Note that no post processing has been applied to the photos in this, or the previous post.*
So, what can you do, right now, to improve your images in your "crappy" point & shoot camera? (my p&s is a Canon Powershot SX100IS. I don't care for it, so don't take this as a recommendation.
If you are indoors, USE A TRIPOD. If your lighting is low, USE A TRIPOD. If the little numbers on the back of your camera say that your shutter speed** is any lower than 1/100th, USE A TRIPOD!!! Why, you say, 1/100th? You say that you can get a clear shot all the way down to 1/30th, and you have image stabilizer (vibration reduction, etc) on your camera, so why 1/100th? Because now we are going to use the zoom to improve your shot. When you zoom in, it gets more difficult to get a clear shot at slower shutter speeds.
Most of your digital p&s cameras have a zoom, some of you have "super" zooms, that offer 10x the optical zoom in. (Beware of using the "digital zoom" portion of your focal length, it wrecks the image quality. If you can, turn it off in your settings so you never even accidentally use it. Yeah it will reduce your "reach" but it will improve your images.)
Next: back up, way up. You are not far enough yet. A little more. There. Right there. Yes, your teapot is now tiny and your shot is fubar. Don't worry, we'll fix it.
Yes, that IS a wee little teapot.
Now, zoom in. Zoom in all the way to the end of your OPTICAL zoom. Do not, repeat, DO NOT use the digital zoom. Your camera should tell you if you are in optical or digital. If your lens is all the way extended, but you are still zooming in, that is digital.
Are you zoomed in?
Is your camera attached to a tripod? Good, now set your camera on timer mode so you don't have to touch it while the shot is firing. This means that even if the light is low, and your camera has to record the image very slowly, you can't mess it up with your shaky hands or shifting your weight. This also means that your camera can work as slowly as it needs, to get decent lighting.
The image below was captured at 0.6 second shutter speed. That is SLOW, I don't care what anyone says, you can't hold the camera rock still at 0.6 with your hands. I used a tripod and a timer.
The zooming in makes the background begin to blur out. Nice.
Same setup, but the camera is close to the object, no zoom, no nice blur.
Picture #3 makes me a sad panda, because now I think I need a $1k camera to get some nice blur.
$150 camera + tripod + timer + zoom in = nice
*A word about post processing: Some people feel that post processing tools like photoshop or lightroom or picnik is "cheating." They claim that the photo "greats" were shooting on film, where what they shot was what you got. This is not exactly true. Part of what made Ansel Adams great*** is that once he got in the darkroom he didn't just make a plain old print off that negative. His developing was as skilled as the composition of the original image. Using an editing tool in digital is not much different from using darkroom techniques to enhance contrast, burn and dodge (darken and lighten selectively,) retouching, or forming composites.
**shutter speed, for the beginners, is how fast your camera takes a picture. 1/100th means .01 seconds. If you are photographing a running child, you can freeze their movement (IOW, their feet, hands and faces won't be blurry,) at somewhere between 1/125th of a second and 1/250th of a second. At that shutter speed, neither your own movements or the movements of the moving child will register because the camera will record the image too quickly. When you are shooting something that is perfectly still, your shutter speed still has to be fast enough that it won't record movement from your hands shaking, or your body swaying.
***This comment should in no way be construed as a comparison of my "skills" to Ansel Adams'.