1. In your playback mode, where you see the picture you've just shot, you're going to have to see the histogram as well. The histogram is going tell you how the light is spred. Almost every camera will allow you do to that. Read your manual to find out how to set that up.
2. You are going to have to learn the exposure compensation function for your camera. You're going to have to know where it is an how to use it. For most of you it's going to mean taking your camera off automatic and on to the program mode.
For this exercise, I'd like you to meet Miss Belle, a palamino quarterhorse who lives at same farm Kitt does.
Here is Miss Belle shot with the automatic mode.
"Not bad," you might think to yourself. But look how washed out she looks. And look at the white stripe running up the white side of her neck and the white patch right over eye. The grass doesn't look to hot either.
Here is what the histogram looks like for this picture. I want you to notice the line spiking at the far right and the line spiking slightly to the left. A line spiking on the right means that some part of your shot is blown and it's time to stop it down.
Now here is Miss Belle shot with program mode and exposure compensation. When you bring up the exposure compensation graphic on your camera, you will notice several horizontal lines and a flasing line in the middle. Take that line and move it to the left. The increments will be, 1/3, 1/7, 1 etc. This is Miss Belle shot at -1
Do you see how much richer and more saturated the color is? Do you see that the hot white places are gone? If you did nothing else to this shot, it still would be good.
Here is the histogram for this picture.
Look how the spikes are gone. Look at how the light is spred. This what you need to see in the histogram in order for your shot to look it's best. In photo editing software you can always brighten the midtones. Once you have "hot" or "blown" whites, there is absolutely nothing you can do and you can count on the fact that the rest of your colors are blah and washed out.
So now we are no longer going to shoot using the smallest image size available, on automatic. You are going to shoot on the largest size on program, with the histogram showing when you view your pictures and using exposure compenstation when it's called for.