The ease with which pictures can be altered means anyone can quickly produce an image that bears little resemblance to the original.
To be honest, I don't do much. Crop it. Adjust levels, contrast and maybe saturation. Tweak the white balance. And clone out a misplaced hair or a distraction in the background. Now I have written it down, it seems like a lot. But I don't like to alter too much. I want the picture to be true to the way I saw it. I tend to spend most time deciding which pictures from a shoot are keepers. I may have a couple of hundred, or more. I try to get that number down to about a dozen. Before I start editing.
Some models I have worked with say photographers have adjusted skin so that it no longer looks real, more like a doll. Or altered body shape so that they almost don't recognise themselves.
Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.
If you are composing an image to produce an art piece. I guess any amount of manipulation would be okay.
What is acceptable for news, advertising and general media?
Reuters no longer allow submission of files processed from RAW or a camera specific format. They say it is for two reasons. These files allow for a greater degree of post-processing, and it takes longer to process them before they can be used. If it means they can guarantee the integrity of the picture that's a good thing. When we see a picture in a news piece, we have to be confident it is real. If it is a composite or staged, the article must say so. It might represent a real event, but if the event wasn't photographed, then the picture can't be passed off as real.
We all know manipulation of advertising photography happens. I read an article about a retoucher for big brands saying that the amount of work that is applied to an advertising picture would surprise people. It can't be so much that the advert is no longer true, but they seem to push the limits. How much is too much? Especially when advertising is meant to sell a product.
I think advertising needs to be viewed with more than a little scepticism.
Celebrity photography almost expects the image to be altered. Making a Kardashian bum or lips bigger, or losing a big brother contestant's cellulite. I guess this is okay, except if they have some level of influence over their followers. Or they are endorsing products.
Bottom line. We need to be more questioning about what we see. And the publishers need to be clearer about what we are seeing.