An image does not just appear in front of your lens and you press the shutter button and there it is. Neither is it luck or pure chance. The perfect image starts long before you press the shutter. It starts when you are far away from the scene you are about to photograph. How to start that process and what route to take to the image is what I am going to help you discover on this exciting journey as you learn digital photography.What I discovered many years ago was that great images and those dramatically inspired photographs don’t just happen. If you were to speak to a National Geographic award winning photographer, you’d find out that there is a process that leads up to the outstanding image. Now I am not going to give you the keys to that type of image because I wasn’t part of the photographer’s process. I am going to give you some basic steps to get you moving towards your personal goal of that perfect image. Before we go on I need to make it clear that the perfect image for you is one that is in your mind and nobody else’s. So here are some tips to head you in the right direction.1. Define yourself as a photographerThis is really simple and not as difficult as the step sounds. Defining yourself as a photographer means discovering what you like to shoot and what genres you want focus on. This might be landscape, portrait or close-up and macro. If you don’t do this you’ll be a generalist and never focus on what really motivates you to take photos. As I said, the perfect image starts with a process and this is the first step.2. Learn to thinkOnce you know what you want to shoot and have an idea of what you really like it’s time to take a step back from the actually shooting and learn to think. Take time out to think about what the final result will be. Begin with the end in mind. If you love close-ups, is it that green tree frog with bright red eyes? Or, perhaps the bee on a bright red flower? Start to visualise what the final images should look like and what you need to do to get to that point. Where you need to go, at what time of day and what equipment you need to take with or plan to buy now or in the future. The perfect image comes from a lot of thought and planning.3. Take your timePerfect images can never be rushed. As the golfer who takes a lucky swing and gets a hole in one so are the chances of you getting the lucky shot. By taking your time to find the right location, set up equipment properly and thinking about the image you will increase your chances of that perfect shot. Passion and enthusiasm are sometimes hindrances to great photography because they induce haste and speed which are big negatives to the process.4. PlanThis is a key component to realising a great image. It includes finding the best location for a perfect photo, preparing your equipment, working out the technical aspects of the image and understanding what the best lighting and other weather conditions will be. Those who fail to plan, plan to fail. A good plan will increase your chances a hundredfold of shooting the photo of your dreams.5. ExperimentAlthough you have a plan and a series of steps you need to take to get the image in your mind’s eye, don’t be afraid to experiment. Make sure that you implement you plan carefully, this is number one. But be prepared to try out other ideas, angles and settings. You never know what will happen and a variation of your plan may just result in something dramatic and an image that is beyond your wildest dreams.6. Practise makes perfectIf at first you don’t succeed try and try again. Practise makes perfect is what the old adage says. If the plan doesn’t work out then try it again and again and again and vary it as I said when experimenting. You may get 70% of the plan right or even only 50%. Don’t give up but keep on trying because next time it will be 75% or even 90% percent right. As you go a long you’ll find yourself perfecting your techniques and repeating the successes more often. All this adds to the process and you will find yourself getting nearer and nearer to that perfect image.Once again, the perfect image is one that is in your mind and not someone else’s. Nobody can prescribe to you what that image should be. It may look like one in a travel magazine or on the cover of Nature magazine or National Geographic but it is still your image. Take the time, plan, experiment and practise until you reach that perfect goal in your photographic journey. As you learn digital photography you will learn something new every day so build on it and soon you will become an accomplished photographer. Happy shooting!