You will push your camera to the limit during night shoots. You will exhaust your batteries. You will crank up the ISO, making your image grainy... on purpose. You will set the exposure time longer and longer as you test how much light your camera can capture. And you will go to the lowest apparature you can,, virtually erasing the possibility of sharp definition on anythin closer to you than infinity.
Because clarity is overrated?
no, it is actually because you are attempting to find a happy balance between maximizing the amount of light that your camera can record and minimizing the degradation such a feat takes on your images.
You might already understand these concepts, but if you haven't manually adjusted your camera settings in this seemingly counterproductive way to producing clean, crisp images, then I am here to tell you... give it a shot.. see what happens. You can at least start out somewhere by using the following settings. I have found success using them with my 15 year old camera when I venture into the dark. Maybe they will help you start as well!
ISO => 1600
Exposure => 20 seconds
Aperture <= 3.8
The idea is to capture as much light as possible while limiting the noise or grain of a photograph. I am using an older camera, so I personally avoid setting my ISO to anything over 3200. My photos end up with too much noise at 3200. I simply do not have the skill and/or time to effectively remove that grain during post-processing. So that is my cap. My lenses do not go below 3.8 aperture, so they will be a bit on the darker side. This is the equipment I work with, and I still love pushing its limits. You may face similar limitations, but do not let that hold you back from trying out night photography if you are interested.
Looking for Clarity in Distant Objects?
Many of the compositions you might be interested in involve a distant object. Milky way shots, crescent moon shots. With these landscape scenes, you will want to focus on the farthest point of your composition. You want the moon and/or the stars to remain crisp. For these shots, you will need to set your camera to 'infinity' on its lens. Try using cloth tape to secure your lens if you do not have infinity marked or have an older camera with a persnickety infinity zone. Photographers often prefocus on a distant object during the day and then tape down the lens. This is very reliable if you only plan on one type of shot during the evening.
Or Are You Capturing Something Close?
With light painting, you are much closer to your subject, and you probably not use the taped-down infinity trick. You can always show up at your location of interest before the sun sets to properly focus on your subject, but that too comes with problems. In this case, you will need a high-powered flashlight to aid you in changing your camera's focus.