Taking pictures at night brings a whole new set of challenges and opportunities to the photographer.The use of seriously long shutter speeds, artificial lighting and even the danger of night time expeditions are key motivators that send me out at night with a camera.
However, when it all goes to plan, the results can be very rewarding.
Firstly it must be pointed out that many 'night photographs' are actually taken in the hour between sunset and total darkness or just before dawn, as the sky still has some colour at this time which often looks more dramatic than when it is fully black.
So remember, waiting till it is totally dark isn't necessarily the best thing to actually do 'night shots'.
Wether at dawn, dusk or in the deep of the night, you really will need a tripod. Long exposures require the camera to be kept perfectly still. Obviously you cannot then hand hold the camera for night photographs.
You need to make sure that your digital camera has a full Manual mode allowing you to set very slow shutter speeds.
However, getting the balance right is a case of trial and error. For every perfect shot, count on about 20 like this where the highlights are blown out
or like this where the whole thing is too dark.
Bracket your exposures! This is the process of purposely taking under exposed and overexposed shots in addition to the regular shots. The prime reason is simply to be sure you can get a good exposure from a hard to meter subject or environments such as late at night. In addition there are electronic darkroom techniques for combining overexposed and underexposed areas of diffeent shots together to improve the overall final shot.
Photographing the moon
Of course, you could always look up and take a look a the the moon. More often than not, being essentially a bright light on a dark background it will defeat your first efforts.
The clouds are great, but the mistake in this photo was to assume the moon is dark. It is a very bright object so setting a camera for darkness will result in an overexposed image.
Using a telephoto lens around 400mm, To photograph the full moon in detail, set your camera to 1/250th of a second with a small f-stop and an ISO of 100 and see what comes out. You won't need a tripod at these speeds. The shot below is far worse than you should be able to achieve on a good night.