To process or not to process?

I’m confused. Is post-processing a photograph good or bad? Ethical or non-ethical? Does it take away from the essence of the photograph? From the original scene that the camera captured? Or does it add to it? Does this even matter – post-processing is bad either way, a photographer should try and get his/her best shot (composition, settings, everything) through the camera itself with no ‘touch-up’ required later?

Apparently most people into photography these days are doing it. The advent of digital cameras and post-processing software has made it so simple. I myself do use to crop photographs and convert them to B&W. Sometimes even to deepen the saturation of the colors or sharpen it a bit. But I haven’t gone beyond that – mainly due to sheer laziness to explore the software more than anything else 😀 I however see so many people posting ‘before-after’ shots showing what they achieve with processing. The difference is remarkable.

Perhaps there’s an ‘acceptable limit’ to how much processing you do? Who defines this acceptable? Is it the photographer’s prerogative? Does it really matter whether I processed a photograph or not, if the outcome ultimately pleases the viewer and he never knows about the original? Or does this amount to deceiving the viewer? I’m confused 😦