For taking long exposures, such as night shots, as well as getting yourself in the picture using the self-timer, you need a tripod. You really don't need a professional one; something like the Joby Gorillapod will enable you to rest the camera on any surface and is great for taking on holiday.

If you treat your camera well, it will last you a long time, so a well-made camera pouch is also a necessity

8. Use manual settings and mode settings

While the automatic settings are great for most images you'll take, by using manual settings you'll get even better results. Depending on your camera, you may be able to put the camera into aperture priority or shutter priority mode, or maybe even full manual mode.

Shutter speed and aperture are linked, so a fast shutter will require a large aperture and vice versa. A large aperture will have a shallow depth of field, so is perfect for portraits, where it will throw the background out of focus. For shooting sports, you need a fast shutter speed to freeze the action.

The exception to this is where you want to pan with your subject, such as a racing car, and blur the background to convey a sense of movement. Slow shutter speeds can be used to great effect with water tumbling over rocks or surf breaking on a beach, and will give some very unusual effects.

If you want to take shots of objects lit up at night, you will need to use a long exposure time. Most cameras will not do this automatically, so you'll need to be able to set the shutter speed manually.

9. Image editing

Your camera may have come with some image editing software, but if not, Adobe Photoshop Elements or Corel Paint Shop Pro are good choices, costing around £60 (inc. VAT).

You only really need to learn a few basic tools, such as the Crop and Levels tools to adjust the light balance in your picture. Both packages have some good one-click photo fix tools, but if you take the time to learn a few basic techniques, you'll get better results.

If your camera saves JPEG images, do not edit these and save them as new JPEGs, as you'll lose all the detail, especially if you open and save them again. Instead, consider converting them to TIFF or RAW files where quality is not lost.

10. Maximise quality from the start

If you want the best images, you need to ensure you are taking them at the highest quality.

Set your camera to take pictures at the highest possible resolution, usually labelled as L or Large, and if there are extra quality settings, such as Fine or Superfine, then use these, too.

Compact digital cameras tend to use the JPEG picture format, but if your camera has the option to use RAW or TIFF, then use it, as these formats, unlike JPEG, are lossless, so you won't lose any picture information.

Avoid editing pictures on the camera, other than automatic red-eye removal, as the built-in tools are rarely as good as a proper image editing package.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

First published in What Laptop, Issue 120

Now read 10 top digital photo frames for all budgets

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sign up for the free weekly TechRadar newsletter
Get tech news delivered straight to your inbox. Register for the free TechRadar newsletter and stay on top of the week's biggest stories and product releases. Sign up at http://www.techradar.com/register

Follow TechRadar on Twitter