There are two things that can make your portraiture stands out. Two things that resembles more like cheats than skills. I have tried all kinds of portraiture techniques, styles and lens and i believe these two factors are the “cheapest” way to improve, its almost cheat.
The first one is BOKEH.
Bokeh allows your portrait to stand out instantly. This is because bokeh only affects the lights in the background or those highlights behind your portrait or those way in front. In a way its like adding elements to your images that surrounds your main subject. This is where most kit lens sucks and sucks big time.
Next is BIG APERTURE
You can forget about bokeh if you have a slow lens. Even a 2.8 is crap nowadays. Get a 1.4 and we start talking. Bokeh is a by product of big aperture lens but its a totally separate factor to consider. Large aperture affects the DOF of the subject that you are focusing, this makes whatever in focus sharp while the others are blurred. This allows you to have subject isolation powers that will immediately pop your image, even if its a bad one.
Did i mentioned “cheapest”, i really mean its the laziest way you can improve in portraits. Period. If you don’t have both of these, you better have very sharp, contrasty lens, good studio setup or a beautiful scenery that adds interest to your images, else its gonna just looks like its some iphone images.
Have fun with your gears. Shoot long and prosper.