Sex + Dating

Your Crappy Dating Profile Picture Is Ruining Everything

Profile Picture
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Nothing makes more of an impact on your dating profile than your main image. You can have everything going for you -- great job, no kids, never married, and sporting an appropriate number of teeth -- and one bad shadow, receding hairline, or misplaced background can render you undateable with one swipe.

And there's a science to all of this. Researching profile photos has surfaced bizarre information, like the fact that the most popular guys show the left side of their faces and demonstrate pride. Or that the most-matched women appear happy and (perhaps unsurprisingly) show some skin.

But aside from panned-out shots providing a sense of your real size and hiding the right side of your face, there are lots of little tricks you can use while actually taking the photo that can be the difference between a swipe left or right. For these, we reached out to two professionals in the field: Ann Maas, director of operations and photographer at LookBetterOnline.com; and Rob Greer, a professional photographer in Los Angeles.

What is the biggest mistake people make in their profile pictures?

They use out-of-focus [photos], sloppy clothes, inappropriate facial expressions, bathroom selfies (with urinal behind them!), bad angles -- [images are] too close up or too far away, taken below or above in unflattering ways, or too dark or light. -Ann

They don’t pick photographs that make them appear friendly and approachable. The thing to remember for your primary profile photo is to show yourself smiling and happy. -Rob

What is the first thing everyone should consider for their profile pics?

If you were trying to sell a house, would you take a photo with the paint chipping, the door falling off, litter on the ground and bad landscaping? We are not saying take "glamour" shots or posed studio shots, because they won't reflect the relaxed you. But [do use] a terrific head shot or even head/shoulder, that has you looking inviting and approachable. Wearing the right clothes and color for your coloring is very important, too. -Ann

It’s really easy to hide things about people in photographs. In just a few minutes, I can make someone look 20 pounds lighter and give them perfect skin. But is that really what your opposite is going to see when you meet for the first time? I know that many people who approach online dating might think to themselves, “But when they meet me in person, I’m sure they’re going to overlook all of my flaws.” And although that’s theoretically possible, it’s extremely unlikely that would happen. -Rob

Are the rules different for men and women?

Bottom line: looking clean, refreshed, and put-together will make a great first impression. Personally, I like a nice smile for both men and women. It shows confidence. It makes the viewer ask themselves, "Do I feel I can send an email to this person, or a wink? They look friendly." Since many sites allow you to use more than one photo, then guys, go ahead and put that photo of you looking off to the side, show us your sexy stare. But for the profile pic, go for the smile. -Ann

Every dating profile, for men or women, should include a minimum of three photographs. The first photograph should be a head and shoulders portrait that shows the top of your head down to at least your collar bone. The second photo you should include should be a three-quarter-length portrait that shows you from your head to just above your knees. The third photograph you include should be a fun, storytelling photo that reveals something about your passions or your personality. The first two photos provide viewers with all of the information they need to determine if they might be physically attracted to you, while the third photograph helps them better determine if they could be attracted to your nature or hobbies. -Rob

How much of a difference does it make if a photo is a selfie or taken by another person?

Not many people can take a successful selfie that doesn't clearly say, hey here I am with my camera in my hand. You want that profile photo, unobstructed, just you. If you can get someone to take it, great. The fact [is] we have digital images, there is no reason why one out of 25 photos won't turn out right! Try different poses, backgrounds, lighting. Something will work. If not, hire a photographer. -Ann

If you’re choosing selfies for your online profile, there are some subtle messages you're sending that you might not have considered. A fun selfie where you’re laughing or having a great time tells a great story. However, a serious-faced selfie may make you appear to be self-absorbed by some viewers. I think that there are great examples of selfies used in online dating profiles out there, but some careful consideration is recommended before you add them to your profile. -Rob

How do you make someone look attractive, while ensuring they look like themselves?

The right photographer will look at the person they are photographing and take into consideration their skin color, hair color, body shape and age. What you choose for clothing options makes a very big difference... What your hair color and skin tones are, influence the colors you should be wearing. Finding out what colors work best for you is the key. Also, what type of necklines work best on woman -- scoop, v-neck, boat. Loose clothes versus tailored. Same for guys. You don't want to be swimming in a shirt that is too big if you have a slight body build... At Look Better Online, we encourage at least two or three different outfits. One way to do this is to think in terms of a casual date, activity date, and a nice-dinner date... -Ann

When I photograph someone, I create images that represent the best attributes of that person in the most natural way possible. And when I retouch those photographs, I only remove things that could be considered temporary. For example, I feel that removing acne is fine, but removing sun spots is not. The last thing you want is a disappointed look on someone’s face when you show up to meet them for the first time when you look nothing like your photograph. -Rob

Are there settings that are more or less favorable?

If you have studio shots taken with traditional backdrops, generally these photos scream "I just went and got my photos taken!" I think it says you are trying too hard to get the right photos. Having a friend who is good at photography and can capture some great pictures, that's the best because they know you and can capture those moments. When you have a good set of photos, nice poses, clean, clear images, it shows you do care about online dating. You do want to put your best foot forward to attract the type of people you want to date. -Ann

The background in your photo can impact people both positively and negatively, depending on your surroundings. For example, if the background of your photos is a private residence, then some viewers may judge your sense of style, taste, and level of success based on that information. Likewise, if you include profile photos that show you in exotic destinations, that will appeal to others who might like to travel.

If your photos feature you hiking in the wilderness, that will appeal to outdoorsy people. Seeing your passions represented photographically helps reinforce the things that you mention in the text portion of your profile. Just remember that photographs tell a story and that you need to make sure that they don’t misrepresent. If you’re featured sitting on a couch in luxurious surroundings, the viewer might make several assumptions... Neutrality in your location choices often offers the least risk. -Rob

Dating Profile Picture
Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Profile Picture With Friends
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

What about group shots of people?

The problem with group shots is many times people will blur out someone (or scratch out their faces or put white boxes over them) -- why even bother? Or there are so many people in it, you are not sure who the person is. Another turnoff with group shots is if a guy is standing with his arms around a lot of women, the woman viewing his profile thinks he is just a player. Is he trying to say this is the type of women he wants to go out with? So if the woman looking at him doesn't think she looks like that, she will pass on him. Same goes for women surrounded by a lot of guys.

Also, what happens if your friends are better looking than you? Unless it's an action shot showing something fun you have done, best not to share those photos until after you start dating the person. Really the profile should be about you. Not your pets, not your children (or grandchildren). Please, if you are a grandmother and in your 50s, do you really want the guy thinking of you in terms of a grandmother, or the sexy woman you are? -Ann

I think that it’s fine to include one or two photos in your profile that show you interacting with groups of people. Those kinds of photographs can show that you have friends and a social life. However, you need to be careful of any mixed messages. If the photograph shows you in close contact with someone who might match the kind of person you’re looking to date, the viewer might jump to the conclusion that you’re showing photos of people you’ve dated previously. You can overcome that issue by adding a written description to your photo explaining that the person in question is just a friend. However, just remember that some online daters won’t read that far into your profile.

The only thing worse than close contact with someone in a photo is when you chop someone out of the photograph. Nothing screams “here’s my ex” like a disembodied arm in your photo. And that’s a definite no-no in online dating. -Rob


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Nicole Caldwell is Thrillist's Sex & Dating editor and is off to edit a few photos...