I love cruising flickr.com and seeing great photography. A lot of the portraits are “professional” photographs, and use strobes and flashes and umbrellas and all other kinds of techy gadgets. These results can mislead one into thinking that they need “stuff” to do better portrait photography.
Then I see a bunch of pics that just make me go “wow!”, and I realize that none of them used any of gadgets, just good camera work, catching the subject at the right time and good post-processing. In other words, just good basic photography skills and a willingness to look at some things with a fresh eye.
So, how to take those good photos without need all that stuff? These articles from Digital Photography School gives some excellent ideas and tips: 10 Ways to Take Stunning Portraits, and 10 More Tips for Stunning Portrait Photography.