The secret to great portrait photography is not something I think most people see or think about. However, this is what ties the image together. There are some very popular acronyms in art and photography but my favorite is KISS, "Keep it Simple Stupid." My other saying which is very similar but a little more politically correct is "Less is More!" Those two principals are import to my art, but they are not the secret I am thinking of.
I teach college photography and Adobe Photoshop. In my photography class the very first item I cover has nothing to do the camera but this principle to great photography. My students are constantly reminded every class until it becomes second nature. The BACKGROUND is the key to great photography. A busy or distracting background it the perfect way to ruin a portrait or photograph. The last thing you want in a portrait is an orange cone behind your head, a pole or tree appendage etc. This does not mean the background needs to be plain but it must work with or balance the subject. Most portrait clients are just concerned with the subject but good photography must follow certain compositional elements.
Another item that is not an object is the color white. White is simple and clean, so how can that be distracting. Your eye will naturally go to the brightest object in art. If that area is in the background and lacks importance or context it will be distracting to the movement of the image.
In this example I will show you how background objects can be distracting. You can click on the images to see them larger.
In this image there really isn't anything interfering with the subject but the dead branch on the top right is distracting.