You can start taking better pictures TODAY by simply growing in your knowledge of light and how light works with your camera. I really do believe it's the most important thing to know when taking photos, especially of people. It makes such a difference.
There's no one right way to light a photo. Some photographers prefer backlit photos. Some photographers prefer open shade. Some prefer artistic side lighting or dramatic studio lighting. Your options are plenty, but it really helps to know what you're doing.
Find the Light
If You're Inside
Try to find soft window light (not harsh, direct squinty light).
You can do this by opening a window and facing your subject toward the window, but make sure it's not completely dark in the background of the photo...unless that's what you're going for, of course.
If You're Outside
You can find open shade. Open shade = shade that isn't completely blocked off to the light - your subject is in the shade, but there's light right in front of where they're standing. You don't want them in a dark, shaded space with no light in sight.
You can backlight your subjects. I use this often on sunny wedding days. Simply position your subjects with their backs towards the sun.
It's also helpful to look for clean, evenly-lit backgrounds. Cleaning up the background can make a HUGE impact on your photo. Try to find even lighting rather than a background that's half lit up and half dark or a background with splotchy light.
The biggest thing to help you in your understanding of light is to put yourself in plenty of different lighting scenarios and practice! Move your subject around and see what works and what looks good.
Once you've begun to understand light, you may be ready to conquer your camera settings! Stay tuned for my post about camera settings and manual mode coming soon!