Typically, upper back tattoos are thought to be perfect for the beginning tattoo enthusiast. These pieces are easy to hide, have a minimal amount of distortion with time, and are easy to elaborate on in the future. They are also thought to be one of the sexier placements, as with just a teasing slip of a shoulder strap, you can show off your tattoo.
There are a multitude of styles that can be used for upper back tattoos, but by far one of the most popular are wings. Butterfly and bird wings tend to symbolize freedom and beauty; angel wings are thought to be an emblem for spirituality, guidance and even protection. Red devil and black bat wings are signs of wickedness, and a dark spirit. For something a little different you could create a set of torn butterfly wings to indicate imperfect beauty. You could also try an intricate, spiraling wing pattern, or even tribal wings.
Upper back tattoos featuring nature are all quite common. These usually show things like creeping vines with colorful flowers zigzagging around the upper back, and stars shooting, or animals running across it. The broad, sweeping image of Japanese dragons are also good choices, as they are long enough to reach across the upper back, and provide a good deal of detail and symbolism. They are also highly mutable, and you can change, or add on to the image at a later time.
Many upper back tattoos are made purely from design. These styles may not be indicative of any one object in particular, but may simply be seen as beautiful and stylish to the wearer. Tribal patterns are, of course, the most frequently seen. They are often done in sharp patterns that point to the outer edges of the upper back, and occasionally weave together. Art nouveau patterns might also be an interesting choice. These styles have a similar feel to Victorian decorations; tend towards stylized, curvaceous lines, and may include things like the fleur de lis, or spiraling designs akin to Celtic knots.
Although many upper back tattoos will start out simple, many people like to expand on them over time until they become full back tattoos. They may even spread out beyond the back entirely. That point is what makes this particular placement so special: it encourages the passion that many people feel for body art by making it more accessible.