The allure of a great night shot is undeniable. The stark and dramatic appearance of night photography lends an air of the extraordinary to what would normally be everyday places and events. However, because digital cameras have certain requirements that don't always meet up with traditional photography, it is important to work intelligently within your limitations to produce first rate photographs.
Many people often simply make the mistake of using a flash or using it improperly. If you are going to use a flash at all, it should be an external flash unit, not the one installed on your camera. The lighting results from a direct flash are always artificial looking. Instead, you should rely on a longer exposure time so that you are able to capture the ambient light in the scene. Remember that this exposure time will be several seconds in low light conditions, so if you are photographing a living subject, they will need to remain still during the full length of the exposure.
Control shots are another vital part of the digital photography process at night. A control shot is a duplicate shot of a scene but with the lens cap in place. This allows you to detect which part of the shot suffers from inferior pixel quality, a universal concern with digital photography. With the control shot, however, you can compare the actual photograph and make adjustments through a photo editing program. Once the perfections are cleaned up, you can have a stunning result.
Experimenting with the aperture size is another way to fine tune your results. Controlling the aperture is one way to avoid overexposure with longer shutter speeds. It is best to think of the aperture and shutter speed as two parts of an equation that may require some tinkering before you arrive at your desired result.
As with most aspects of photography, achieving excellent night shots is largely a process of trial and error. With a willingness to learn as you go, you will soon realize the vast capacity for beautiful images just a click away.