Okay, this is going to be a quickly thrown together post but here goes. Get out your manual again. Grrrrr. I know. Just trust me. Look to see how to change the metering. I have a canon rebel xti and it is on the back next to the set button. It is just left of the ISO button.
Anyhow, on mine I have the choice between evaluative, partial, or center weighted metering. I have mine set on partial. Here is why:
I want the camera to give me an exposure reading of what ever the focus of my picture is. Usually, someone's face. If I have my metering set at evaluative it will take in the whole picture and that could result in the subject being under or overexposed.
Partial metering means that the camera will just take the exposure reading from the center part of my frame. So say I want to take a pic of my kid. I will scoot closer to her and get her face to fill up the frame of my camera. Then I will press the shutter button half way and check my meter. After I get my reading I will scoot back and take the picture based on the reading I got before. I won't worry about the meter any more after that.
Okay - next thing about metering. You might have noticed since you have been shooting manual that a lot of your pictures are underexposed. That is because your camera is trying to expose things to look 18% gray. Click here for a little explanation of that. Well, most peoples' skin isn't 18% grey so you will usually need to increase the amount of light you let in. That means that your meter would tell you you were overexposing - the needle will point to the 1 or more. But trust me, that will make your skin look better in your pictures.
So to wrap this one up. Do 2 things this next week.
1. Switch you metering to partial or spot, if you have it on your camera. Then fill your frame or the center part, anyway, with your subject when you are metering.
2. Expose a little to the right of the 0. To let in more light, you will have to either reduce shutter speed, increase aperture (go to a lower number), or increase ISO.
Please let me know if you have any questions about this. Happy Shooting!