There are some particular problems when taking photos at night – you can rely on your camera to sort out exposure fairly well (this is not the main problem), but there are practical things that you need to take into account….
It may seem obvious – but it is dark! You cannot see your buttons. If you have an intermediate or above DSLR you can illuminate your top screen but this can be hard to see if your eyesight isn’t so great or with reflections. Know where your quick menu is if you have one (info button on a Nikon in shooting mode, Q button on a Canon) and know it by feel before you go out since you may not be able to see the button in the dark. Another good idea is to take a small torch.
It is best to have a tripod if you want clear unblurred shots, but you can experiment without one and still have fun. The photo here was shot hand-held at about one half-second. If you shoot had-held you might want to increase ISO to get a faster shutter speed and remember (as I didn’t) to change your VR or IS (Vibration Reduction) settings if you have them on your lens (off when using a tripod and on when hand-held). If in doubt and you want to do both hand-held and tripod shots then best to keep the IS or VR on.
The main difficulty is focusing since many cameras need a certain amount of light to focus. The shot above had a lot of street-lights so it focused OK, but in less illumination you will need to set the camera to Manual Focus. It is useful to use Live View if you have it (a compact has that anyway so this is an advantage) and know how to use your buttons to zoom in the focus. Again learn this before you leave home. If you only have optical focus them focus on a light at the correct distance then recompose (holding down the shutter at half way).
If you are a beginner it will be difficult to know if your image is blurred – it could be too slow shutter speed, too wide an aperture or bad focus, but this understanding will come with time and practice. Update: We now have a short night photography course for part of the year.
Photography at Night - Some Tips