What a terrific discussion!
I very much like the fairly simple concept of "Do No Harm."
It strikes me that moving something within a scene, either to include or exclude it, does no harm. Taking a folding saw to a branch (or worse) does harm (well Duh). Setting a fire under Delicate Arch does harm. Driving on the Racetrack does very long-term harm, maybe decades worth. Taking a single red leaf and placing it carefully and lovingly into a scene of a waterfall enhances the picture. There is where I definitely disagree author Spencer Cox. He only made the picture 3 years ago and now says he would not repeat this (for him) egregious "deception" again. My take on that is WTF?!
Jeepers, pal, all ya did was make just-another-silky-water-shot amazing
by the addition of that leaf. Why the heck not? What if the leaf had been there already but washed away before you got your tripod up? How do you know there wasn't a leaf there before you arrived? If you feel morally bound to fully disclose that you (GASP) placed
that leaf there and promise the photo morality police never ever to do it again, well, that's you. Me, I think the leaf makes the shot!
Otherwise to me it's just another cliche silky waterfall (YAWN).
I think sometimes we photographers overlook that what we produce is an art form
. At the dawn of photography there were painters who were horrified that they were gonna be out of a job. Initially it was difficult to impossible to manipulate photographs. Daguerreotypes were mirror images and there was nothing you could do about it. So were tintypes (ferrotypes). There was only the original and no good way to reproduce it. The best the early practitioners could do was add a little tinting, maybe some pink in the cheeks (very commonly done). Fox Talbot figured out a way to make a negative so then it was off to the races with all sorts of imaginative manipulations. But the painters were still happily painting, and painters had a distinct advantage (not just color): they could paint what they saw rather than just what was there.
Silky waterfall? No problem. Intruding branch? Leave it out. Needs a nice red leaf just there? Paint it. Who's gonna know?
Therefore, why should it be a big hairy deal if the photographer places a leaf where it makes the shot? Further, what would be so terrible the photographer decides later, Gee, a nice red leaf would go good there, so he 'shops it in. Duck has already pointed out that ya can't do that in documentary or journalism work. Guys have been fired and banned for sometimes piddling little violations (I'm thinking of the guy who cloned an extraneous camera out of a combat shot). But I'm talking art, not journalism (which is an art but of a different kind). (By the way, I had an afterthought about "reality:" I would tend to argue that reality cannot be completely expressed artistically, it can only be simulated. Reality is reality, unfiltered. The moment you put a frame around it it is no longer real. It has morphed into something else, at best a good impression of reality.)
In 2014 we were on THE Epic Road Trip and went out to Point Arena on the California coast to get the light as the sun set. But the fog rolled in, and the gulls were uncooperative at best. So I relocated a couple. Full disclosure, the third, best shot, is manipulated. Should I care? (I don't.)
(Open the first and third of these in tabs and toggle between them so you can see what I did...)