I have a secret for portraits and I'm going to whisper it to you here: It's all about simplicity.
A wonderful rule of photography is that if something isn't adding to your image, it's subtracting from it. So when you're taking any photo, it's important to remove any items that don't make your image better. The same is true in portraits: Take out any distracting elements that will take away from the beauty of your subject. My favorite trick for this is so, so easy: Find a wall, any wall. Well, any wall that is a solid color and sits in the shade (more on working with shade in future NSN posts, I promise!).
Once you've got a wall, then you've got a photo shoot. Put your subject a few feet in front of the wall to cut down on shadows. Another tip: If you place your subject a few feet from the wall, this will make better use of a shallow depth of field. When they're leaning on the wall, even with a shallow DOF, you might still pick up a few wall details. Standing a few feet in front of the wall will emphasize your DOF. Of course, it's up to you—below are a few examples of this trick with a few subjects in front of the wall and a few leaning against it.
I'll be bringing you more bits of photo education in the new year, so keep up with the info by signing up for the Courtney Paige Photography newsletter! Much love and happiness in 2016, friends!