What makes a good portrait? IMO it's a combination of three elements:
- A model that allows you to take a photo
- Good light
- Natural and blurred surroundings
On purpose I didn't mention equipment as it can't be an excuse for making a bad photo. The same goes for the abilities of the photographer - they are constantly being developed as we grow as a photographer - by studying the masters, constantly practise and being able to receive critique without counter-arguments.
How about a neutral color backdrop? I use them (white, black and grey) but I prefere to shoot a portrait with a backdrop that ads to the portrait without stealing the picture - so to say.
Always carry a camera with you. Here we are dining at the IKEA store in Genova, Italy. My kids are sitting opposite me and it's a grey a rainy day, so the light coming from big windows to our right is just soft and perfect. The only thing I needed to add was some reflective light, but as I didn't carry a bouncer with me we improvised and used the back of a tray :-) The photo of Christian is without reflective light and the photo of Camilla is with reflective light.
Christian photo: 1/50 sec at f/7.1 - ISO 400 - 44mm and 0EV
Camilla photo: 1/500 sec at f/1.8 - ISO 400 - 35mm and 0EV
I used a larger aperture (f/1.8) with Camilla to blur the surroundings a lot as she is looking directly into the camera and we need to focus only on her eyes. With Christian I used a medium aperture (f/7.1) achieving a level of blur that still makes the surrounding part of the photo but in a non distracting way. Here Christian is not looking directly into the camera but out of the windows and hence the window need to part of the story.
Any critique is welcome :-)