When it comes to your online profile, a picture might be worth a thousand words… or even more! How, you ask? Let’s be honest: You can write the best “about me” section on the planet, but if you don’t get someone to click on your photo in search results, nobody will see what a treasure you really are.
With that in mind, we decided to find out what constitutes a photographic hit and what would be classified a definite miss by talking to Match.com users, professional photographers, and other experts. The result? This definitive list of dos and don’ts:
DO smile for the camera
You know how it feels when you’re out and someone smiles at you? It makes you more likely to approach that person or at least smile back, right? Well, it’s the same with online photos. People want to know what you look like when you’re happy. Why? Subconsciously, they’re also looking for someone who might make them happy. So save the tough — or pouty — face for an additional shot if you really want others to see it. Post a grin as your main shot and reel in a date!
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DO ditch the sunglasses or hat
What’s with wearing sunglasses in your photos, people? Don’t know you that the eyes are the window to your soul? You may think that wearing shades in a photo makes you look like a celebrity or adds an element of mystery, but in truth, most online daters see this photo and get frustrated by the inability to see your entire face. And if you’re wearing a baseball cap (this one is especially true for men), unless there is another photo showing what the top of your head looks like, most women will assume that cap is hiding a bald spot.
DO dress attractively, but in a casual way
It’s okay to post one “formal” shot if you want to let people know you clean up well (i.e., that tux shot from your sister’s wedding or the night you dressed up for a corporate function). For the majority of your photos, however, you should try to look like you’re at Sunday brunch with friends. In other words, help potential dates see you as a “real” person with whom they might like hanging out — and not just a face on a computer screen! At a loss for a good “relaxed” digital photo? “Go out with a friend, take an hour and shoot some fun, outdoor casual shots enjoying the day,” says Tim Schultheis, a NYC-based photographer who specializes in online dating profile photo shoots. “Change locations if you can. Make the shots fresh. Have fun and don’t take it too seriously. Your personality is what you want to show!”
DON’T try to be too sexy
If you’re looking for a relationship with any longevity, posting a too-hot shot is actually sending out a “one-night stand” message rather than a “date-me-I’m-fun” vibe. Remember, you want online dating to be a safe and enjoyable experience… so post tasteful photos in order to minimize your chances of attracting the wrong type. “Putting up a sexy photo of yourself is like putting on the red light with a message that says you are only interested in sex,” says Dr. Amy Botwinick, author of Congratulations on Your Divorce: The Road to Finding Your Happily Ever After. “It sends out the wrong signal and can put you in compromising situations with the opposite sex.”
DO include a few action shots (i.e., doing something you love, not flying through the air)
The purpose of posting photos is to show what you look like, but they can also give potential dates a sense of who you are and what your interests include (which could help encourage someone to respond if you have that in common). “Definitely post a photo that shows things you like to do,” says Cherie Burbach, author of At the Coffee Shop: If You Thought E-Dating Was For Freaks and Weirdos, Read This Book and Internet Dating is Not Like Ordering a Pizza. “If you’re a bookworm kind of person, you might not have ‘action’ shots of yourself, but you could post a photo of yourself in a bookstore or your home with books in the background.”
DON’T post an out-of-date photo
Seriously, your date will notice the extra 20 pounds or 10-year age difference when you walk in the door. Be honest with who you are and what you currently look like. If you start off with misrepresentations, you’re wasting your time! “If you take your interaction to the next step with an actual live date, the person on the other end will likely feel deceived and angry,” says Botwinick. “It’s a setup for disaster, so be comfortable in your own skin and represent the real you for an honest start.” Before you post a photo, ask yourself: If I were to meet someone for coffee today, could I look like that? It will help you choose which photos best represent you online.
DON’T post photos that show you with an ex or other member of the opposite sex (even if he/she is cropped out)
“I can’t tell you how many shots I see with the ex or another woman cropped out but with her hand or hair still in the picture...it’s ridiculous,” says Karrie, 40, New York, NY. “Also, for some reason a lot of men think it’s okay to post with a bunch of Hooters waitresses... I mean, really? really?! They think that’s attractive to the opposite sex? Men need to remember that women are looking at these profiles, not other guys!” One more reason not to post a photo with a cropped-out ex? “You leave yourself open to answering questions about him/her before a first date,” says JoAnn Magdoff, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City. Do you really want to be talking about your breakup before you’ve had a chance to find out how many siblings someone has?
DON’T post photos of your pets (unless you’re in them, too)
Here’s the thing…you may think your cat/dog/hamster/turtle is the cutest thing in the whole world, but anyone viewing your profile for the first time is not really looking to know your pet. Dates want to see you. “Your cat may be cute, but men are visual, and we need to see more of you and less of your furry friend,” says dating coach David Wygant, author of Always Talk to Strangers. Bottom line: unless you’re in the photo looking cute with your pet, please don’t waste anyone’s time.
DON’T post photos of children
Unless the children are yours and you want people to know that you have kids, posting photos like these will likely confuse potential dates. And if they’re not yours, do you really want to spend time in your profile explaining that the two smiling teenagers on either side of you actually belong to your brother, sister, neighbor, best friend, hairdresser, etc.? If you like kids or want to date someone with kids of their own, that will be evident in your profile answers or eventually come up in conversation. On the photographic level, however, keep it about you. “You want someone to get to know you first, without any distractions,” says Burbach.
DO include at least two photos — the more, the merrier!
If you only post one photo, most people won’t believe they’re getting a realistic portrayal (even if it’s an accurate photo). The bare minimum you should post is two. “Definitely post a close-up and a full-body shot…then you get the whole picture!” says Lynne Freid, 41, of Irving, TX. You want to have a photo of your face, because if you only post distance shots, you will get fewer responses. On the flip side, people who think they’re being artsy by posting only one close-up photo of, say, their eyes are also going to be overlooked by serious daters because the assumption will be that they’re hiding something.
Kimberly Dawn Neumann (www.KDNeumann.com) is a New York City-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Women’s Health, Marie Claire, Maxim and more. She’s also the author ofThe Real Reasons Men CommitandSex Comes Firstas well as the founder of www.DatingDivaDaily.com.