Interesting article in the NY Times about what kind of photo adjustment is acceptable in photography:
Photoshop and Photography: When Is It Real?
Here's a key section of the article:
Ms. Leuchter's editorial points out that photography has never been strictly a "capture reality" art form. It's never been limited to reproducing what the eye sees.
From the very beginning, photographers have set up their shots, posed people and adjusted brightness and contrast in the development process. So although you may think that some line has been crossed, it might not be so easy to specify exactly where that line sits.
Here's a list of things people do to and for photographs, ranging from the innocent and traditional to the dangerously artificial. If you were running a photography contest, at what point would you draw the line and say "That's not photography anymore?"
* You move the camera to get the best possible shot.
* You attach a lens that takes in a much wider or closer view than you would get with your eyes alone.
* You choose a shallow depth of field, providing that sharp-subject, blurry-background look of professional photos, which looks nothing like reality.
* You set up lights to illuminate a scene in a way that nature never intended.
* You bring in a professional crew to transform a model's skin, clothing and hair.
* You witness a spectacular event, and then ask the people involved to go back and re-enact what just happened so you can have your camera ready.
* In the darkroom, you "burn" and "dodge" to make certain parts of the photo brighter or darker.
* You bring the photo into Photoshop to remove red-eye. (After all, the red-eye wouldn't have existed if you hadn't taken the photo to begin with.)
* You bring the photo into Photoshop to make the colors "pop" a little more.
* You bring the photo into Photoshop to shift one element slightly for better composition.
* You combine two or more photographs of the identical scene, taken at different exposures, strictly to produce a better range of lights and darks (what's called "high dynamic range" photography).
* You combine two or more elements of different photos of the same scene, taken around the same time, simply to get them all in the frame at once (like the seagulls/lighthouse photo).
* You combine two or more elements of different photos that were taken at different times and places (like the motorcycle/tornado photo).
* You use a 3-D modeling program to create a photorealistic scene that never existed anywhere but in your imagination.
Of course, your answer may be something like, "It depends on the purpose of the photo." If you're a news photographer, you (and your audience) would probably be O.K. with tweaks to the color and contrast, but that's it. On the other hand, if you're an advertising photographer, you and your audience would probably have no problem with anything on the list above.
Personally, I'm not a news photographer, so I'm not worried about the journalistic integrity of a shot -- I just want it to look its best. I have no problem adjusting contrast, brightness and color saturation in a shot. I've also been known to edit out small background objects that were distracting. I'd have no problem photoshopping out a zit on someone's face either.
Where do you draw the line, personally?