National Geographic Photographer Joel Sartore once said that the easiest way to tell the difference between an amateur photographer and someone who knows what they are doing is to look at the background of the image.
Once I have decided on the subject for my image, the next thing that I think about is what is going to be in the background of the image. I am not thinking aperture, shutter speed, or even which lens to use; I am thinking of what I want in the background that will be best for my subject. Usually, it is something that is not cluttered or that has bright colours that, even if out of focus, will taken away from my subject. I look all around the scene and, even before lifting the camera to my eye, I position myself in a place where I will get the best background for my image.
As these two images demonstrate, the background makes a huge difference to your image. Sometimes you just need to be patient and wait for a clean background and sometimes you need to adjust your position.
Another technique regarding backgrounds is to find a good background and wait for a subject to come to you. This gives you time to set you camera to the best settings and even take a couple of test shots to ensure you like the composition and that your exposure is spot on. Then look around the scene and wait for a subject. You will be rewarded.
I love this point of view looking through this old gate with trees in the background. The only problem was that I wanted a subject to compliment the image. So I waited and this woman walked down the path with her bicycle and I was happy to capture some images.