These days it’s almost impossible to find a romantic partner without wading into the turbulent waters of online dating sites. More people than ever are turning to websites like OKCupid, Match.com, and eharmony to find love, but I often see them making a major mistake before they ever send that first message: choosing the wrong profile photo.
At first glance it might seem odd for a corporate headshot photographer to weigh in on matters of the heart and physical attraction, but honestly, the same principles that guide my work for LinkedIn and company websites images apply to creating an online dating profile. The goal is the same — to make a great first impression and leave the other party wanting to learn more.
Selfies Often Give the Wrong Impression
User-submitted photos on dating sites are often way over the top. It’s important to remember that they’re giving potential suitors their first impression of you. This impression can have life-altering consequences, for better or for worse.
The “worse” can come in many forms that anyone who uses social media regularly will probably be familiar with: There’s the shirtless guys who took selfies in their bathroom mirror; women using Snapchat filters to change their eye color, give the illusion of makeup, and add flowers or other décor that obscure their face; app screenshots from dark, poorly lit night clubs; group photos where you can’t even tell which person the profile belongs to; and so on.
Smartphone selfie cameras and their assorted software are powerful pieces of technology, but only when used responsibly. The lighting, angle, background, exposure and body language are all factors that determine how natural, authentic, and appealing you come off in your personal photos. Built-in filters and sliders can only go so far, though, and eventually, you might want to call on the expertise of a professional.
If you want to try portraying something and someone you’re not, I'm not the right photographer to offer advice. But if you want an honest and authentic portrait to represent you at your best across the internet, then read on.
Three Keys to Successful Dating Portraits
In the studio, I guide clients through a range of angles, poses, and lighting setups to find the perfect combination. Sometimes casual portraits evolve naturally from the process as we incorporate more laid-back expressions or body language. Regardless, the goal in a professional image is to help people look their best in the most authentic way possible. That requires responsible retouching, skilled posing, and a wardrobe that reflects the client’s personality. Consider these same three concepts when choosing — or photographing — your own dating profile images.
Responsible retouching means that you must still look like you, with real skin texture. Those same filters and apps we love, along with a “Photoshop-everything” culture, have conditioned people to think it's necessary or desirable to make them look like someone they’re not. Retouching is there to make you look like the best version of yourself — like you've had the best night’s sleep in years. You shouldn’t look 20 years younger.
In a more practical sense — you must be instantly recognizable by your profile image if you meet a special someone for coffee or a drink. If your image fails that test for any reason, it's time for a new picture, and possibly even a new approach.
Can we still do some slimming and trimming of the human form? Sure! A little tucking and shaping is very doable and definitely makes a big difference. A good photographer will (respectfully) let you know when it's time to stop, and why.
If you're serious about meeting someone, you've gotta be comfortable showing your full self. I love a tight headshot, but consider including images in maybe a 3/4 portrait look, too.
Lifestyle and beauty platforms have filled pop culture with all sorts of do’s and don’ts in terms of poses. Posing is one of the most challenging pieces to people photography. Great posing takes refined direction from the photographer. As the subject, you’ll likely feel odd or even uncomfortable, but will look effortless in the final image.
Women often pass along tips to take high-angle shots to hide double chins or make their eyes appear larger and more doe-like. But did you know this technique instantly puts you in a position of weakness?
Facial expressions are just as important when it comes to posing. Have you heard of the squinch?
Dressy or casual? It’s up to you. There’s nothing wrong with a sport coat or being a little dressy. I don't think you need to go too formal, though. Wear what reflects your personality — what you’re most comfortable in. Remember, we’re trying to emphasize the parts of you that you already love, not try to create a whole new persona. Check out my FAQ page for more specific advice.
Selecting the Right Background for Your Portrait
Many online dating guides advise using candid or lifestyle photos — basically, having someone take a picture of you just living your amazing life and letting the setting speak for itself. It’s a good instinct, but it’s often easier said than done. A portrait studio, on the other hand, guarantees the weather will cooperate and the light will be just right any time of day.
I’m not here to discount outdoor images, but the logistics can become tricky if you have a busy professional calendar. A good photographer will portray you as fun and approachable in any setting, so you might as well show yourself off in the best light possible (in the studio) and not worry about bad weather ruining your hair or makeup.