I know a lot of you have beautiful cameras. Beautiful cameras that can do beautiful things. But...I also know that a lot of you are still using those cameras in "auto" mode. I want you to understand that using your expensive cameras in auto mode, absolutely will not give you results any better than a point and shoot camera. Your camera does the best it can by guessing what light source you are wanting it to meter from. It tries to understand your desire to have perfectly exposed faces and skin...but the bottom line is this: It is not a miracle worker. It cannot produce the results you are wanting.
So...what is the answer? You need to learn how to shoot in Manual mode. The very first thing I recommend is reading your users manual from start to finish with camera in hand. Try out all the functions. Learn where and what each little button does and why it is there. Once you feel confident changing settings and how to change them back, then you are ready to get out and experiment.
Here are a few GREAT places to start.
This is a fantastic resource to learn about aperture. You MUST know what aperture is to understand light and how it works with your camera settings. Start with part one and read all 4 of them. If you don't have a good understanding of aperture after you read them...then read them again.
Another resource that really helped me understand exposure is this book
Buy it. Read it. Sleep with it. At this point you should feel very comfortable with your knowledge of aperture and exposure.
The next thing I would suggest is get a model that is cooperative. Maybe a senior that will be graduating or an engaged couple. Someone that you won't have to beg for smiles or bribe with treats. Take them to a fantastic location with good lighting and start shooting. Try out all the different settings. You could start in Aperture priority mode (You know how to do that because you read your manual :) and go from there. I get asked all the time how I learned to shoot in manual mode...and the honest truth is that I learned by trial and error. I took tons and tons of pictures and then when I uploaded them I took notes of what settings worked and why. The most important thing is learning your own camera. Become comfortable with the settings and know what they do. Being scared of changing a setting in your camera means you are wasting time and money even owning a DSLR camera.
Here are a few other great tutorials for you to check out...
There are endless resources online for you to use that are free! Good luck! Make it your goal to start shooting in manual mode by the end of the year...