"The point is that the image had inherent drama
I found that the point is that every aspect of picture production from data acquisition to pre-press and publication details is important. Michael undermines his own statement regarding "the point" with the tale of his son, who "had taken an iPhone shot, which captured the image, but not the 'feeling' of what we saw
": that iPhone recording had the same inherent drama, but not the same effect when used to produce a picture. ("One day, son, you'll have a camera as big as Dad's.
As such, it is more than a bit disingenuous (imho, obviously and I mean disingenuous in the same way Michelangelo disingenuously claimed to have learned to carve from his wet-nurse) to dismiss shooting for exposure (ETTR), altering the exposure, then selectively altering the edge transitions and very-small-form luminances as "minimal
" processing. That what used to take 3 hours (per Michael) with matter now takes a few minutes with software (and a highly-trained eye and hand) does not make it "minimal", except perhaps in duration of effort. The same duration of effort, in other hands, with other equipment (light recorder) and tools (software) would not, and could not, produce the same result.
I see two things at play here. First is the fundamental prejudice among photographers that the picture is somehow "real" and that all they do is help guide it to an accurate rendering of what was present at the time of data recording. Pictures are illusions; photography is an art of illusion. Hundreds of thousands of person-hours of engineering have gone into creating machines that let us easily create these illusions. The ready availability of illusion-making does not make the illusion any more real than if it had been blown from iron-oxide dust onto a cave wall. I recognize (one should read that word slowly) my cat in pictures I have of her; she does not, and not because she is uncaring of my compulsion to make pictures.
Second is the age-old artist's ploy (cited above): "O shucks, it's nothing
". This persists because it works by inflating the artist and his/her works in the minds of the artist's public one might think of it as "the impenetrable opacity of genius", or, simply, magic. In a mercantile sphere this can be, with some reservations, recommended. But it is a poor posture for a teacher to take. All art is ... artificial. If dimensionally in cloud-forms is the artifice that you desire, then and Michael has both given and swept aside this advice make sure you record usable data in each pixel (don't "blow" any highlights), lower the luminance of the highest luminance pixels in the cloud-forms, and increase the edge contrast, and the mid-contrast as judged by the luminance range of the cloud-forms. That is artifice on artifice what might be admitted to be clambering towards high art.