If you shoot in RAW, then you will nearly always want to give your images a little extra "punch" in processing, since these can tend to look a little flat straight out of camera. Nearly every image will benefit from a little love in processing, so here's 5 different ways you can add a little pop when processing.
1) Increase Vibrancy or Saturation
Both of these punch up the colors in your images, and a little can go a long way! If there are people in your images, opt to use vibrancy over saturation - this keeps the oranges and reds in check so that you don't get weird glowing skin! For landscapes or macro - or any images where you want the colours increased in all areas of you image - you can use the saturation tool and even go a little overboard if you don't have skin tones to worry about. For any images where you have areas or subjects in your image that you don't want too much saturation applied to, choose vibrance, as this does a much better job of balancing out the colours to add punch to. Please also make sure that before you do this you have the correct white balance - the image below needed warming up before adding saturation - check that your image isn't looking "muddy" because it's actually too cool.
2) Add Contrast & Clarity
Contrast simply makes your darks darker and your lights lighter. Making sure your image has good contrast will help give your image punch and is particularly good on black and white images. The amount of contrast to apply is personal taste, and there are many ways to to this depending on the program you are using, so I won't go into them in depth here! Try using the contrast slider or tone curve tool in Lightroom, or Curves or Levels in Photoshop - all of which will help you play with the lights and darks to add contrast. A subtle S-Curve like the one below can have a big impact.
The Clarity tool in Lightroom also adds a little mid-tone contrast, and is very useful for bringing out the textures and details in your images. However, beware of greying skin if you pull it too far.
3) Dodge & Burn
You can use these tools to gently darken some areas and lighten others (burn darkens, dodge lightens) This can help subtly mould your image and pull the viewers eye the way you want to. Generally speaking, use these to darken areas that you want the eye drawn away from, and and lighten areas of interest. You can also use this to subtly mould a person's face with light and shadow. Easy does it though! If you are using Lightroom, use the adjustment tool to do this, or if you are in Photoshop, you can read a step by step tutorial here.
4) Clone and Patch
I love the patch tool in Photoshop (sorry Element users, I don't think you get this!) but Clone works just as well. Cloning or patching out distractions can make sure that the viewers eye are drawn to your intended point of focus, thereby making sure that it is only your subject that grabs attention, and not that pole behind them :) If you only have Lightroom you can still remove unwanted elements by using the spot removal tool, although it's not as good as the tools in Photoshop for large changes.
- Noise & Luminance Sliders
If you have noise in your image and you are finding it distracting, then play with the sharpening and luminance sliders to remove unwanted grain, and regain clarity. If you are shooting RAW then a moderate amount of sharpening should also be applied in processing - and remember to sharpen for your intended output so your images look the best the can in print and on screen. If you find noise to be a regular problem, then check out this tutorial on reducing noise in camera, and also how to deal with it properly in post processing.