When it comes to online dating sites, your profile photos can make you, and they can break you. You may live a life to make James Bond jealous and write with Oscar Wilde’s rapier wit, but a bad dating profile photo will scare off potential dates faster than “Well, the doctor says it’s not infectious but…”
Fortunately the secret to looking better in photos is simple: have a friend who’s really good with Photoshop.
OK, I keed, I keed. You really don’t want that. After all, the goal of dating profiles is to actually meet people in person. I don’t care how goddamn charming you might be, starting a date with the realization that you’ve lied is going to guarantee that you’re going home alone.
(Plus, one of my side-jobs is doing photo touchups and I really don’t need the competition)
More seriously, there’s more to looking good in photos than trying out the tips you’ve seen on America’s Next Top Model.
No, if you want to bring out your photogenic side, you have to know more than just have to pose. You have to understand how men and women react to different poses, how cameras work and the physics of light.
Intimidated? Don’t be. It’s all actually surprisingly simple.
Know The Camera Hierarchy
All cameras are not created equal.
The mechanics of how different cameras work cause striking differences in how the photos work… and how people react to them.
Cameras are differentiated by their complexity. In order, you have your single-lens reflex cameras (cameras with interchangeable lenses, including the 4/3rds and micro-4/3rds cameras), compact or point-and-shoot cameras (cameras with focus-free lenses or automated focusing, automated exposure, shutter speed and depth of field control) and finally camera phones and webcams (cameras that lack almost any exposure or aperture control, fixed-focus lenses, smaller sensors and a lack of shutter entirely).
Similarly the quality of photos taken with those cameras varies by the complexity. SLRs take the best, followed by point-and-shoots and then camera phones.
If you’re doing the “shoot yourself in the mirror with your iPhone” pose, you’re doing yourself a drastic disservice; not only is it not an attractive pose in the first place, but you’re using a camera that actually makes you look worse.
Every camera, regardless of how expensive or how many megapixels it shoots in, introduces a certain amount of distortion by virtue of the lens. Cheaper lenses will tend towards greater distortion.
You’re also missing out on finer levels of control with the less complex cameras. Even with the massive improvements in cellphone cameras (especially with the iPhone 4 and 4s), cellphone cameras lag drastically behind even cheap point-and-shoot cameras. The smaller sensors and fixed focus lenses take control out of the hands of the photographer; even the most complex camera phones are restricted by a lack of ability to change the focal length, the zoom and depth of field.
SLRs represent the best option for good-looking photos; the wider range of options allows for better looking photos with less distortion that can inadvertently make you ugly. The sole advantage of point-and-shoot cameras and cellphones are their portability; even micro 4/3rds cameras aren’t quite as pocketable as modern compacts.
Know How To Use Your Tools
No matter which camera you’re using, you need to understand how to use it to show you off to your best advantage. Automatic is fine if you’re taking travel snaps, but not for dating profile photos. Automatic settings like “Portrait” will produce a better result if you’re using a point-and-shoot, but your best options are to control the ISO settings and the aperture. The higher the ISO your camera is set to (or the higher the ISO of your film if you insist on doing this old-school), the less light you need to capture the image; this also corresponds to a higher level of graininess in your images, which can distract from the subject i.e. you. Use the lowest possible ISO and still capture a well-exposed image. If you have to crank the exposure in Photoshop afterwards, it’s too dark.
You also want a shallow depth of field, where the main subject is tack sharp and everything around them has a soft blur. Not only is this effect visibly pleasing, but it helps you pop out from the background and keeps the (subjective) focus on you rather than allowing your surroundings to overpower the image. Photos with a shallower depth of field tend to feel more intimate; people feel a stronger personal connection to the subject, which helps increase the perceived attractiveness.
And NO FLASH. Tattoo this on your forehead backwards so you can read it in the mirror every morning. No flash, especially if you’re using a compact camera. On-camera flashes are hard, harsh lighting that will over-expose your face and add shadows and crags that you just don’t want. A harsh light will artificially age you by drawing attention to any flaws, crows feet, laugh lines, deepen shadows that will make your eyes look sunken in, your nose larger and blow out your skin tone. Unless you (or your photographer) is good at off-camera strobe-lighting… NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY.
Follow The Light
Natural light is your best friend when it comes to profile photos. Unless you’re working with a professional photographer (or a talented amateur), artificial lighting will almost always be too harsh; highlights will be overexposed, shadows will be too dark and hard-edged, and the color of the light itself will throw off the image.
However, you don’t want to just run outside and snap some photos. The time of day makes a huge difference; the closer to noon, the more overhead the sun will be and overhead light is nobody‘s friend regardless of the source. Afternoon is the prime time for lighting; as you approach sunset, the sunlight is more indirect and the blue light is scattered giving things a warmer glow. In fact, the hour right before sunset is known as the Golden (or Magic) hour, and it’s a beloved time for photographers.
But hey, ya’ll didn’t come here looking for The Strobist. You want more than just trivia about cameras and photography techniques. So let’s talk about how to make sure you look good when the you get your picture taken.