How To Take Good Dating Photos: Tips on Poses, Smiles, Facial Expressions, Angles, Cropping, Focal Distance, Wardrobe Colors, Eyes & Avoiding Intense Photos.

As an online dating consultant in San Francisco, I have worked countless men and women on all aspects of their dating profiles over the years. Photos (particularly your main profile photo) will have the single biggest impact on your dating success and unfortunately many people self-sabotage their profiles with bad photos.

In previous posts, I discussed the types of photos that generally perform well from an environmental and situational perspective as well as cliche photos that are typically boring, repetitive and hard to stand out from the competition.

Focal Length / Distance

When it comes to distance, it’s important to understand how focal length impacts photos. Typically, the closer you are to your camera, the wider the images will be (distortion). It’s why photographers try to put distance between their cameras and the subjects whenever possible.

Unless you have long arms, selfies are generally not recommended. Yes there is software to adjust images but it is time-consuming and involves editing skills. A rule of thumb is to apply social distancing rules (six-feet) when taking photos.

Pro-tip: Front camera on mobile phones typically have smaller focal lengths (closer distances) which distort images. Use the back camera or better yet ask someone to take a photo of you with your camera for more flattering images.

The Best Photo Angles

Photos taken at or slightly above eye level are recommended for photos. Photos below the eye-level or chin often yield turkey-neck type photos which are unflattering to say the least. With that said, don’t go overboard with super high-angled photos – those are a definite sign of insecurity, catfishing, or trying to mislead others as to appear slimmer. People know this and rather than try to guess intent or actual appearance, they will swipe left and focus on those profiles that have normal angles.

Lighting + Time of Day

There is a reason why people prefer to take photos during sunrise and sunset also known as golden hour or magic hour. Lighting at those times yield softer, warmer lighting which is flattering for photos. Shooting photos in the shadows of tall buildings or on overcast days will help but even then reflective light from mirrors, windows and vehicles can redirect harsh lighting to the subject.

Not every photo has to have perfect lighting (other items like environments, situations, expressions, can make up for imperfect lighting) but it helps to have good lighting to reduce oily skin, red marks on your face and squinting.

Eyes + Shadows

Shadows are a great way to use diffused light during the middle of the day but shadows around the eyes are never a good thing. Using sunglasses is ok for 1 photo max in a profile of 4-6 photos but more than that can be seen as a sign of hiding, insecurity or lack of awareness. People want to see how you look.

If you take photos in the middle of the day, you run the risk of displaying raccoon eyes or panda eyes (dark circles around your eyes). This is not a good look. You want even lighting so people can see your eyes and also help you to avoid squinting.

When it comes to eyes, it helps to keep a relaxed, yet confident look in your pupils. Wide open eyes (bug eyes, bulging eyes) can appear a bit crazy, neurotic or intense. A slight squint can help minimize this look as to not appear like an overeager stalker. Similarly, squinting too hard can make guys appear creepy and primal. Instead of focusing too hard to look good, focus on relaxing more with help of friends, environment, pets or ambiance.

Practice keeping your face toward the camera lens but shift your pupils to the edges of your eyes for varied look. Not all photos should look like a DMV or mugshot. It’s recommended to shift your frame and face slightly away from the camera but no more than 5-15 degrees away.

Facial Expressions + Smiles

It’s always helpful to have photos that make a good first impression. Smiles will often do the trick but you don’t want fake smiles, wide-open smiles if you are concerned with your teeth nor do you want small smiles that signal attitude or constipation. A good photographer can help you achieve smiles that are authentic and varied across your dating profile (but keep in mind, most photographers are bad at dating profile photos).

Portrait photos can come off as staged, fake, embellished, airbrushed, overly slimming or inauthentic. Using the same smile can come off as rehearsed or is a dead giveaway that you hired a professional photographer.

The goal of dating profile photographer should not be to take the photos you like the best but take the photos that will attract the people you want. Most people are bad at analyzing their own photos.  Most of my clients come from disappointed people who hired portrait photographers that yielded ineffective dating profiles.

Photos that seem indecisive, tired, low-energy and lazy are not recommended. These photos signal low-effort in the eyes of others. Many people look lethargic and lack energy in their photos. LOOK ALIVE! Even if you are shy or introverted, there have to be occasions, hobbies, people or environments that perk you up. Find those things and surround yourself with them for photos and life in general!

Wardrobe Colors

Some people with light skin are able to get away with a wider range of colors as their skin tone will not clash as often with their wardrobe as people of color might. Conversely, pale people run the risk of getting washed out in photos and appearing ghostly or malnourished if their colors are too bright or light. A variety of colors along the lines of jewel tones and pastels can brighten up a photo and make you more approachable, attractive.

Relying on grays, blacks, navy blues can make you seem darker, sadder, more intense or a bit gloomy. There are always exceptions to the rules but for guys in particular, sticking to a narrow set of colors for your tops especially can make you look dull or uninteresting.

Cropping Photos for Profiles

Like professional headshots, most photos should compose at most 60-70% of the frame with your body, face. People who take weird high angle photos, take photos from proximity or crop photos (with exes, friends) too closely make this mistake way too often.

On the opposite end of the spectrum some people are notorious for using photos (particularly travel or nature photos) that are zoomed out way too far resulting in photos where their body makes up less than 5% of the frame. 20-40% fill frame is generally where you want to be from a minimum range unless you have something epic (which is generally the exception for all types of photos).

Do I Need Dating Headshots?

The short answer is no. Most dating apps are mobile app first and so as long as your photo is well lit and close up relatively speaking, you are fine. Platforms that are desktop first may require a more cropped photos to be visible on a larger screen with more profiles visible i.e. OkCupid, or Plenty of Fish.

Should I Use Selfies In My Dating Photos?

Typically, selfies are not recommended for various reasons (distortion because of proximity, lack of social validation, unflattering backgrounds and bad expressions). It’s one thing to take a selfie with a friend, celebrity or epic lookout, it’s another thing to take a selfie in the mirror, bathroom, bedroom, hallway or basement.

These are just a few key tips to keep in mind for taking photos, I offer clients customized solutions for their age, skin tones, lifestyle, frame and more through my consultations in person or remote (info below).

For more information on dating app FAQ’s including which photos to use, what are the best apps, monthly average user numbers, conversation starters, check out this comprehensive guide I put together:

About Eddie Hernandez 

Eddie Hernandez is a professional photographer specializing in natural, candid online dating photos. Featured in the SFGate, ABC7News, East Bay Express, Salon; contributor to Good Men Project, Plenty Of Fish and Meddle. In addition to photos, he provides guidance around app choice, bio optimization, messaging techniques, wardrobe advice and date ideas.

Dating Profile Critique

For those of you who are remote or virtual dating help and are looking for an online dating profile critique you can read more about my services here.

For other helpful online dating tips check out my blog for more helpful advice:

Online Dating Frequently Asked Questions (Photos, App Choice, Wardrobe, Messaging, Bios and More):

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