Centuries ago, portrait painters used to take months to create a commissioned portrait. Meticulously perfecting each detail with fine brushes.
“The past”, you may think. But photographers do essentially the same up to this day. When you ask me to make a portrait, you can expect some considerable time spent on it. Shooting, and also finishing. That’s why portraits cost some money: see my prices for prints, for example.
Some of the edits are very small. Take this self-portrait of a few days ago, in Nevada:
And look at this later version:
That second version is almost done. Look, the line in the concrete: gone. Some of the details in the background house: gone. If you were to look closely you would see many more very small changes; some shadows on my face; the odd piece of dirt on the ground; basically, things that do not belong in the image and could detract from attention on the subject.
These are the kind of changes that really do matter, if you make a large print and you want something good. Remember: Everything in a photo needs to be relevant, or it should not be in it. What applied in the 1600s applies equally today.
I am not saying every photo needs to be photoshopped for hours. What I am saying, though, is that in commercial or art photos and portraits, changes are OK, and often make the image better. Many things can be done while shooting; some cannot, and those can be edited afterward.
And of course I did all my changes in Adobe Lightroom, not Photoshop.