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Even a small distraction, whether in the foreground or background, can reduce a prize winning picture into a mediocre image. In some situations a photographer has control over eliminating them yet in others, a decision has to be made whether or not to press the shutter. The clone stamp and content aware tools work wonders, but there's something about a pure capture that's extremely gratifying.
As someone who is a firm believer in getting it right the first time, my primary strategy is to eliminate the distraction before I make the image. Depending on its size or whether I have control, I determine my first plan of action. When I photograph people, I have the luxury of communication and ask the subject to move to another location or a bit to the left or right. This makes a huge difference as to whether or not a tree, lamppost or other distraction "grows" out of their head.
In situations where communication is not possible, patience is often necessary. When I photograph wildlife, I find myself waiting until all the elements fall into place. Before I press the shutter, the animal has to be in the right light, strike a good pose, and be in a location where the background and foreground all come together. I often try to "will" this to happen. When it does, it's great. If I'm photographing flowers, I control background distractions with sheets of colored cardboard. I can also control the light using flash, a reflector, or diffuser. Another way to control distractions is to move to the left, right, up, or down. Too often I see photographers "stake a claim" to a location and never move. The better shot may only be a few inches away.
Compare the two images of the bee and note how the background is very distracting in one while in the other, the bee stands out. In the latter photo, I moved no more than a few inches to eliminate the foliage in the background. I used a two flash system for illumination and in that the foliage in the "before" image was close to the head of the coneflower, it was rendered too bright. I scooted over a few inches and shot from a slightly higher position so everything in the background was eliminated. Use your LCD to preview the photo and if there's a distraction, try to get rid of it using one of the above, or any other technique that comes to mind.