If you're looking to improve your portraits, here are some simple tips that can help any amateur or professional photographer.
1. Zoom In
Most lenses that come bundled with cameras are zoom lenses, meaning that you can choose how close or far away your subject appears. Zooming in as much as possible can help give your portraits a more professional-looking quality.
Firstly, wide angles can distort faces and make facial features appear unattractive. Zooming in can help remove these effects. In addition, zooming can create a separation between your subject and the background, which will help give your portraits more 'pop'. Finally, using a zoom lens can help fill your frame with your subject which will help to remove unnecessary information and objects from the frame.
In general, 50mm-135mm are considered good focal lengths for portraits.
2. Use the largest aperture possible for softer backgrounds.
In addition to zooming in, you can further separate the subject from the background by using the largest aperture your lens has (larger apertures have smaller numbers - f/2.8 is larger than f/8, for example).
If your camera has a aperture priority setting, you can set it to the largest aperture and let your camera figure out the rest of the settings you'll need. Check your camera's manual for more information.
3. Simplify your background.
All the camera settings in the world won't improve your photo if your backgrounds are too distracting. Using a simple background can help your subject stand out.
4. Pay attention to the light.
Photography is all about light, and professional photographers always keep in mind all of the qualities of the light that they're working with. Is the light harsh (like a spotlight in a theater) or is it soft (like on a cloudy day)? What direction is the light coming from? Is the subject lighter or darker than the background?
If you're getting a lot of unappealing shadows on your subject's face then it's a good sign that your light may not be soft enough. To take your portraits to the next level, try finding a spot where the subject has light on them, but the background does not. This will make your subjects 'pop' even more.
5. Spend time with your subject.
Getting your photo taken can be an uncomfortable experience. If a subject is nervous or uncomfortable, it will come through in the final photograph. Spend some time talking with your subject to get them to loosen up.
A good technique is to get coffee or lunch with your subject before you start taking photos. Not only is this a good opportunity to talk about the photoshoot, but it also gives you a chance to get familiar with each other and makes things less awkward when the camera starts snapping.