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The Perfect Online Dating Profile Picture, According to Research

Don’t judge a book by its cover. But in the online dating world, whether you’re using Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, or a similar app, a few pictures are all you have to go by.

Picking good profile pictures is the key to success in finding matches. It’s a lot of pressure, especially if you don’t like photos of yourself. Fortunately, major online dating companies regularly complete surveys to figure out exactly what users find attractive. Based on this research, you’ll have the best dating profile pictures in no time!

The 3 Dating Profile Picture Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid the following photos as they often lead to immediate rejections.

  • Photos with your ex: If a potential match thinks you’re already in a happy relationship, it doesn’t matter how good you look in the photo. Writing “the girl in my pic is my ex lol” in your profile doesn’t matter. You look like you have unresolved history.
  • Having no photos of your face: People want to know who they’re talking to. A beautiful backdrop is great, but not having any photos of yourself on a dating profile seems like you have something to hide.
  • Image manipulations: People want to know what you actually look like. They’re not going to date Photoshop.
  • Do I Need to be Attractive to Use Online Dating?

    Attractiveness isn’t a deal-breaker when it comes to online dating.

    Not only is this because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but also because so many elements go into what’s considered “attractive” online, including what’s in your bio, body language, and even what’s in the background of your photos. It’s hard to quantify what labels mean: your “average” might be someone else’s “very attractive”. Attractiveness is unlikely to be the core reason your profile doesn’t get attention.

    Saskia Nelson, founder of online dating photographers, Hey Saturday, told GQ:

    “You don’t have to be the hottest person on Tinder to attract attention; you just have to come across as quietly confident and happy in your skin. This is great as it levels the playing field and gives [everyone] a chance, no matter what they look like.”

    EHarmony reiterates that, while a decent profile photo may start a conversation, a good personality that leads to genuine connections is more important.

    Okay, so whether you consider yourself attractive or not, what do your profile photos need to look like?

    Should You Use Selfies in Online Dating Profiles?

    It’s tempting to use selfies, and there’s a lot of conflicting research on this topic alone. If you want to include a selfie, do so sparingly.

    You might not want your friends to know you’re trying online dating. That’s why some avoid linking Tinder with Facebook. Selfies, then, might seem a necessity, but you’re 40 percent less likely to receive a like on Hinge if your profile picture is a selfie. And definitely don’t take a selfie in the bathroom. These results in 90 percent fewer likes.

    Why? Selfies are often poorly taken and feel forced. Candid photos are important, as they help show the real you, as are images where you’re showing off a genuine smile—selfies are essentially curated, so don’t candid or genuine. But another factor is they may indicate a lack of friends or at least ones you’re happy to confide in about your personal life.

    Plus, selfies are only of your face. Full-body shots increase the likelihood of getting messages from matches by an amazing 203 percent, according to Zoosk.

    On the other hand, another study found that 86 percent are more likely to message someone who has a selfie, and 60 percent say it’s a sign of confidence.

    The key, then, is knowing how to take a good selfie. Most cameras have a timer function you can use; if not, a selfie stick can help you get in more of your body against an interesting (but not distracting) background.

    Which Photos Should You Use in Online Dating Profiles?

    The best profile photos lead to conversations. But what kinds of photos are most likely to do that?

    Let’s start with what you should wear. Something you feel comfortable in is essential, but clothing shouldn’t be faded, old, or creased either. A dirty dress or shirt won’t do either. Something simple like a plain color is fine, especially if it’s red. The London School of Medicine found that wearing red, or having something red in the background, increases overall attractiveness. A journalist for Women’s Health found she had double the number of matches on Bumble while wearing red than on Tinder, when wearing white.

    And if you really want to stand out, Hinge says only 3 percent of profile pics are in black and white, resulting in a 106 percent increased likelihood you’ll get a match.

    Men receive more messages if at least one of their profile pictures is taken outside. According to eHarmony, other great conversation starters include photos that indicate interests in politics, travel, exercise, or theater. The same study shows that the most attractive interests women should showcase include personal growth, health, family, dancing, and art. Being photographed indoors is also, strangely, more attractive.

    What increases your attractiveness, whatever your gender?

    If you have a cute dog, pose with them in a picture. In the battle of dogs versus cats, dogs are the clear winner in the dating world: you’re seen as 50 percent more trustworthy and 33 percent more attractive with a dog, compared to without.

    A love of food is similarly appreciated by women and men, so don’t be afraid of using a shot in a restaurant.

    Should Your Dating Profile Include Sports?

    Showing an interest in sports, no matter your sex, is also encouraged (though, according to Sustain Health, 68 percent of people don’t like potential dates listing which sports teams they support). The most popular sports you could be pictured playing are:

  • Rugby.
  • Football.
  • Golf.
  • Gymnastics.
  • Netball.
  • Surprisingly, cycling isn’t particularly popular.

    Nonetheless, exercise of any kind is a boon: Hinge reports that men are 45 percent more likely to receive likes on a sports-related photo; while women are 166 percent more likely!

    Should You Include Group Photos on Your Dating Profile?

    Many include group shots in their profiles, but you shouldn’t. You might get lost in the crowd. Photofeeler says that 61 percent of women are put off by uncertainty, thanks to group photos, blurry images, or other evasive techniques like filters.

    This isn’t a deal-breaker. Pictures with other people can demonstrate your likability, show that you have a social life, and prove you’re not a Tinder bot. Just make sure a group shot isn’t the first image matches see. Group shots confuse those viewing your profile for the first time. They have no way of knowing which of those individuals you are. Imagine if you match with someone who thinks they’re actually talking to one of your friends!

    Certainly don’t have more than four individuals in a picture. And make sure you stand out. If you’re blonde, post a picture where you’re the only blonde person in the frame, for example.

    The same is true of backgrounds: you should be in the most interesting thing in the image, right in the foreground, and nothing should distract from you.

    Family photos can work well, as matches typically find familial closeness attractive. Photos where you pose with your mum actually have a seven percent higher match rate than those without, according to The League. You might feel guilty using your own mother like that though.

    Should You Smile for the Camera?

    Yes. Smiling increases your chances of a match, so think about that next time you start pouting for the camera. In fact, pouting is a turn-off.

    The Business Journals reports that women are 47 percent more likely to smile in photos than men, but a smile is a unifying factor. Everyone likes a smile, as long as it feels real. NBC suggests tiling your head slightly at the same time.

    Hinge found that men are less likely to receive a match if they show their teeth while smiling, but the opposite is true for women. Women are also 74 percent more likely to receive a like on a photo if they’re turning away slightly; men are an astonishing 104 percent more likely if they’re looking at the camera.

    You need to show your eyes in photos too. Remember, they’re the windows to the soul. Otherwise, you look like you’re hiding something. Sunglasses are universally frowned upon, as are pictures taken at the beach.

    The real problem is when grins look fake. Some of the best are taken when you’re caught off-guard. You’ll look warm and comfortable. Don’t come across as creepy. If you smile, squint slightly, so it looks natural.

    Which Photos Should You Choose For Online Dating Profiles?

    How many photos should you use in your online dating profile? Four to six photos give a well-rounded perspective of your life.

    But which photos should you choose? Here’s an example of an interesting camera roll:

  • Your first picture needs to be of you—and only you. This should be the most flattering photo you have. First impressions take less than one-tenth of a second. In that time, people subconsciously judge attractiveness, how trustworthy you are, and what your personality is.
  • Your second photo should show you taking part in an activity. Be casual and confident. Show you’re comfortable being yourself.
  • A full- or medium-body shot against an interesting backdrop. Make sure you clearly show your head and torso at least. The best option is a full-body shot.
  • Use another photo of you participating in a hobby or interest. Vacation photos demonstrate ambition and a love of life. Or pose with a dog.
  • Some services require more images. Hinge, for instance, asks for six, although one can be a video. Tinder gives you the option of sharing nine.

    Nonetheless, you should avoid oversharing. Ideally, include enough to start a conversation. Having more than six can make you seem egotistical. You risk eliminating any mystery and mixing in too many mediocre photos that detract from your strongest looks.

    Online Dating Photos: What Not to Do

    “Be yourself” is good advice, in all walks of life. But what else shouldn’t you do?

  • Don’t take gym selfies. You risk looking self-obsessed. Most gym-users are sweaty and tired, which isn’t a good look.
  • Don’t use old photos. No one appreciates low-quality images, and potential matches will doubt you still look like you did in 2007.
  • Don’t include a photo of an inanimate object. This sounds like an obvious one, but people don’t want to see your car. They’re interested in dating you, not a chunk of metal.
  • Don’t use a flash. OKCupid states that a camera’s flash adds seven years to your actual age. Natural lighting is better, preferably taken around the “golden hour”.
  • Most Importantly: Look Like Yourself

    In the end, the goal of online dating is to meet up in real life. If your profile doesn’t accurately represent you, it doesn’t matter how perfect it is statistically!

    Making tweaks to improve your chances is fine. Pretending to be someone you’re not is not. And once you have matched with someone on Tinder, make sure you stay safe when you meet for a date.


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