The first and most important step in painting is to begin with good shapes. But what does that exactly mean? Renowned painter Tony Couch has described artists as shape-makers He points out that every good shape has two different dimensions (ie not square or circular), has an oblique thrust or slant, and has incidents and/or interlocks at the edges. I would also add that their silhouette should suggest the object being represented.
I often paint from photos of NW beaches with their rocks and headlands and these forms often need changes to improve their configuration. Adding a dent or outcropping here and there might add interest to a too-smooth contour. Adding a diagonal in the composition promotes a feeling of movement, such as in the tilt of the rock downward and the slant of the beach drawing the eye upward toward the figure..
Strong value contrast between light and dark is the next most important step and requires some planning. In this case, I organized a 3-value pattern: light background, very dark middle area of rocks and figures, and mid-tone foreground. The focal area where the lightest light meets the darkest dark was at the center of interest which will always be people, animals, or man-made objects if any are in your picture.