In cases where a photographer has complete control of the environment in which a subject is photographed, such as when working on a table-top, the background should be a carefully selected plain colour or small pattern. Simple household object such as linen book covers may be appropriate. Vivid colours are best avoided unless they are a feature of the image. It is also worth selecting a background colour which matches or complements the colour and brightness of the subject. Maintaining reasonably uniform brightness makes exposures easier to determine.
Backgrounds which look natural in images can be created artificially with relative ease. Paint a sheet of card or hardboard a muted green or brown and attach some artificial leaves, ivy or other similar material. When positioned well beyond the depth of field envelope, the effect is surprisingly real. Some macro photographers also print blurred images of natural backgrounds on to A3 paper and then use the print outside the range of the depth of field as a backdrop.
When working outside it is clearly more difficult to control background detail, colour and brightness. Shallow depth of field may be beneficial from this point of view because unwanted details are thrown out of focus and may become very acceptable soft shades of green or brown. The amorphous shapes and gentle changes of tone provide work well with natural subjects such as flowers and insects. However, some macro photographers use a carry box and light tent which function as a miniature studio in the field. Small subjects are placed inside the relatively controlled environment where they are protected from the wind, set against a controlled background and illuminated in a uniform manner.
Product photography is often carried out in a light tent in a studio. The small white fabric cubes have zipped panels for convenient side and top access to camera and subject, and provide a suitable background, diffused lighting and complete protection from unwanted reflections. In studio situations the light tent is typically illuminated by a pair of compact daylight fluorescent tubes on opposite sides of the tent, but it is also possible to use natural light outdoors. The product may be positioned on an illuminated flat panel to provide illumination from below. A range of reflective backgrounds in distinctive colours is also available for use inside the small tents.
Black or very dark backgrounds are often used when photographing flowers or other natural subjects. Is it of course possible to erect a suitably positioned sheet of black card which is then dropped out of focus by shallow depth of field. This can give a startling result although the location may look somewhat artificial. A better technique is arguably to align subject and camera in such a way that a distant shadow or dark area falls behind a well-lit subject.