Granted, there is a trend now to have less formal shots than those taken in great-grandmother's day ... stiff groupings of unsmiling relatives seated or standing in boring rows. Other than the faces there was little difference from one family portrait to another.
Thank goodness, things have changed. Today's portraits, even the ones that might still lean towards conventional, are taken with an eye for detail and artistry. Avoiding the pitfall of same old, same old is important. Photographers aim is to express their creativity, to make their work uniquely professional, without stepping too far away from the purpose, a still image of someone that conveys not just physical appearance, but personality too.
The internet is an excellent source of information from experts and talented amateurs alike on how to make your portrait photography special. Here is a sampling of some of the great ones I found:
5 Tips for Improving Your Photography
How to Take Portraits
Photography Tips You'll Never Want to Forget
Portrait Photography 101
20 Fast Tips for Portrait Photography
A Simple Exercise to Improve Your Portrait Photography
Portrait Photography Tips
Improve Your Indoor Portrait Photography