A friend recently sent me a quote from another Astro photographer that said, "astrophotography is 10% data capture and 90% processing". As I have travelled along this learning journey, I have found this to be generally true. Recently, I have been realizing that there are two different aspects to the processing part of this. I would call them the technical part and the artistic part. The technical part is knowing how to do image calibration and integration, how to do a stretch and so on. Basically, it is how to use the software. While I would in no way claim that I fully understand PI, I think I am finding that at the moment I am more limited by the artistic aspect.
I believe it was Stephen Covey who said that highly successful people "Begin with the end in mind". My terrestrial image processing got a lot better once I was able to visualize the final image, and then process the pixels to look like that vision. It got better yet, when I started to visualize the final image while composing through the viewfinder, then married the capture process and the post-processing to achieve that vision. With terrestrial photography, we have the considerable advantage that we can see the subject while we are imaging it.
With astrophotography, we don't have the benefit of seeing the object that we are capturing. (Except perhaps through a glass dimly). Without knowing what my final image "should" look like, I find myself struggling with decisions such as how much colour saturation to apply, how dark to make the sky, how much contrast to apply and so on. I also find it difficult deciding when it is time to call an image finished and stop tweaking it - I have a few images where my subfolder contains 4 or 5 "final" versions. I've attached 2 examples.
Surely, I am not alone in this. When I look at the same object in Astrobin and elsewhere, I see hundreds of different versions of any given target. How does one establish a "vision" for the final image? Is it a matter of doing this long enough that you develop your own style?