Shooting in daylight can be a challenge at the best of times, night shooting is a whole new ball game. I have shot all day and transitioned through dusk into night with largely dissapointing results for the night shots with my first attempts at hand held, so a tripod is a must if you dont already have one. A big piece of quality glass on the front with a low fstop number will also help, along with a steady hand and a bit of luck.
As dazbo said, in the end it's becomes a balancing act. As it gets darker you will notice your shots become softer or blurred, so increase the ASA rating which will help reduce these artifacts, down side this will increase the noise in the shot, so editing the photos in post will also need to be factored in for decent results. ASA settings at dusk can range from 400 up to 6400 depending on the cameras capabilities and the amount of available light, the higher the number the noisier the shot.
Having said that I remember seeing a night shot, taken from a Jetstar A330, showing a view of the wing and above it the Milky Way Galaxy in all it's glory. If I recall correctly the ASA was set at 6400 with a time exposure of 5 seconds I don't know if any post editing was required, but it was the most breathtaking aviation night shot I have ever seen, period.
Also experiment with your settings on your camera to see what works best for you. When I shot at night I used aperture priority to begin with, setting the fstop to wide open, which allowed me to shoot at a lower ASA. Took some shots checked the results. Of course shooting wide open will show up any short comings in your lens optical performance so beware, but the dark is also good at largely hiding those impefections. If blur or focus is still an issue increase your ASA to a point where blur is virtually eliminated, at this point you can rely on editing in post to sharpen and reduce noise.
Night shots of aircraft involve high contrast situations, i.e. bright landing lights and dark aircraft. Shooting at dusk with a hint of dull blue light still in the sky, will help reveal the aircraft in silouette, preventing the shot from being nothing more than bright lights hanging in a black sky. Shoot the aircraft from three quarter front or side, both will work, especially if the aircrafts tail logo is lit up.
There are other things you can do to help increase your chances of success. Shoooting on a clear night or with a few clouds and a full moon helps provide some extra light. Even shooting in overcast weather can provide you with some added fill light as often the city or street lights bounce of the clouds. The lower the clouds the better, which can also provide you with some dramatic shafts of light as the landing lights pierce the clouds, UFO style, or if your lucky you can get a strobe flash which helps light the clouds as well, but with this timing is everything.
I have not attempted night time panning shots of aircraft at takeoff or landing so others may be of assistance.
The other fun thing to attempt is long time exposures which give you streaks of light in the night sky and this will definitely require a tripod although I have used a sturdy tree or a lamp post in the right spot and rested my camera and lens against it. With a wide angle attached, set your camera to shutter priority of 12 seconds or so, you can go longer just experiment and an ASA of 100 will be more than enough. As the aircraft is about to enter shot hit the shutter, but dont hold it as the shutter will stay open on it's own. Also if you can try and frame a street with traffic as this will help create streaks of light in the horizontal in addition to the plane lights streaking diagonally. Done right the results can be very satisfying.
Lastly, I recommend if you use a UV
filter to protect the lens, that you remove it for night shoots as I have found from certain angles strange green lens flares shooting out of the navigation and landing lights that can ruin the shot.
In the end a bit of luck and some preperation will go along way to getting that one shot, where you are able to think that was worth all the effort. Good luck.
regards CaptainKramer[Edited 2012-02-22 04:12:27]
[Edited 2012-02-22 04:13:36]