There is a good amount of riding it close to the photograph. The tools allow for it. And people naturally like realism. So they just combine.
Certainly doesn't mean it's the only or even the best way. But it allows many people a way to have a very satisfying experience, even with limited skills.
It often used to be considered that the ability to get a photographic look represented years of training and so on. That measure has changed with technology.
What has come forward is the ability to make satisfying images. They're picture makers. And at some point that gets better based on whatever their minds bring to the process.
And. . . there are a lot of people with no training who have gotten really really good and able to see as artists based on their experience working with photos, They hit the end point enough times that they are able to get there without simply manipulating photographs.
It's a new paradigm and path to the top of the mountain. Then it becomes a matter of what kind of images they put together, rather than a celebration of technical skill only. That's how I see it at least.
The bar has been raised.
On the other hand, many professional artists need to be able to do large volumes of work out of their head, like storyboard artists and concept artists and so on. And you can't substitute a technique that relies heavily on photography when you need that flexibility to just create out of your head.
Getting from 'my head' to 'your head' is where the game seems to be going -- but we have better bridges now.
"Not a bit is wasted and the best is yet to come. . ." -- remembered from a dream