If you are shooting with a manual camera you have the ability to improve your exposures rather easily by following a few simple things. If you have a "smarter" camera it gets a bit more difictult.
First is understand what element of your picture you want the correct exposure on. You eyes can see light in a range of say 1-1000 where 1 is looking at the sun and 1000 is the deepest shadow in a scene, film is able to capture light in a range of about 1-25. So if you point it at the sun, you will have only 25 steps darker left, or if you point it at a shadow you will only have 25 step lighter left. So if a face is 250 steps lighter than the shadow you have no chance of seeing detail in both. This is why you may get a picture with a good exposure on one subject but the back ground is washed out, or vise versa. Take a picture of the sunset and everything in front of it is silouetted. This is the key to understanding how to take pictures in the snow. It's not about film speed. Actually the higher the speed the less range of light it is capable of capturing, this is called contrast.
Your meter is trying to average any scene you point it at. So you have to prioritize what in the picture you want to get exposed correctly. If you are taking a picture of your girl friend standing on the slope with the sun behind her, you are probably wanting to be able to see her face. In order to do this you have to live with a very light, or washed out back ground, (Or use a fill flash, and expose for the back ground). If you are standing 10 feet away from her, you point your camera at her and take the picture, your meter will be overwelmed by the bright back ground, just think of the percentage of the total picture that is her face compared to everything else in the picture. A basic photo 101 solution that will work every time is to fill the frame with main subject and meter there. In other words walk up and stick that camera in your girl friends face get the camera set to that exposure, walk back and then shoot, you will have a perfectly exposed face. Another way to duplicate this trick is to take your glove off, put you hand in the same relative position to the sun as your girlfriends face, get a reading off your hand and then shoot the original picture. You can use this trick in more situations then you will realize.
<FONT COLOR="#800080" SIZE="1">[ February 12, 2002 09:34 AM: Message edited 1 time, by powderhound ]</font>