With regard to the use of digital post-capture modification/manipulation in nature photography I am not a purist and believe it to be another tool for the nature photographer to use. However, at this time (Jan 2011), I confess I am still unsure as to where I - and nature photographers in general - should draw the line when it comes to using such a powerful and controversial tool, particularly actual 'digital manipulation' (moving/removing/adding elements to an image), especially in the case of resultant images that look like 'straight shots' (that is, as shot by the camera at the time of capture) and are purported to show an actual occurrence in nature. Certainly, when a 'straight-looking' nature image has been produced with parts of the image moved/removed/added then I think this should be stated and made clear to the viewer (in a similar way to images depicting wild/controlled animals).
I come from the 'old school' of nature photography using transparency (slide) film where pretty much 'what you saw is what you got' and about the only control over how the resulting image looked was at the shooting stage via use of filters or specific photographic techniques (e.g.blur) - here, not only was the film relatively slow (ISO 200 at most for best quality results) compared to the sensitivity of modern digital cameras but it also had a quite narrow exposure latitude and dynamic range, so it was vital to get the exposure just right for the particular conditions at the time of shooting, as little adjustment could be made later - post-capture techniques were basically limited to mounting the slide in either a card mount or a plastic mount !
It is the in the nature (excuse pun) of digital photography that the captured image usually requires (or certainly usually benefits from) some post-capture processing to some degree, such as adjustment of brightness, contrast, colour balance, colour saturation - the only 'mouse-on' treatment generally needed is the removal of the (inevitable and hated) blurry spots of dust that may have settled on the sensor. Now, much more can be done to an image to amend deficiencies at the time of shooting or to 'improve' the look and composition of the image - not such a problem where the use of such techniques (for effect) is quite obvious, but how far should this be taken with 'straight-looking' photographs of nature?
The following selection of my nature images are just a few of my recent first attempts at digital treatment involving more than just the normal everyday brightness/contrast/colour adjustments and have certainly been improved by such post-capture work, and I include an explanation of what I have done and why. Even for the images involving significant moving/removing/adding of elements I feel that these post-capture 'digital improvements' are valid under the circumstances and that the resultant image can still be deemed to be a 'true' nature photograph - others may think otherwise ! - and I post the images here for others to see and judge for themselves, and I invite comments, discussion and reasonable debate.
I shall try to post other examples if and when I get round to doing any. Finally, I should add that I am in no way an expert in these digital post-production techniques !