As I've moved to new (to me) software, I'm working to find the best workflow. The other sticky wicket is if I'm using stacking instead of HDR, I need to introduce some form of color to enhance the RAW images. I don't want to stray from HDR - but it doesn't work so well with stacking.
Through working the photos of the DMRRC I've had plenty of time to try, delete and try again different paths from RAW image to publish. About the only goal was to not retreat to Elements.
On the real positive side, I've watched hours of YouTube instructional videos. Every package of software I use has multiple authors of videos, from software company sponsored productions to amateurs with interesting tips and tricks. I have learned so much - and a lot I can't remember but have plenty of links for review.
What I've worked to is a two step process. The first step takes the RAW images and either stacks them or follows a image merge for HDR with a default setting. The second step takes that output and manipulates in a way I like.
If I'm doing HDR, I'm still working with Photomatix. I continue to think Photomatix does the best job with the HDR merge. At this stage I'm looking to mostly set the color. There will be a little HDR tone effect and that's OK. At the end of this process all I'm trying to do is get a good tone mapped file. The final file is a loss-less TIFF file.
If I'm doing a photo stack, I'm using Lightroom to add the photos as layers into Photoshop. Lightroom is part of the software packing I'm using and this is Adobe's method for adding the photos into Photoshop as layers. Once the photos have been added to Photoshop, the layers are aligned then merged/stacked. Again, the final output file is a loss-less TIFF file.
From here, if there is any masking work to be done, I'll use On One. I find their masking processes to be easy than Photoshop.
Once I have the photo from the first steps, I'm now comfortable with Photoshop. In most cases, I take the photo and create a smart layer. In this smart layer I'll do any camera corrections first followed by the Camera Raw filter. In this step, I'll really work on the lighting and balances. To finish, I'll add an effects layer to the smart layer. I'm really liking the Nik HDR filters as a starting point. if that hasn't worked, I'll use Photomatix.
Generally I don't do a lot of sharpening, if I do the Effects part right, it is not necessary.
My web presentation size is usually 5x7 at 150 PPI. I usually save the JPG at around 60%.