There have been a number of high profile cases recently about digital manipulation [just search for digital manipulation in our search bar at top right] and how they were considered to be “cheating.”
But, come to think of it, every digital picture is manipulated to some extent — whether in camera by the camera’s own firmware or by the photographer in post-editing in an image editing software.
For example, when you use the HDR function in your digital camera, it takes two or three pictures at different exposures, combine them in-camera and output one picture. This is digital manipulation, but it is not cheating. Your camera has simply used a technique manually applied by photographers throughout time immemorial, whether using digital or film. Film photographers would “dodge” and “burn” to apply less and more exposure to certain areas of a print to coax out the hidden details already captured on film. Likewise, digital editing to bring out what the camera has captured is I believe appropriate and even necessary.
In fact, that is often what sets the professional and the amateur apart. Beginner photographers who wonder why their expensive DSLRs do not take as good pictures as the same camera in the hands of a pro are missing the fact that digital editing is part and parcel of the digital image creation.
This is what Mark Schacter over at Luminous Landscape explains so clearly in his article “Am I a Photographic Cheat?”