When your digital camera receives less light, it cannot absorb the surroundings as well in the resulting photographs. Some pictures may turn out too dark. Others can be too blurry. Your camera requires more time to absorb enough light to create an effective picture, so any shaking of the device will result in photographs lacking sharpness.
To compensate for the lack of lighting, here are several things you can do with most middle and high-end digital cameras to get the results you need.
You may think that professional photographers take a large amount of time to set up a shot, perform complex calculations, talk about all sorts of topics such as f-stops, shoot one photograph that accurately represents their interpretation of a particular scene, and then leave.
While most of this may be true, the last part - only taking one photo - is far from it. Many, if not most, professional photographers commonly take a multitude of shots for every subject! Traditional photographers can go through rolls and rolls of film on a single shoot, and digital photographers may use gigabytes of memory.
Professionals know that no matter how well everything has been factored in when setting up a shot, 'stuff happens'. It is better to take time shooting a particular subject ten times and get one outstanding photograph than to take one or two photos that turn out blurry or dull.
Most photographers perform a trick called bracketing, where they intentionally adjust their camera settings in small increments in case their calculations were not precisely correct.
Heed this advice when taking photographs at night. If you have a particular subject you want to reproduce in digital form, don't rely on taking 'the one perfect shot', but take several photographs in case problems occur with the lighting, or lack thereof.
Remember, you're shooting digitally, which means you can later throw out all the bad photos in your camera's virtual 'trash can', and no one ever needs to know! I can't tell you how many times I've done this, especially when taking late-night shots of the Chicago cityscape in places I couldn't bring a tripod. I may shoot hundreds of shots and only keep a few dozen.
If your digital camera has a special nighttime mode, study your manual and learn how to enable this feature. Perhaps your camera has a button or dial next to a graphic of a half-moon to signify this setting. This works well for some late-night situations.
Forget about using the flash unless you purchase a high-quality accessory flash unit. Flash shoots a burst of light out of your camera and works most effectively when your subject is within a few feet. If your subject is a long way away, your small flash unit will never reach it effectively.
Nighttime photography requires a little extra work out of you and your digital camera. To prevent against mistakes and increase the chance of a spectacular shot, it may be necessary to take the same picture multiple times, adjusting your camera settings slightly to help ensure at least one picture will come out well. The digital camera manual must be studied, as many high-end cameras contain automatic features to help take better photos. And, a natural tendency most people have to use flash must be avoided. By heeding this advice, you can learn to take spectacular nighttime photos.