Finally, being a local, you can feel free to pick my brain if you ever see me shooting around YVR, and I'd be glad to help.
A starting piece of advice - grain, sharpness, contrast (and most quality issues in general) are best addressed before you even get to the editing stage. If your images are high quality straight from the camera, you should only need a minimal amount of editing.
It might be worth you posting an example here so we can give you some pointers, maybe an original and one you've edited so we can point you in the right direction. By all means contact me through my profile if you'd like me to go through my workflow with you step by step.
Equipment: 2x Canon EOS 50D; Sigma 10-20 EX DC HSM, 50-500 EX APO DG, Canon 24-105 f/4 L, Speedlite 430EX
topgun3 From Canada, joined Aug 2005, 224 posts, RR: 0 Reply 5, posted (6 months 1 week 5 days 9 hours ago) and read 3345 times:
Presuming your photos are of good quality to start with (no blur, no heat haze, no overexposure) it is just a matter of learning how to use PS. If you know anyone who already gets photos accepted on A.net, I would suggest you ask them to show you how they do things....learning how to fix photos from manuals is very hard. There is a lot of art involved, not just science.
Most important thing is to know what you want to achieve with a picture before you even get started. Also, be realistic. Don't try to fix photos that are too tricky to get right (like shots on cloudy days). Concentrate on getting some easy ones first....like well lit, sunny days.
As far as PS....learn how to use layers. I wasted a lot of time on fixing photos till I learned how to take advantage of layers. Another very useful tool is the Viveza plug-in. It does wonders for bringing out detail in shadowy areas (helps avoid "dark" rejections)