Crank that oven up!
The next three tips all share the same goal. They all have to do with how to get the most oven spring. By "oven spring" I mean the final, extra rise that happens in the first few minutes that a loaf is in the oven. Good oven spring can make the difference between mediocre and great bread.
When preheating my oven to bake French bread, I turn it up to the maximum temperature. On my oven, that is 550 degrees fahrenheit. Once all of my loaves are loaded into the oven I give them a minute or two and than turn it down, typically between 450 and 475 degrees fahrenheit. The additional temperature during the first few minutes helps compensate for the heat lost while loading the oven and creates a nice, hot environment that will maximize yeast activity.
I guess I should add here, ALWAYS preheat your oven while baking bread. Many other types of recipes tell you to preheat the oven solely so they can give you accurate directions on how long to bake for. But bread actually requires a hot oven to rise completely.
Continue on to Number 2: Use a Baking Stone.