Photo processing as an Analogy to Cooking
Read lots of recipes
Look at lots of photos in the genre you are working on. Look at the masters, look at the enthusiasts.
Make up your own recipe
Decide what you like and what you dislike. Evaluate what you have the skills or gear to reproduce and what you don’t. Learn by making substitutions and evaluating what happens.
Use the best ingredients
Get the image right in the field. Get a good exposure, framing, focus, interesting subject. Use the best gear that you can afford, but sometimes a toy camera can be just the right tool, just like sometimes Kraft Mac&Cheese is the perfect snack.
Taste as you go.
Post-process using your eyes, not predefined, downloaded plugins. Get feedback from others.