Wildlife photography is a very popular subject, and there is no reason why those of you with a compact camera can't take great shots, too.
The downside of a compact is that it just won't have enough zoom to get near animals in the wild. If you want to shoot animals out in the field, you will need to invest in a DSLR and a telephoto zoom lens to get in really close to the animals.
Zoo/ Wildlife Centre
Your best chance of getting some really good close up images of wildlife and other exotic animals will be to visit a zoo or a wildlife centre. Even though you often have bars and glass in the way, there are ways you can shoot your images so they don't spoil your shot.
Move as close as possible to the fence and position the camera so the lens is pointing through one of the gaps or, when the fence has small gaps, make sure that the face of the animal you're photographing is in a gap. If you can't shoot through or throw the fence out of focus you can often clone it out later using an image editing program.
When working with glass, press the camera against the glass to minimse reflections, shielding your camera with your hand above or to the side of it will help prevent reflections spoiling your shot too. Pay attention to greasy smudges too as these can make your shot appear a little soft.
With some enclosures the fence around the edge is low enough for you to lift your camera above. Some cameras have screens that can tilt so it's easier to see the screen when you have your hands in the air, although this is a feature most often found on DSLRs. A smaller, more pocketable advanced camera that has a display that can be tilted is the new Olympus PEN E-PL5. The 3-inch LCD display on the E-PL5 has a tilt mechanism that rotates 170 degrees.
Having a garden safari is a great way to capture shots of wildlife without having to venture very far. During the summer insects such as butterflies and bees make interesting subjects and a magnifying glass will help you see the tiniest of critters. At this time of year, garden birds are probably who'll be visiting your garden the most. Although, you do tend to need a lot of reach to create frame-filling shots so you're probably better heading out with a DSLR if you want to try your hand at bird photography. You could also capture a few shots of your neighbours' cat if they like to take a walk across your lawn.
Talking of pets, most cameras come with a pet mode that will take a shot the moment your pet's face is detected. Some even disable shutter / button sounds so noises won't distract them.
For active shots, try using the Sports mode as it's designed to capture moving objects and will increase your chances of capturing a sharp shot. You should also have a go at panning to keep your pet in-frame or pre-focus on one spot where you know they will run through.
Despite the small size of your camera, a tripod can still help you get your horizons straight and more importantly, get rid of image blur through shake. Often, you'll have to be lightning fast to get a good shot of fast moving wildlife, and using a tripod can make panning easier and smoother.
Most compacts now have a 10x optical zoom or more. A long zoom will be essential for capturing frame-filling, close up images, as you don't want to scare the animal by getting too close to it. This is where a tripod will come in handy to stabilize the camera because the more you zoom in, the more camera shake is magnified.