My daughter, at the age of 10, often asked if something was "Photoshopped" (and presumed it was). She's now 30 (will be in Aug) and she knows better than ask...she presumes it is...
Anybody who thinks ANYTHING seen is "real" is naive...or stupid.
Lots of stupid people out there...not our fault is it?
Lack of knowledge is no one’s fault. And to answer its purpose one needs to answer and elucidate what is Real.
Every single world in the quoted sentence above is distinctly outside of reality and entirely subjective. - "Anybody, who, thinks, ANYTHING, seen, is, "real", is, naive,...or - stupid." A slightly ridiculous situation considering its content.
I suggest we stay away from describing the reality and consequently the stupidity using our ‘right-left side’ vocabulary and understanding.
As to what we see and perceive. The humans have this perception remarkably similar. More than one would expect. Across the cultures, education differences, class differences, sex, centuries and millennia. I believe that it is more adequate frame for this discussion or its initial intent.
There sure is that ‘realistic approach’ possible. Two key elements sit in the bases of such a photography today.
It’s not difficult to achieve it but as with other relatively easy things (the sources of the said ‘knowledge’ that while also abundant only very few seem to bother to draw on them) it’s based on a discipline, needs to be driven by high motivation and needs to be directly connected to philosophy or vision (that, too, is moving quite free across the cultures, education differences, class differences, sex, centuries and millennia). And that can be found more difficult than not. Or impossible.
You need a well chosen hardware and a crucial part of software you can rely on, you have tested out very well and you know well (its behaviour). A stable bases that outputs the photographed scene in a consistent manner. It’s you who will judge it and select. You need to manage the WB challenge in the same sense at least to an acceptable degree, a bit separate problem worth a note. The hardware side is not a big factor here and it’s relatively the easiest one (largely of a technical nature). The decisive weight will be the software part no matter on what level one processes. I will assume here a raw file and technically efficient workflow (a full bit tif).
Similar with the processing workflow stables. Although the weight is tipping more to the subjective side or power. The stable set of buttres (well tried one) has done its part and the responsibility shifts entirely towards the photographer or the Artist if we like. The stables, however important, never really moved further beyond the helping status. What is needed in order to expect the results here was mentioned but there is more.
Very good observation skills. Vast amount of experience especially when talking about the subjects in/of nature. Long term experience with the light and nature extremely varied environment and the “details” within we have subconscious, deeply rooted (a priori biased) assumptions about. Then, one will inevitably get into scenarios, and will get there often, when he is deciding where to move the slider and how to balance a particular tool application within the virtual frame of his vision or the way he approaches the photography (philosophy). It can be, however, a vision of beauty and a message (photography) far beyond a pretty picture with cloned in clouds. It’s remarkably consistent in progress and results and its reflecting value gains its overall value accordingly. Which here is the ultimate goal. But not an easy execution. In fact it’s the one that is most difficult and quite rare.
Bringing out the image in this way is far from a boring copy work. It has always a unique personal imprint imbedded in it for various reasons which is impossible to copy exactly by others. Not to mention the composition, framing and the unique choice of subjects. But it has also uniquely (seems to be true) high value relative to the reality perceived with our senses physically, semi-physically and beyond. No matter whether that value is widely recognized or not. It is there. Did I say something about abundance of certain things yet they being so scarce? Somewhere in that area ‘things’ don’t wait to be recognized. They already are, on their own.
No wonder my wife sees a painter in me when I am processing. Indeed, the sliders are my brushes. I handle them that way and a strange chill runs over my spine – I am not home at that point (NX2 and Lightroom 4 which I for the first time prefer to the PS). The unique (observing) experience and view with the camera in hands (unique to many I presume) and the experience of processing to help the camera to get it on ‘the’ exact spot is for me roughly equal. Each has got something different and brings in a different, in its own way significant, element. I can’t decide which is above the other and there is no real need for it either as they complement each other in perfection. So the true about that ‘home’ will be more with both parts together as a sort of extension that goes above both but needs them together at the same time to exist and happen. In other words, making an image at the spot and processing it is bringing me same value experience at either side. Once together, when the processing is added, the whole experience comes alive and is complete in the best sense of this word.
There is a reason why I don’t discuss these matters and approaches. I just don’t see it's needed. As I can acknowledge a wide variety of photography executions, expressions and styles I don’t think anyone else needs it (me discussing it). This is one of the things that come themselves. Photographer’s or any artist’s perception is more intuitive and too original for more definite outside interventions. It grows its own way for its exact purpose and concrete satisfaction which makes it a little fragile in a way.
That said, you can give this little significative post to your daughter to read. I find her initial questions hinting an interest just in that direction. Young people are initially often led by intuition more than by intellect. And what of these two is further from the Reality or Stupidity brings me back at the beginning of my exception post. Where we should hold back I suppose.