I don't believe in making anything unnecessarily complicated. Especially photography.
It is with this in mind that I refined how I take portraits. I want the process to be uncomplicated and powerful. My approach is what I call the 'Three Feet of Peace.'
In a nutshell, the idea of 'Three Feet of Peace' is that you only need a three-foot square of clean background and good light to make a powerful portrait. No matter where you are, there will be three feet of good, clean, well-lit background SOMEWHERE that you can make into a temporary portrait studio.
Breaking Down The "3 Feet of Peace" Approach
Every great photo can be boiled down to three elements, the location, light, and subject. My three feet of peace approach is no different. When I am taking portraits I am considering these three elements and applying them specifically through the background, the light's direction and my subjects expression.
Three feet of uniform wall. This is the namesake of my approach. Your background can be any color but I recommend starting with a neutral color like white, gray, or black. If you go with color, try to find something that complements the colors the subject is wearing. If you aren't sure what to choose, consult a color wheel, it will point you in the right direction.
Sometimes this means shooting against the side of a door, sometimes it means shooting against the white wall of a shop, under an overhang or awning. Anywhere that you can find a wall in the shade, you can make a beautiful portrait.
Open Shade. You need non-direct natural light, preferably coming from the front of your subject but not primarily from above. The easiest way to find this light is to shoot under an awning or overhang, with your subject facing the light either head-on or at an angle. The sharper the angle the more contrast you'll have in your portrait.
You can usually find awnings over doorways and outside of storefronts. You can also use a large tree near a building or an open space without much going on behind the subject.
An authentic, unguarded moment. This is all about making a real connection to show the inner beauty of a person. I show examples of this in this article and this video. This skill develops over time as you become more comfortable with your role as the photographer in a portrait relationship.
Try the technique above and let me know what you think! Try playing with the angle of your subject to the light, it makes the most difference.
Good luck and happy shooting!