Since a RAW image contains a wider dynamic range than can be displayed directly on a screen or printed, I usually bring the highlights down and the shadows up so everything I captured is in the visible range. This usually looks terrible, though. So I will often adjust the levels or curves to my liking. The exact adjustments depend on the image. I may make it less or more contrasty. I may boost the mids if they're mushy.
Once I have the range of brightnesses distributed to my liking, I work on color changes. I might warm it up or cool it down. I might enhance the sky to make it more saturated or a little darker, etc.
The details differ, but the overall process is the same:
- Bring all the data you want to see into the visible range (none of the pixels you want blown out or too dark)
- Adjust the areas that are now in the visible range so the luminance looks good in all areas
- Adjust colors, do touch-ups, add stylizations