Basic portrait lighting
First you need to learn the basics of photography, than learn about capturing portraits. This is because; portrait photography also involves all those vital elements that are required for other forms of photography such as sharpness, keeping focus on your subject, keeping background simple, etc. Also, about softening light, you can use diffusers to illuminate your subject with a soft light. They can be used outdoors as well as indoors. Here are some helpful links that will give you some idea about shooting better portraits. Hope they help you.
|Dirt Hose by poppyjk|
|European bee-eaters by drvanger|
from A Big Year - birds
|Fat Is Beautiful Guinea 2008 DP by MarioSS|
from - Fat is Beautiful - (Woman's Portrait n Black and White+ A Border)