I like to think of myself as a photography purist. Take a photo as "correctly" as possible and let it stand. Simple as that. But there are the occasional photos that need a little boost, or a little lightening, or a little this or a little that. In truth, a lot of my digital photos have a gray tinge to them (I still have a lot to learn), so I sometimes go back and clear them up.
I used to feel like it was cheating because, at the heart of it all, I think getting the best photo you can in the camera is worth more than any amount of Photoshopping or other digital manipulation. Knowing how to take a great photograph is an invaluable skill that can't be matched by throwing your photos into Photoshop, or Picnik or Pixlr. Ultimately, taking a great photograph will save time "fixing" it on the computer.
However. Photoshop is wicked cool. I downloaded some actions sets from the Pioneer Woman and started playing around. It's pretty addictive. So this photo, which makes my skin look really pink, became . . .
. . . this, the headshot I sent in to a new magazine I'm writing for. Better? I think so. It's got a bit of an old, film-y quality, no?
At any rate, I took a bunch of photos of Lily that otherwise would have turned out badly. I used the overhead light in the living room, which casts an unflattering, yellow light, then threw them in Photoshop, and added the black and white action and -- ta da! -- amazing photos.
Do I still think it's cheating to use Photoshop? Yes, a bit. These were not stellar photos to begin with, but now they look pretty darned good. I remember from my college photography class the ways you can manipulate a photograph in the darkroom. Using Photoshop or other programs is no different. There is no physical dodging of the edges by holding a piece of cardboard over parts of the exposure you want darkened, but there is a way to dodge a photo in Photoshop (see how the edges of these black and whites are just a bit darker?).
If I was really a photography purist, I would probably have my own darkroom. Photoshop seems like a reasonable alternative. I gather from all of this that average photos can certainly benefit from Photoshop, especially when it's as easy as clicking an "action" and letting the program do all the work.
So, go get some action sets and have some fun!