IrfanView In Use
While tools like Photoshop and Topaz are very capable programs, because of the number of images I could be processing at any one time, I always look for simple quick tools that can do most the heavy lifting.
My favorite is a free program called IrfanView (http://cnet.co/wrue83). It downloads from third party sites (my link is to download.com by CNet) but they do have their own website (http://www.irfanview.net/).
It is best to download the program and also the plug-ins package (separate item), especially for support with RAW files.
It is free and installs easily. It has been around for a long time and is highly recommended. I use it for navigation as well as initial processing. Although it has a lot of capabilities, it is easy to learn. Start with one skill and once mastered, you try another.
So, what is post-processing, and does it have value? Here are two images. The first is a raw, straight from the camera, picture. The second one has had the contrast adjusted.
As you can see, the horse starts to ‘pop out’. Further adjust gamma and color saturation and you get this…
All of these are the same image but the last one is closest to what I saw when I shot the picture. That should be the goal in all post-processing. To finish with a composition that makes you feel the same way you did when you decided the subject in front of you could be a good photo.
All of these adjustments were made with IrfanView.
I opened the image in the program and in the menu bar selected Image >> Color Corrections…
This opened up the adjustment panel
In the lower right section I set Contrast to 45, Gamma to 1.12, and Saturation to 150.
[Contrast is the difference between light and dark (where they meet).]
[Gamma is basically how bright the image is.]
[Saturation is brightness of color.]
IrfanView can do much more including crop, crop to a ratio, sharpen, blur, change resolution (use 96 dpi for images to be shown on a monitor, 240 dpi if it will be printed), and much more. It also has a decent batch processor to convert and/or rename files quickly.
All-in-all, this is how I start. Either I publish as is, continue tweaking with Photoshop, or use the image to preview things I might want to do with more capable graphics software.
In whatever you do, good luck and keep shooting!