Is a photo any more than just an array of colored pixels?
No. Quite literally, this is what a photo is. A big box with lots of little-colored boxes inside otherwise known as pixels. Without going into the mechanics of how these little pixels end up being a color, we will just mention a few properties of the image.
Consider this scenario. We have been out, taken our glorious once in a lifetime photo and, on our memory card in our camera we have our photo safely stored away ready for viewing when we get home. Now, excluding certain parts of the software in a camera, we quite literally have lots of little pixels that have saved a moment of time as a color, and when we open this image in a program like Photoshop, all these little fellas get put on the screen in the correct places so we can see our photo in all its glory.
The camera, no matter how much money it costs, still does not do any more than capturing an instance in time and saving it as an array of pixels. I read a great story about a journalist who kept his first ever camera and used it for many years as a professional photographer. The camera was a Canon EOS 450d. He only stopped using this camera when it completely packed up and went to camera heaven.
Lets now add two components of a photograph, saturation and contrast.
Saturation: Quite literally the intensity of the colors. No saturation will give us a monochrome image.
Contrast: The difference between the light and dark pixels. With very low contrast an image would seem pale and bland with not a lot of detail.
Both the saturation and contrast are controlled by software in the camera, this is where the value of a camera can creep in. Higher-end cameras can have better sensitivity to these which might require less post-processing. I tend to keep my contrast and saturation set at 0 as I prefer to do the altering these in Photoshop. This enables me to set more precisely how I want the final image to look.
With this all in mind, what we have at first is an array of pixels, and next to these pixels are more pixels. The saturation increases or decreases the intensity of color in a single pixel but the contrast, on the other hand, requires pixels around the individual pixel to compare to, so that a change in contrast happens.
The camera does the work of collecting and saving this data but that does not mean the colors and levels are correct. Putting the photo into an editor and bringing out those colors or altering the contrast can turn a good picture into an amazing photograph.