1. Often when people see a great photo their initial response is, “Wow, you must have a great camera.” The camera is the least important factor in a great photograph. As arguably one of the best photographers of all time, Ansel Adams is quoted as saying, "The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it." This is why 75 years later and inumerable technology improvements, his images have not been duplicated or improved upon.
2. What separates non-professionals from professionals comes down to two factors, posing and lighting. First is posing. Posing a subject is the most difficult skill to learn in creating a great portrait. Every element of the body needs to be posed. This is why magazines hire professional models. Since I shoot professional models much of the year, I can make you look like a model. Second is lighting. No matter how beautiful the subject, no matter how well posed, lighting is what makes the image spectacular. Lighting is difficult to harness and on location, changes frequently.
If your photographer puts you in the shade, (hopefully not direct sunlight) and took the photo, this would be
ambient light. It would look OK, however, you would not be separated from the background, the image
appears flat, and you'd have raccoon eyes (shadows under the eyes). If the pop-up flash on the camera is used,
it's still bad, or worse yet, place an external flash on top of the camera, creating that flattering driver's license look.
3. I am one of only a handful of studios who balance ambient and flash. Done correctly the subject pops without that “flashy” look. Light should never come from the same axis as the camera. I use radio controlled flash triggers to take the flash off the camera, place it at the correct angle, soften the light with a softbox or beauty dish and use a specific ratio to balance the flash with the ambient light.
The result is a photo your friends will envy and you can look back on with fond memories.