Blogger\Photographer says: I don’t know about you, but if I could only use one tool in photoshop for the rest of my life, it would be Curves. It can do so much! Not only can it lighten up your images, but it can make your colors and contrast pop by making an S curve. To do that, just add a second point in the curves window, and drag it down a bit. This is pictured here.
Photoshop help Don't get caught up in purchasing a zillion actions. It can all be done in plugins like Nik Filters and Topaz filters with much more flexibility. Actions take a while to run, the filters are faster.