How to Choose Photos for Online Dating

In this article, I am going to answer the following question directed to men: how to choose photos for online dating so that your profile stands out.

Let me ask you this: What kinds of photos do you think work best for you? What kinds of photos are your favorite? Why? Leave your comment below this post.

This article is Part 4 of my Complete Online Dating Blueprint for Men. Part 3 was on How to Write a Dating Profile.

Table of Contents

This article is be based on rock solid research.

Of course, as a woman, I’ve got my own preferences and reflections on what kinds of photos work best for men on dating sites.

And I am going to share my own thoughts with you on this. Still, I do believe in the value of more systematic research.

And fortunately for you, there is already solid evidence available on how to choose photos for online dating.

1. What most guides on choosing photos for online dating won’t tell you

What I found when researching this topic is that there are a lot of websites, which offer advice on this topic.

But they typically have one thing in common: they offer incomplete advice. Here is what I mean.

The guides that I have seen give you precisely what you look for: the types of photos that you should and shouldn’t include in your profile.

That is correct and I will do that too, combining the latest research with my own, female perspective.

But what I also found is that other guides don’t say one important truth:

No matter what you do, there are things outside of your control, which will influence your perceived attractiveness. And they have nothing to do with your looks.

Let me explain.

One research study showed that you will be perceived as either more handsome or less handsome depending on whose profile displayed directly before yours.

In one study at the University of Sydney, female participants rated 60 men as ‘attractive’ or ‘not attractive’ after pictures of their faces flashed on a screen for about one-third of a second. Researchers found that participants were more likely to rate a face as attractive if they thought the preceding face was attractive.

Jessica Taubert, Erik Van der Burg & David Alais

1.1. It’s no different than the ‘Cheerleader Effect’

Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother called it the Cheerleader Effect. And that’s what it is, in essence!

We habitually attribute the level of perceived attractiveness to others based on association with other people.

What it means to you is this: take it easy, don’t take it personal. There are things you cannot control in online dating.

And that’s a good thing because the Cheerleader Effect can work both ways! And it’s also a bit fun, don’t you think?

Towards the end of the article I will give you some tips for mitigating the Cheerleader Effect on your photos.

2. Choosing your profile picture

According to studies, women will infer three types of your qualities from your profile picture, and they will do it in a split of a second.

These qualities are: attractiveness, trustworthiness and dominance.

Evolutionarily, this makes sense. Attractiveness is a mating cue, trustworthiness implies useful social characteristics, like being able to care for children and assessing dominance is useful to avoid conflict.

William Park

This means that your profile photo (and hopefully your other photos too) should convey that you are attractive, trustworthy and dominant.

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Of course, this is different for men and women. Notably, women perceived as dominant are considered less attractive by men.

But for men, dominance is seen as a positive trait.

2.1. One subtle trick to convey dominance

There is one easy way for you to gently convey that you can in fact be dominant, which indicates ‘manliness’.

Simply have your photo taken from a slightly lower angle.

How to Choose Photos for Online Dating

On that photo, the camera is posited at a slightly lower angle than the eyes, but it conveys that message just right.

According to studies, portraits taken in that way are likely to be judged as dominant, which is positive for men but negative for women.

That’s why the opposite rule is true for women. You (as a man) are more likely to view a woman attractive if she took her photo from a slightly higher angle.

How to Choose Photos for Online Dating

In such photos, women will look more submissive – a desirable trait from men’s perspective.

And yes, this is me on that second photo 🙂

The video below covers this and other techniques for shooting men.

2.2. What makes your photo less trustworthy?

The second quality that your profile photo should convey is trustworthiness.

First, let’s consider what can make you look less trustworthy on a photo.

According to Lori Johnson of Your Best Image , there is a number of things which can suggest that we should not be trusted:

Dark shadows in the face or background. Anything that hides the face i.e. sunglasses, hat, facial hair, hairstyle that covers the face, etc. Poor quality photos. Inappropriate wardrobe, makeup, hairstyle. Too much photo shop alteration of the photo so you do not look like you do in real life.

Lori Johnson 

Further one study indicates that subtle differences in our expressed emotions can make a difference:

A neutral face resembling a happy expression (is) likely to be seen as trustworthy and a neutral face resembling an angry expression (is) likely to be seen as untrustworthy—even when faces aren’t overtly smiling or angered.

James Devitt

As you can see, the difference is subtle, but you get the point!

2.3. How to show in your photo that you can be trusted?

When deciding on how to choose photos for online dating (and your profile photo in particular), pay attention to these details, which will boost your perceived trustworthiness:

  • A sincere smile and sparkle in the eye
  • Clothing colors that flatter your skin tone
  • Darker, deeper blues such as deep navy blue are serious and powerful. 
  • Open stance (no holding a drink in front of you)
  • no tightly crossed arms or hands in front of your body
  • open and relaxed shoulders
  • stand or sit tall

Reader’s Digest further points to the importance of light:

These tips should make you look both masculine and trustworthy. But what about attractiveness?

2.4. How to make you look attractive?

Again, there is a number of things you can do here, but here is the most important one. And I really mean it.

Invest in a professional photo session. Here is why:

First, a professional photographer will do most of the work for you.

He/she will give you pointers and give you immediate feedback on what you can do differently with your pose and facial expression.

Tip 1: Do tell the photographer the purpose of your photo shoot. Explain that the images are meant for a dating profile.

Second, professionally-made photos always look better. They also convey that you’ve made an effort and that you care.

Third, professional photo shoot is fun. It’s just a fun experience!

Tip 2: When making arrangements, ask the photographer how many images you will get for the price and whether there are any restrictions for using them on the Internet.

There are even services specialising on dating photos.

Tip 3: Look for bargains on professional photo services. Google ‘cheap professional photo shoot’ for discount offers in your area.

Check out ‘groupon’ if it is available in your country.

3. Uploading your photo gallery

Now that we have discussed your profile photo, let’s consider the photos, which should appear in your photo gallery.

I must tell you upfront thought: if you try to google what kinds of pictures you should and shouldn’t upload, your head will explode.

Since online dating has become super popular, there is A LOT of information on that subject.

That wouldn’t, in itself, be a problem, if some of that information wasn’t contradictory.

Here is the first example of where you can find conflicting information (don’t worry, I will tell you what I think)

3.1. Should you include photos with other people?

According to zoosk.com, you shouldn’t:

It’s hard for people to tell who you are if you use a group photo. So much so that people who have more than one person in their photos get 42% fewer messages. 

Megan Murray

But then, another article says this:

Make sure you’re the hottest one in the frame of any group photo you choose

Vida

So which one should you believe? You should believe the second one. And there is a scientific study which confirms that you should, in fact, include group photos:

Group photos showing other people having a good time in your company are desirable. 

Khalid S Khan, Sameer Chaudhry

I deeply believe a group photo can work in your favour. But – and here comes the important part. Not ANY group photo will work.

If you do it wrong, the group photo can in fact have a negative effect.

Here is what you need to know about group pictures when deciding how to choose photos for online dating.

3.2. What kind of group photos should you include?

There is just one rule for group photos for online dating profiles.

In your group photo, you must be the one who is the most handsome, the most ‘alpha’, the most masculine, dominant and center stage.

Of course, you don’t have to be all those things in one photo. But you get the idea.

If you play sports, don’t include a photo where you sit and watch all the action. Be the center of the action!

How to Choose Photos for Online Dating

Don’t have those kinds of photos? Well, I would say: make some! Ask someone to take some shots the next time you’re out in a social situation.

Oh, and I very much like this advice about touching other people:

Capitalising on the centre-stage effect by selecting photos where you are in the middle creates a sense of importance. This can be further enhanced in group photos where you are shown touching another person (confining this to the upper arm to be socially acceptable). This is because a toucher is perceived to be of higher status than the one touched.

Khalid S Khan, Sameer Chaudhry

3.3. Should you include photos with other women?

Again, no single answer – but I will, of course, tell you what i believe.

Zoosk.com is, again, quite conservative on this one:

Avoid a photo with an ex or someone who looks like they could be a date. It’s tempting to use that wedding photo where you’re dressed amazing and dancing with a friend, but if the person you’re posing with looks like a date it could turn people off.

Megan Murray

But I believe there is nothing wrong with including a photo with other women. If done right, it can work in your favour.

We already mentioned the study, which advocates including others in your photos. What it also says is that it is desirable if other women smile at you.

I agree. It conveys that other women have a good time around you. I also see it that way.

How to Choose Photos for Online Dating

3.4. Can women get jealous when they see your photos with other women?

Use your judgement and answer the following 3 questions:

  • Does the other girl look like your date? (correct answer: No)
  • Does the social situation on the photo look natural? (correct answer: Yes)
  • Do you come across as a player, i.e. someone who loves being surrounded by multiple women? (correct answer: No)

Two ‘bad’ things can still happen:

  1. Some women will still feel uneasy and will not write/reply to you.
  2. Some women may engage with you, but soon will begin enquiring about that photo, showing jealousy.

If either of those things happen, you probably don’t want to date that woman anyway.

If you chose your photo right (i.e. correctly answered the 3 questions), she’s got no reason to be jealous.

3.5. Should you include photos with animals?

According to Zoosk.com, you shouldn’t:

If you’re posing with a dog, cat, monkey, bird, tiger, or any other furry friend, it can get you up to 53% fewer messages.

Megan Murray.

But I find this one particularly difficult to accept. And the evidence can be found on both sides.

I am a sucker for men who love animals – especially cats because they are more difficult to love than dogs.

And I adore photos of men with animals. They just warm up my heart.

And I am not the only one, as indicated by this article on AskMen:

4. What else should you consider for your online dating photo gallery?

There is a variety of tips you will find on this topic. I have looked it all up so you don’t need to.

Here is a list of other things to consider and I agree with them:

  1. Mix your photos and include: at least one portrait, at least one full body shot, and at least ‘action’ photo. This one shows you doing what you love.
  2. Don’t use Photoshop. All the edits you should do are the ones you should be able to do using basic editing software, such as Picasa.
  3. Don’t cover your head with a hat or your eyes with sunglasses. Unless hats are important for you, then do it in one photo only.
  4. Use a photo from vacation. It may help her to begin a conversation with you!
  5. Add an outdoor photo (such as a photo from your vacation).
  6. Don’t include photos with your car or your bike.

5. Test your photos before uploading

If you have come this far, that means you now know how to choose photos for online dating. Well done!

But nowadays, we don’t have just 5 photos from our holidays. We’ve got tens and hundreds.

So how to select the right ones, if you only have a handful of photo slots available?

Tip: don’t ask family or friends. They are biased.

Instead, test them! There are websites which allow you to test your photos and get some feedback from people who don’t know you.

One place where you can test your photos is photofeeler.com

Simply create a profile, start offering feedback on the photos of others and others will start giving feedback on your photos.

This and similar services will give you a rough idea of how your photos are received by others.

6. Conclusion

So if I now ask you: ‘How to choose photos for online dating?’, you will be able to come up with a solid, research-based answer.

I have given you my best and honest advice based on a variety of studies combined with my own, female view on what works best.

My last piece of advice: don’t be afraid to experiment and test everything.

Do you feel particularly attached to certain photos and just ‘know‘ others will love it?

Believe me, I know this feeling. But you may get surprised. That’s why I say test your photos. See how others perceive them.

After all, your real aim is to get her from sitting in front of her computer/smartphone screen and onto a date.

Did you enjoy this article? Have other tips/comments/questions? Write them in a comment below.

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