You might also try "place and fall" as an exposure technique. In traditional photography this usually means exposing for your shadows and letting the midtones and hightlights fall accordingly. With digital, overexposure is more of a problem than under so you can "place" the brightest part of your scene.
For instance: in manual mode spotmeter the brightest part of the scene. If the meter reads something like f8 1/500 @400ISO then its telling you that setting will expose your highlights (what your currently metering) as somewhere around 18% reflectance (middle gray). Since you don't want your hightlights to be gray, you increase the exposure by around two stops. This would mean either opening up the aperture to f4, lowering your shutter speed to 1/125 or increasing your ISO to 1600, all of which adds two stops of light and puts those highlights in zone 7.
I would start manual mode and learn how ISO, f-stop, and shutter speed work together. If you do then working out tricky lighting situations won't be as difficult.
Recommended reading on basic exposure and on the zone system. The second, though film based, can be helpful in understanding the idea of placing tones within a scene. Also, the author mentions placing highlights with regard to slide film; this is a bit more like digital.