Before and After, Truth and Lies

I recently wrote a brief post to the Fuji X-Forums showing my workflow in Adobe Lightroom for post processing. The before and after images sparked an interesting debate. I deliberately chose an image that had pretty significant changes and this led to a discussion on what denotes 'truth' in a photograph.

Before

Fuji X-T1 - Un-Edited RAW

After

Fuji X-T1 - Post Processed in Adobe Lightroom

It's an interesting topic of conversation. How do you know if a scene is 'real' or not. This is not Photojournalism this is art?

The thread started amicably enough

Thank you for this. I often look at my RAW files with disappointment in LR6 and whilst I don't think the tonal split works for me I admire the work you've done on the file in LR to get the punch - and explained why you've done it. If other people could be persuaded to do similar people like me would learn so much.
Phil.
Nice tutorial and first class example of what can be done. 
Well done and thanks for that.

Then we have some slightly stronger opinion

I despise this kind of manipulation of landscape images. There is no integrity to it and when you reveal the truth behind it, no inspiration, just a lie. At least to me. I go from thinking wow, what a incredible moment to have experienced and captured to what a let down and what a fraud.

It is one thing to work with an image taken and enhance it: burn, dodge, saturate, de-saturate, crop, vignette, sharpen, soften, blend. Another thing entirely to completely make it an artifice of photoshop or whatever tool. It is just as fake as the models in Cosmo and Vogue. At least in fashion mags everyone knows they are manipulated heavily. Maybe that is the reason for "Mostly" in the url on the image.

Real landscape photographers work hard to capture special moments of light in unique settings. Landscape photographers spend time, money and effort and often return with nothing and publish little to nothing from those efforts. That is what makes the special moments where light, composition and reality special. They are not common and they are not fake. Sometimes we get to actually capture special moments that we will remember forever and share with others to inspire them. The more people fake reality in their images the more people disbelieve and discredit the work of real landscape photography. 

Enough said.

I have no problem with people expressing their opinions, in fact I welcome feedback but to be labeled a liar is a little harsh IMO. There were some very articulate responses from the community and this particular response summed it up for me

With respect, I disagree. The techniques you accept, "burn, dodge, saturate, de-saturate, crop, vignette, sharpen, soften, blend" were mostly done in the pre-digital days of film and darkrooms. Other than saturate and desaturate, this was with B&W film. And all these techniques changed the image from what was captured on film. We know that colour as seen by the eye is not the same as colour photographed by film or by digital sensors. Why is it not a lie to change what is shot on film to what is displayed, but a lie to change what is shot on a digital sensor to what is displayed, particularly when the display is by a digital medium?

Why arbitrarily draw the line between "real" landscape photographers and those you label as having "no integrity", whose work is "just a lie" in accordance with whether they limit themselves to darkroom techniques in the digital age? It is not "one thing" to process photos by the techniques you have approved and "quite another" to process them the way most of us now do. It is the same thing. Only more contemporary and more versatile. 

Even in the darkroom days we could burn in clouds from a negative that had clouds in the sky to make a print of another negative which had a cloudless sky. That was a darkroom lie created by your approved technique of burning. A skilled portrait retoucher could retouch 8 x 10 negatives with a pencil to remove blemishes and wrinkles, similar to what is done today, faster and with less skill needed, for Cosmo and Vogue, and every other magazine. 

You may find it inauthentic, but the convention in photography today is that the capture stage (usually in RAW) is only the first stage of the creative process. The second stage is the post-capture processing in the computer. That is why so much of the content of this forum discusses topics like RAW converters and techniques of editing photos in Lightroom, Photoshop and other such software. If the people who post these are all liars and cheats shouldn't these parts of the forum be removed?

You expressed disappointment that your original assumption turned out to be wrong: " I go from thinking wow, what a incredible moment to have experienced and captured to what a let down and what a fraud." Why think that today? Why assume that this person, like Ansel Adams, climbed a mountain at 4 am to wait for just the right light to capture one or two frames, but would have had to come home with nothing if the clouds rolled in? Why limit truthfulness to darkroom techniques, or indeed, to any particular techniques of processing? Photoshop was first released in 1990, over a quarter of a century ago. It now has several competitors. Why assume that this software is not being used by real landscape photographers to its full capacity 26 years later? 

Today, most of us would expect that the photographer took a photo under the best conditions available, and then made whatever aesthetic changes he or she wanted in post-processing it via software. There is no need for the photographer to declare, when displaying the photo, that "This image has been processed in Photoshop" in order not to be called a liar. Even National Geographic will accept photos that have been tweaked by software for color, contrast, and exposure, as the OP did, more or less without question, as long as nothing was deleted (like car on the road) or staged (like telling someone to walk over there) to make a more compelling photograph. If it is good enough for National Geographic, it should be good enough for this forum without calling the photographer a liar. 

This forum is for trading information, not insults. Calling someone a liar, and calling his work a fake is not informative. It is insulting. You might wish to consider apologizing.

The full thread can be read here and it makes an interesting read.