Ethical post processing is a fine line that every photographer has to keep in mind when working on their imagery. With so much Photoshop being used it is difficult to come across an image that has not been digitally altered somehow. Having said that, a degree of post-processing is inevitable because images are not always meant to be printed and nailed to a wall. Even then a bit of post-processing would ensure that the images are close to what the photographer envisioned at the time of pressing the shutter release.
More often,however, printed images are used on billboards, magazine covers, advertisements, basically to sell products and create brands. These images cannot look ugly. That’s why a certain degree of ‘cleaning up’ is absolutely necessary. However, as with anything else, sometimes this cleaning up goes a bit too far. There are many notable instances when poor photoshopping has been glaringly obvious.
The use of Photoshop cannot be overlooked in personal photos either. With the advent of digital photography it has become rather easy for an individual to make great images. No, digital cameras does not make images on their own, neither do they make it easier for a photographer to understand the basic rules of photography. There is no ‘magic’ button either that can make it easy for you to master the controls of exposure. So why that isa photographer feels that he can make better images with a digital camera and not so much with a film camera? Because it allows you to make as many mistakes as you want without having to spend a lot of money to cover for your mistakes.
The biggest disadvantage of film photography is that every time you click you use a piece of film. Correspondingly, every time you click the shutter on a digital camera you only use about 25 megabyte of memory space, which is of course reusable. That means relatively there is no comparison when it comes to pricing.
But the biggest advantage of using digital over film is the ability to post-process the image and give it a final look which is almost impossible with film. With film you are limited to a simple set of darkroom tricks chiefly dodging and burning. On the other hand with an uncompressed 12-bit RAW file you have a world of possibilities. You can not only increase exposure and adjust contrast, but also remove noise, change the vibrancy and increase clarity, which, however, is only the tip of the iceberg in a sense. There are a lot of local adjustments that are also possible using photo editing software.
Now, the topic of discussion was whether one should go overboard with post-processing tools or not. The answer isn’t simple enough to be given as a one-liner. It depends entirely on the requirement of the shoot. If this is a commercial shoot, then post-processing will be little too much compared to if this were to be submitted to a photo competition where there are strict rules in regards to how much you can alter an image.
In anyways post-processing should always be done to taste. In a commercial shoot the photographer has to adhere to the tastes and preferences of the client. But if you as a photographer are shooting for your own collection you can always take a decision how much you would tweak the sliders.
As a beginner photographer it may not be easy for you to understand how much to tweak. Photo editing software such as Photoshop are really very powerful and it can be exhilarating for you at the beginning. The best way to approach this would be to hand over the post-processing task to professionals who have years of experience.