I am a new photographer and have had some lessons in photography. I understand how to shoot in manual, but the hardest part for me is outdoor shoots against a bright sky. I have been taught to meter on the subject, preferably on a neutral area. I was shooting some hot air balloons a couple of weeks ago and no matter what, I was getting under exposed shots. Now it took me a few shots to get the right exposure by moving my shutter speed down, but I guess I feel I should be able to get the right exposure in maybe 2 shots, not 4 or 5. I just wonder if there is a trick to this or is it something that I will gain with more experience. Or does it sometimes take a few shots to get it right?
Generally it should be possible to nail the exposure on the first try, the old analog masters did it, too. When you're metering a small, far away object, the metered area will be much larger than the object and you get a lot of sky metered, consequently.
I like the concept of Ansel Adams' Zone System for this:
You have to use spot metering for this, if you camera provides this function with a narrow enough spot.
Or, you can meter against the sky, remembering that the sky could need to come out a lot brighter than neutral in the image, depending on the weather. A deep blue sky is actually close to neutral, for a white sky dial in some +EV exposure compensation.
If your subjects are in shadow (you are shooting the balloons against the light), you'll need to overexpose, too, probably ~ +2EV to lift the sky to zone VII (still detailed).
The trick to the zone system is to meter against something and then adjust +-EV to lift/lower that subject to the desired zone. Neutral grey is V, zone II is barely discernable dark, zone VIII is nearly pure white.
Try using a polarizing filter over your camera lens. You will have to test different areas of the sky to determine the best angle for the deepest blue while dialing your filter for effect. You'll see the sky darken/lighten as you turn the filter ring. Once established, your exposure should work on auto. You'll also get richer colors on the balloons, landscape, etc.