Location, location, location
While real estate agents tell you this makes all the difference in price, it also makes a different in photography.
We can take the same subject and put them in different settings and what a difference it can make.
Get your subject on the edge of the shade of trees or overhangs outside and not deep inside where the light falls off. Use the open sky to light the subject.
Darker backgrounds verses lighter backgrounds makes a huge difference. Out of focus highlights go from just a small dot to a huge out of focus round ball.
Color choices also make a huge difference in a photo. Complementary colors or the same colors work great. They give you a totally different look and feel.
While you will hear often to watch your backgrounds, it is just as important to watch those foregrounds as well.
My preference is to have darker backgrounds and even as possible.
Remove the color
When you convert the photos to black and white you can see how the light values affect the photo much easier. This is where keeping a light or dark background really becomes more apparent. My preference here is the darker background. You have the subject leap off the screen in comparison.
With the lighter background now the background pulls your eye away from the subject way too much. This also means your subject’s face will be most likely in the shadows.
All those green leaves and pink flowers now are just a muted grey.
Choose your location wisely. If you are shooting portfolio shots and you have models pick a great spot. Shooting photos of a bride as a simple church setting gives a totally different feel than the same bride at a cathedral.
Walk around the subject. Once you have the subject in a location, take the time to walk around the subject exploring the backgrounds and foregrounds.
Bring the subject to the edge of the shade. By keeping the subject just on the edge you can use the open sky to help light their faces and keep the backgrounds darker. Also, since they are not in the direct sunlight they will not be squinting.