Most people don't realize that nearly every photo in magazines and on the web is edited or manipulated at least in some small way; and some of those are edited quite heavily (HDR). Have you ever heard of cross-processing film? It's where you deliberately process the film in a chemical solution that was intended for a completely different type of film. You've seen cross-processed photos before, but you may not know it. That's kind of the idea here behind this blog post.
More than a few people have talked to me about my photographs and asked the question "Did you 'photoshop' this?"; and when I tell them that I did, even if it was minor editing, they seem disappointed.
Color and contrast are the most common edits, at least for me... along with cropping. I will also go through an image (sometimes painstakingly), for anything that will detract the viewer's eyes from the subject. These could include dust specks on dark material, extremely bright reflections or catch lights, etc. When I shoot models, I'll take out small blemishes, scars, stray hairs, and things of that nature.
The advent of manipulating photographs started (I hope you're sitting down) in the 1860s; it's nothing NEW. It's just that far fewer people saw them before they were manipulated (and photographers didn't tell anyone) so people had no idea that it wasn't the actual photo that was taken. Almost everyone in the modern world has a camera these days, and most of those people have computers on which to share the pictures they take. That alone is a far reach from what was possible thirty years ago. I guess people just assume that incredible photos take little work, knowledge, patience, or practice.
For me, if I have an incredible photo, it's edited. Maybe I straightened the horizon because I had to take the photo in a hurry to capture what was happening. Maybe I increased the contrast to make the subject stand out more, or just wanted to crop out the half of the person that started to walk into the frame at the last second. Less than 5% of my photos taken to date have been drop-dead jaw dropping straight out of the camera (SOOC). And even those jaw dropping ones can benefit from some post-production. Not many photographers (pro, amateur, hobbyist, or newbie) can walk up to any random scene or situation and snap an incredible photo quickly in only one click. A lot of photographers don't tell you how many photos they take in order to get THE SHOT. They don't show you every photo that was taken in order to get to that point, or the multiple angles in order to find the best one. They don't tell you how long they waited for the sunlight to be perfect, or how early they got up to wait for that really great sunrise photo you like. My point here is that there's a lot the casual viewer doesn't know about photography or photographers... so judging them upon eiditing or post-processing is quite unfair.
Photography is an art form, and post processing is part of that art. The only exception I can think of to that would be documentary photography, where it's widely frowned upon to edit the photos as you are there to document what happens as it happens; not alter it. Some of my photos I'm able to finish my retouching in only a handful of minutes, and other times I can end up taking eight or more hours on... it all depends what I'm going for. And I WILL do whatever I feel I need to do in order to have the image look how I want it, and give the feeling I'm trying to evoke. Maybe 8 hours on a single image is a bit much. You call it "crazy", I call it "dedication". I prefer to stick to post-processing that doesn't change the nature of the photograph I took. That is to say I'm not going to put four legs on a model, but I will increase the contrast to give a mysterious feel.
The art of post processing has been around nearly as long as the art of photography. It's just easier to do in general, now that it's digital and nearly everyone has a computer. I'm going to end this with a quote from Ansel Adams: "Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas; it is a creative art."