Ask any photographer, whether they are a pro or not, what is the most crucial aspect of a "perfect" photograph, and I bet almost all of them will say - "correct exposure." Here are two simple steps to nailing exposure and making post-production-life easier.
*Ok, so it isn't technically two steps, but I had to break up the steps a bit..... so give me a break on the comments.*
Step 1: High Key or Low Key?
Compose your photograph, and judge what is most important in it. Are there lots of shadow areas that need detail, or are there highlight areas that need deatail. Lets say it's the latter of the two for this set.
Step 2: Mode and Meter
Switch to Manual (M) mode on your camera, and switch to spot metering (only one section of your meter matrix reads the light) and meter for the highlight area that you want detail in. On most dslr cameras you do this by pressing the shutter button down halfway. Your spot meter node should flash red to signify that it has read the reflected light.
Step 3: Overexpose It...
This new reading will now expose the photograph for that one highlight area. Your highlight areas will now be toned down to a medium gray tone. That is way too dark for the rest of your image, so you want to manually overexpose your picture by 2 full stops. It's counterintuitive, but trust me. Use the dial on your camera to change the aperture or shutterspeed until the reading is +2 stops.
Step 4: Snap It!
Take your picture. The 2 stop rule is only a rule of thumb, so you may have to try different stops, but it works most of the time.
Step 5: Underexposure.
OK, so we corrected overexposure, now what about underexposure? Follow the same steps, except spot meter your shadow area that needs detail. Now underexpose that picture by about -2 stops. There you have it. Isn't life so much easier now?