Don't get me wrong. I like comments like this.
The "producing a technically good exposure" part is something I'm getting better at, helped by a newer camera with wider exposure latitude and better noise characteristics at high speed. There's still a question of the quality of the light, though. Unflattering light needs to be recognized and avoided. Flattering light can be produced, if necessary.
The "making sure the right stuff is in focus" part is something I'm getting better at, helped by figuring out how to make the autofocus work for me and by getting better at managing depth of field. Making sure that everything that's not important (not your subject) is out of focus is a very basic and very "professional looking" skill. It's also something that requires the right equipment (part of the reason that being able to do it is "professional looking").
The "putting together a pleasing composition" part, that's the obvious (to viewers) and somewhat difficult one. The biggest composition issue? The setting. Backgrounds. Reduce distracting elements and things that just look like they don't belong. Avoid lines intersecting with the subject's head. Blur out the background if it's not important. It's all about learning to look at a scene and figure out what the camera is going to see, and that's difficult. I'm working on it, but I still miss horrible background flaws that can ruin an image all the time.
Where the magic comes in is in the subject.
I'm at my best when I'm a sniper. If I've got a room full of people relaxing and having a good time, I can capture some really great moments.
Otherwise? It's a crap-shoot.
Because I'm not good at instructing subjects.
Because a lot of people get self-conscious when they're conscious of the camera.
Now I'm working on instructing and posing subjects. It's not something that's well-covered in books, though. It's a matter of practice, trial and error. On the other hand, I'm only peripherally interested in formal portraiture. Learning the associated techniques are just a means to an end.
Getting people to relax (or better yet, have fun) in front of the camera? That's the big deal. When folks get self-conscious and freeze or mug badly the pictures just end up looking artificial. It's worse when the subjects believe that they always look bad in pictures; there are few more reliable self-fulfilling prophecies. Subjects who have been plagued by bad photographs are going to freeze up and look unhappy.
How do you get subjects to relax? That's another thing I'm working on.
Showing folks representative and attractive photos of them that you've taken is a great way to get repeat subjects to let their defenses down and let their character and personality come out in photographs of them.
New subjects? Besides shooting them when they don't expect it? I'm not very good at reassuring chatter while shooting. I'm generally not great at talking in the first place while shooting. It's something I've got to work on, though.