understand why photographers process their images using a variety of different programs like Lightroom, Photoshop, and many others. The RAW files are bland but have all the data, some images need to be blended for the proper exposure, focus stacked, remove unwanted distractions, and many other reasons. There is nothing wrong with altering your own photos. Remember, it is art and your photo needs to match your vision. If you want to shoot in JPEG and not process your photos, great, if you want to spend hours on each photo making it just right, then do it. It is all up to the artist.
Until next time, remember, fill the frame with what you like and forget all the rules.