One of the best ways you can improve your photography is to learn to understand light. Most beginners don’t know this, but the best time of day to shoot pictures is early in the morning or late in the afternoon. The sun is softer and illuminates your subject straight on, which helps avoid dark under-eye circles. It is also my favorite time of the day to shoot. Shooting in the middle of the day casts deep shadows under the eyes and nose and the available light is much harsher. Shooting in the shade is another way to escape harsh light and shadows because it creates an envelope of totally even lighting. Point your subject towards the light as opposed to the shade.
When shooting indoors, be as close to a window as possible, then place your subject in a position where their face is getting the best possible light. This usually means they are facing the light source. If there is a light directly above their heads, have them step back a few feet so the light hits them from an angle (minimizing shadows) rather than right over their heads.
Remember when you are shooting at night that your flash can only reach a few feet. In point and shoot cameras this is generally only about 5-10 feet. Make sure you are within the flash’s reach of your camera otherwise the flash will have no affect on the picture.