Build your image corrections, step by step, using layers
Layers provide the best way of isolating and controlling an image in Photoshop or any other image-processing program. Using layers effectively requires some practice, as does any craft. With use, plus trial-and-error experimentation, you'll understand how to coax great work from an original image file through the use of layers.
That said, it can take a lot of experimentation before learning everything you might need to know to best work your images. Reading specific articles and books on how layers are used can also help provide insight and ideas on what to use on your own photographs.
The image seen in this article was used for the cover of Plane & Pilot Magazine, also published by our company. The folks here received an image from the fine aviation photographer, Rich Cox, with a great composition and angle to the plane, but the color and tonality just didn't have much life, so they asked me for help. You can see this shot in the "before" picture.
This shot required a bit of work to bring it to a natural and accurate interpretation of the scene, so it's a good example to use for Photoshop work. The steps of the process follow a good workflow from beginning to end. The overall work done on this image is complex, but if you take it one step at a time, one layer at a time, it becomes understandable. I'm a big believer in making Photoshop adjustments literally one isolated step at a time. If you try to control several effects at once, invariably, one will get messed up and force all of them to be redone. I want to preface with a brief un-PC statement. The "before" photo is in no way an accurate reflection of what was seen by the eye. The politically correct, pseudojournalistic position is that only the image coming directly from the camera is the truthful, accurate interpretation of the scene. Anyone who says that has no clue about how technology really works—it's a tool to serve us, not the other way around. In many photos, such as this one, Photoshop must be used to bring the image closer to the real world as we see it.