If we take photographs that are blurred and out of focus in any way they are really worthless. The human eye immediately notices (and dismisses?) anything that is not in focus.
Modern digital cameras come with really excellent auto-focus systems built in to try and make this as easy as possible. Remember, however, that your camera is not magic! Just a little bit of help from the photographer can make a world of difference!
Remember it is always a good idea to pause for a split second when you have half pressed the shutter button to give your camera a chance to do its job of focussing properly.
With compact cameras there are really two auto-focus methods that could concern us -
Firstly there is the 'infra-red bounce' or 'Active' method where your camera emits a red beam to measure the distance to the subject. If you have one of these do not put your finger over the beam light when taking a picture - you will not get any focus!
Then we have the 'contrast measurement' or 'Passive' method. In this a special sensor measures at which point the lens produces an image with the highest level of contrasting pixels - best focus. The camera needs something with contrast so if your camera struggles to focus try turning it on its side or look for something with more contrast which the camera can recognize.
Modern cameras are amazing - many of them now come with 'image stabilization' a really intriguing invention that helps to prevent the camera shake which can give you a blurred picture.
This is really useful but it is not magic! You still have to help your camera by holding it as steady as possible - how many people do you see taking pictures holding the camera with one hand? It looks cool and casual but does not lead to good, sharp pictures. The only time you should take a picture with the camera in one hand is when you need the other hand/arm to hang on, to stop yourself falling off a cliff.
At the best of times the human body is not a great camera stand - it moves too much but, if we hold the camera with two hands and, where possible, anchor our elbows against the body, it can do a pretty good job.
Practice holding the camera as steady as possible (it also helps you to think about the picture you are taking) and you will get better pictures.
When the light starts to fade you have a new challenge as your exposure times can get too long to hand hold your camera. The best solution is a tripod but resting your camera on a wall or a rock can work just as well. Just be sure that it is stable!
'Keep it Steady' should be the constant refrain in your mind when taking photographs and you will be impressed at how the quality of your images improves!