What type of file are you placing? Any flattened image will have a white background (really the bounding box, or canvas size). If it's an Illustrator vector file (not an image placed in Illustrator and saved as AI), when placing the AI file, click the button to show import options, at the lower left of the place dialog. You'll get a second window which will have various options, one of which is transparent background. Hope this helps!
Hi Mikey, I'm using .tif files, which I've done many times before. I've worked with these photos in Photoshop (geese flying, for instance) but the transparent background is showing up white. I read another person's question and investigated the "options" box, but it doesn't offer "transparent background". Any other thoughts?
If the tiff was flattened, or if you can't see the checkerboard background when viewed in Photoshop, you should check to see if there is a clipping path. You can do that in InDesign by going to Object>Clipping Path>Options. It's possible that the file has one or more clipping paths, but none were saved as the default clipping path in Photoshop. Clipping paths aren't always the best way to work, but when you want to use them, this is something to consider.