Just to be perfectly clear: as much as I often resort to aggressive post-processing, I do not, and I repeat, I do not engage, nor condone significant cloning in or out of natural landscapes.
Nothing in this image has been "removed, cleaned, polished," no natural imperfections were "improved," no "errant branches" removed.
That is my way of sticking to the "truth" in photography, whatever that might be.
What was "improved" was not "natural imperfections" but rather sensor imperfections/limitations. Was that cloud really that white or was it sensor's idea of a correct white balance. Were those trees indeed so black/dark in nature, or was it sensor's/camera's preview inability to record simultaneously highlights and shadows properly? Was the sky that muted blue, or was it sensor's attempt to both white balance it and keep everything else in the capture "happy," by compressing excessive highlights and shadows, with mid-tones sometimes suffering as well?
Did I just correct for sensor's deficiencies, or did I go a step (or two) further to satisfy my own "deficiencies," my own idea of how I would like to remember the Devil's Tower? Perhaps.
I want to acknowledge you right now for actually having the concern (or interest) to even make this post. For that, in spite of anything else that has transpired, I say, good on you.
I said in my critique that it APPEARED things were removed, polished and so on. It's a way of describing what the image is saying to me. This is a critique, not a fan club. I must offer some analysis of how it doesn't work, in order for it to mean something. The image doesn't convey much about nature or mountains to me. Sorry, it is too obviously perfect and subtracted from its environment. It is four areas colored in prettily. I used the analogy previously of the painted up fashion model. They don't demonstrate anything to me about women, because all they are is paint. If this analogy honestly doesn't work for you, then simply ignore all this and treat it as, what does Chris always say, "bullsh*t."
A photograph that moves me intellectually or emotionally has to convey some information beyond the color and shape of a few masses. I'll use the analogy again: which moves people - a B&W portrait by Lange, or the average commercial fashion portrait for lipstick? Many people will say the latter, but for me it is the former. I am just one person here making my critique, so I make it about what I think photographs might be able to do. Others can make it about their values and so on. Isn't that the general idea?
Photographs which turn into just a graphic arts piece don't interest me much because graphics artists and painters do all that kind of idealization far better than photography does. Why bother with photography when you can do all that kind of work in Illustrator? Or with brush and paper? My opinion is that it isn't taking advantage of the powers that specifically make photography different (and better) than the plastic arts. Great - you disagree with that. Ok, we do not need to agree. But we should strive to understand each other.
And I ought to say, my objection is not simply the coloring and all that, it's that when you framed this photograph, your choice didn't really allow much room for anyone's imagination about mountains generally, or that one specifically. For me, it's a bit like photographing someone's nose. It isn't going to tell me much.