There are a lot of people that judge photos for being "edited" in a way that enhances it or alters the original in some way. I will preface the rest of this post by saying I do not alter my landscapes beyond recognition or alter the original scene beyond what I saw and was able to capture in the camera. I do use photoshop on some occasions, but it is really only to do be more focused on certain areas I want to add contrast to, darken/lighten, sharpen, or clone out small distractions like dust that was on my sensor.
A little fact is that photos have been edited in some way since the start of photography. Negatives of film were edited in the darkroom by a lab technician. Legendary landscape artist Ansel Adams used a red filter to darken his skis and went crazy in the darkroom editing his images to what his vision was. What RAW files are is direct and easy access to our files as photographers in the digital darkroom.
Now, this is the comparison I was talking about between a finalized image ready for print and an image straight out of my camera as to what I have to work with.
These images are the exact same in different stages of completion. It changes a lot from start to finish, and I would like to explain why. A RAW image captures the full data recorded by the sensor of the camera with minimal compression. These RAW files I captured were at 14-bit which is better than most cameras that do RAW files at 12-bit. Still a RAW file holds far more information than a compressed jpeg as they are usually 10x the size allowing there to still be detail and color in areas that would otherwise be overexposed or underexposed.
What I am talking about here when a RAW file records more data I am talking mostly about the dynamic range of a scene. A jpeg would have made the shadows and highlights unrecoverable in the image above, but since I shot it in RAW I was able to bring them back.
One thing that is really tough about RAW files is that they add absolutely no color. The jpegs you get out of any camera will judge a scene and add in the saturation and vibrance automatically, and you will also be stuck with your white balance setting the camera was set to whether it was correct or not. Color management is one of the biggest challenges in photography and RAW files allow editing to bring back the colors to what you saw, envisioned, or desire to best tell the story you are trying to in the image.
The main idea here is, and the point I am communicating is that if you really want to tell a story through your own voice and style in photography, editing is a part of the steps to doing just that. I have my own style, vision, and story I am trying to communicate in my landscapes. I like to show off the power and dynamics of certain scenes that I envisioned like the one from Sailorville Lake, IA I used as an example in this post. What I saw or remembered from a scene, location, or subject is what I edit for, and I really enjoy the process!
P.S. I am in the process of moving across the country, and will be unavailable in the Iowa area. I am still able to ship landscape art prints across the country. More updates will be coming soon!