Today, it is generally accepted that even the best images can benefit from a few basic enhancements with photo editing software.
The following are the steps I use on every photo: 1) Crop and level the horizon and correct the perspective. 2) Adjust the levels and find the white balance to boost contrast, brighten highlights and darken shadows. 3) Fine-tune saturation to make image colorful, being careful to prevent garish or noisy colors. 4) Sharpening can help all images, too much can cause digital noise.
Only after these steps are completed will I take the next step to refine the image and decide the best effects, in my opinion, to deal with the subject.
With today’s software, you can achieve amazing things. You can do everything from tweaking the contrast in an image to moving objects around and making your photo look like it was a painting. But there are also plenty of essential things that you can’t do. You can’t make an out-of-focus subject in focus. You can’t un-blur a moving subject that was blurred because the photographer used the wrong shutter speed.
Software has it’s place in photography and even professional photographers recognize most images need a little tweaking of saturation and contrast to bring them up to print quality.
In the end, software is no substitute for camera skills. It is great, perhaps even essential, to know how to work on a photo after it is captured. But that cannot take the place of learning how to use a camera, how to appreciate light and how to compose a great image.