The creation of a photograph has never ended with the push of the shutter. In the days of film the chemical darkroom was the next step with decisions being made about the timing, temperature and mix of chemicals to use for developing the film followed by decisions being made at many points during the printing process. While much has changed much remains the same, it is just the tools to reach the goal which are different. We now use a digital darkroom instead of a chemical one and the tools which we have available are much more advanced and powerful.
Light is recorded by the camera’s sensor but it doesn’t accurately represent what we see. It needs to be processed in the same way our brains process the light which our eyes gather.
This example is from a hot air balloon flight in the Tetons. The second image is the RAW file, it lacks contrast and the haze from the smoke blowing in from fires in Idaho obscures the mountains and details of the sky. After processing the RAW image with Nik Software Color Efex Pro 4.0, the sky looks like I remember and the mountains have depth and texture. No new data was added to the image, it is all there it just needed to be uncovered.
A photograph is more than a record of the what was seen by the photographer, it also represents what is felt by the photographer when they took the photograph. There are some that argue that a photograph should not be manipulated at all but in truth a photograph is manipulated before the shutter is even pushed. Where the photographer is standing, the lens they are using, what they have selected to include or exclude, what they choose to keep in focus and what to put out of focus are all ways that an image is manipulated from its inception. The digital darkroom allows the photographer to further refine the photograph to represent what they pre-visualized and to best represent their vision.