I've seen a few people use it as a last step or second to last step. When working in photoshop, do you think its cheating to put a picture in any of the "autos"? I mean, sure, its a great learning tool to see how the computer reacts to your work (wow, I didn't realize everything was so orange!). But it does sorta feel like its a one-click "omg its fantastic!" button.
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i wouldn't really auto it because its never the best for the mood you're going for (well, almost never the best), but always put it through levels and color balance etc. especially if its for illustration/commercial work. do you want the product to look worse just because you think its "cheating"?
Auto is not really a good solution IMO. I mean, sure if you like what you see when you're finished then that's fine.... I guess. But as you probably know, Auto just makes your brightest colours, to white, and your darkest colours to black. In general in *any* painting, you want a pretty huge contrast range to give the sense of depth. It simply looks better because things are more defined once you put it through the levels, assuming you didn't already have black and white as your most extreme values. This also means it kind of does terror to any kind of color mood or atmosphere you might've had before.
I really was going for the orangy look here, so autolevels makes the figures pop out more, but ruins the color effect. So I guess I would say....use it with caution, but I've found more often than not it totally screws up what I was going for.