Workflow: The Digital Darkroom
Before digital photography came of age, photographs had to go through the darkroom. Like cars on a conveyor belt, each image had to go through a series of steps, all the way through the development and printing process. Digital photography doesn't require a darkroom, but it does help to keep that conveyor belt in mind, and run each picture through the same process, or Workflow.
Everyone develops a workflow that's best for them, and a process that makes perfect sense to one photographer will be hopelessly confusing to another one.
First, the pictures have to be transferred from the camera. Most cameras have an Upload feature, where the camera is plugged directly into the computer. Plugging the chip into a chip reader also works well. Archive off a master collection, so that you don't overwrite the original with the edited version.
Second, filter the collection. Delete the accidental shot of the photographer's knee and the portrait where the baby crawled out of the frame.
Next, make the edits that will apply to the entire image. Color balance, contrast, brightness, and cropping, for example. If you're working with RAW images, you have a lot more control at this stage.
Once the large adjustments are made, it's time to focus on the smaller ones. Are there areas of the picture that could use cloning (like painting away the electrical wires passing through the subject's head)? Would a little bit of background blur make the subject stand out better?
When you're satisfied with all of the large and small scale edits, it's time for one final sharpening step, like using Unsharp Mask. Multiple sharpening steps will make a picture look terrible, so only do it once. Save the edited and sharpened version under it's own name, and then save a JPG compressed copy for emailing and web work.