According to a survey by  EliteSingles, more than 65% of online daters reported that pictures were the most important aspect of a dating profile. 

Considering the popularity of  visually driven online dating sites, this comes as no surprise, but It was not only visual impact that drove this response. 

the best profile picture for online dating

Respondents indicated that apart from the visual stimulus the pictures brought to the experience, they also used the profile pictures as a way to gauge the truthfulness of the written profile accompanying it.

If the person in the picture ‘looked like’ the person described in the profile, this indicated truthfulness or authenticity. 

Are you too attractive?

Research by OKCupid led to some very counterintuitive findings. It was found that being ‘too attractive’ resulted in fewer likes or contacts – especially for men. 

Men who were below-average or average looking, were more likely to receive likes or messages. 

It seems then, that the best profile picture is not necessarily the one showing the most attractive man or woman. It is much more complicated than that. There are many aspects to creating a winning profile picture. 

the best profile picture for online dating

In the first place, care must be taken with the photography itself. 

Lighting, angle and positioning is very important, as is poise and posture. 

Clothing, colors and emotional expression are gender related, and apart from the physical appearance of the individual in the picture, the context and activities depicted also matter a great deal.

The pictures you select will show the viewers a lot about you.  As the old adage says, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Photographic Pointers

In his book “The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users” Guy Kawasaki offers the following advice. 

the best profile picture for online dating

THE CAMERA

  • When posing for a photograph, face the light. Do not take the photograph with the light coming from behind.
  • The face is the most important component, so focus on the face.
  • When taking a photograph of the face, do not put the face directly in the middle of the photograph. Rather place the face a bit asymmetrical.
  • To make a man look larger and more masculine, the photographer can crouch down and take the picture at an upward angle.
  • The most people will look their best if the camera angle is slightly above eye level.
  • A profile picture must be quite large. Do not use a stamp-sized picture. Use a picture that is at least 600 pixels wide to really be noticed.
  • Optimally, photographs must be taken in landscape and 3×4 portrait sizes.
  • Medium shots are always preferred to close-ups.
  • The worst mistake to make is to use a very narrow format.
  • Very wide shots are absolutely not conducive, nor shots taken from very far away.
  • Never use a poor-quality photograph, especially if it is out of focus.

THE POSE

According to eHarmony more than 80% of profile pictures are posed for. 

When using a professional photographer, photos are almost always posed, but – candid photographs result in up to 15% more likes. 

When posing, certain methods used by professional models and actors can improve results and make a profile picture much more attractive.

the best profile picture for online dating

Standing pose:

Models often use this technique to appear taller and thus, slimmer.

Pro Posing Tips:

  • Make a three-quarter turn and put your weight on your back foot to create a long and lean look. After turning, rotate your torso to face the camera.
  • Keep your arms away from your body by lifting it slightly or resting your hand on your hip.
  • To maximize the slender look, push your elbows backwards, to increase the distance between your arms and the camera.

Whatever is nearer to the camera, always appears bigger.

Men can use the same stance, and make their arms appear thick and strong by pressing it against the body.

Women who stand in their profile pics (alone, not in a group) will receive 69% more likes, eHarmony researchers report.  Men who stand (also alone) will generate 11% more likes.

This is partly because people want to see how a potential date carries herself/himself, and partly to assess health and physical condition, body type and so on.

the best profile picture for online dating

Sitting pose:

For the sleek look, women can repeat the above or use the feminine tips below for extra posed sitting ideas.

Pro Posing Tips:

  • When sitting at an angle, cross the back leg over the front leg. This exposes less of your thigh.
  • Cross at your ankles rather than your knees, will make her appear even leaner.

Men who wish to appear larger, can just spread their knees far apart. By using more space in the picture, they will seem larger.

Should you face the camera?

According to the eHarmony researchers, women should look away from the camera.

Profile pictures in which the woman is looking away rather than directly into the camera, receive 74% more likes.

the best profile picture for online dating

Men, on the other hand, must look straight ahead, facing the camera, rather than looking away.  This will generate 102% more likes.

Posture

When sitting for a photograph (or standing)

  • Never slouch
  • Pull shoulders back
  • Keep back straight
  • Do not stare
  • Do not cross arms

SHOWING EMOTION

There is broad consensus that both men and women generate more likes on dating sites when they smile (average of 23% more likes).  There are subtle differences that apply here.

What do women look for?

When a woman smiles on a profile picture, she will increase her likes by 76% if she smiles broadly, and shows her teeth. A man on the other hand, will lose a lot of  likes if he smiles and shows teeth.

It has been found that when men smile on their dating profile pictures,  they will generate 43% more likes by smiling without showing their teeth. 

the best profile picture for online dating

A study by Tracy and Beall, 2011, suggests that men and women are attracted to different emotional cues when they view a picture of the opposite sex.

Women look for pride. They are highly attracted to men who are proud. Pride is displayed by a man when his head is slightly titled upward, and his chest is pushed out.

Further physical displays of pride are shows of victory for example, when a man holds his fisted hands above his head. 

The theory, so it goes, is that pride is associated with masculinity, and that women equates this with an increased ability to provide and care for a family.

What do men look for?

Men on the other hand, are more attracted to women who seem happy (signaled by smiling very broadly). 

It appears that men associate happy women with low levels of dominance and high levels of femininity. 

the best profile picture for online dating

People experience deep emotional connections when they view photographs, especially where sexual attraction is involved. 

Research by Wake Forest University suggests that our emotional antennas are so finely tuned, that we automatically find the left side of a person’s face more attractive, or appealing, than the right side.

It has been posited that we find the left side more attractive because we express emotion more intensely on the left side of the face than on the right side.

FASHION AND APPAREL

The biggest no-no if you want to create the best profile picture for online dating, seems to be sunglasses.  Men and women who wear sunglasses on their profile picture, generate 41% fewer likes. 

This is about equal to the disadvantage generated when the profile picture seems unfriendly, or when the man or woman’s face is impassive or unsmiling.

the best profile picture for online dating

According to The Grade dating app,  the best results for men are generated when they use a headshot (done professionally) and if they have facial hair.    The worst thing a man can do on his profile picture, is to wear a hat. Hats do not work for men. 

According to The Grade, women who are singing or playing  musical instruments, top the charts in popularity on their site.  This is equaled only by women wearing bikinis.  They say, that tattoos and eyeglasses are two of the most damaging things for women to show on a profile picture. 

How Clothing Color Affects Online Dating

The color of clothing worn, can also affect the response a profile picture will create.  According to Psychology Today women should always wear red in their profile pictures. 

The lady in red grabs the attention and always appears desirable.  According to LookBetterOnline, men should avoid red altogether. Men, they advise, must always wear either black or dark blue for their profile pictures. 

the best profile picture for online dating

While bikini-clad women receive more likes, the same does not happen when men appear shirtless in their profile pictures.  Men who use photos taken on the beach for their profile pictures, are very unsuccessful according to research.

Beach photos used by men will generate 80% fewer likes than photos taken in other locations. Beach photos used by women, despite the high traffic generated by bikini shots, generate 47% fewer likes.  The beach, somehow, is not a good idea.

Don’t Go Shirtless

Shirtless men are a bit more controversial. Overall, there seems to be consensus that going shirtless is rife with risk. 

Any shirtless picture shot in front of a mirror is an instant turnoff.  Besides the fact that bathroom selfies by men and women generate 90% fewer likes,  shirtless bathroom selfies do even worse.

Men who use shirtless in- the-mirror (bathroom) selfies, are generally considered to be nothing more than narcissists, and they get very, very little traction. However, there is a caveat to this.

Not all shirtless shots are detrimental. If the shirtless picture is coincidental to some or other activity, things change.

A man with a magnificent upper-body that is pictured while he is playing water polo, or kayaking in the great outdoors, will most likely be considered tremendously attractive. 

It is the showing off that is detrimental. When the picture is not essentially a call for bragging rights, but rather an example of real lifestyle, this can work well.

the best profile picture for online dating

It has to be emphasized though, that men should never try to imitate women when it comes to visually displaying physical beauty.  A man, most experts agree, must signal more than a great body to attract women. 

Be True to You.

Women look for confidence, social status, an exciting lifestyle, charisma, eye contact, body language and so much more.  Unless the shirtless picture carries water for these qualities, it will backfire. 

As such, no shirtless profile picture can ever work if only one profile picture is used. It can only work as one of a series of pictures on a dating profile.

Woman on the other hand, must be especially careful not to use inaccurate or misleading pictures.  Women are often tempted to use their very best picture ever, especially if they were substantially younger when it was taken. 

They are also frequently tempted to use filters to airbrush their appearance.

Besides the risk of looking like a noire-movie starlet from the 1950’s, the inconsistencies between such photoshopped pictures and other pictures in their profiles, can create the impression of dishonesty, and of course, will make it almost impossible to meet anyone.

The false expectations created by such faux profiles will exclude any real life interaction.

Researchers found that the application of filters such as these cause a comparative drop of 90% in likes generated. 

the best profile picture for online dating

Context and Activity

There is widespread agreement that the best profile picture is never a single picture. 

While profiles with photographs always generate more reaction and messages than profiles without,  profiles with four or more pictures, generate an average of nine times more likes than profiles with less than four pictures.

Power in Numbers

Twelve photographs is considered the optimal, according to eHarmony.   On average, women post more profile pictures than men.

Where men post an average of 4.2 pictures per profile, women average out at 6.4 pictures per profile.

According to Match, no one should upload less than four profile pictures.

The moment more than one picture is posted, a story is told: a narrative is created and narratives attract interest.  Various types of pictures can be combined:

  • Head shots
  • Full body shots
  • Social shots
  • Hobby Shots
  • Cute animal shots, and more.

Be a sports buff.

Photographs depicting men and women playing sports, result in a staggering  75% average increase in likes. 

For women, sports will generate a whopping 166% increase in likes, while for men, only a 45% increase occur. 

When adding a social dimension to profile pictures, featuring a night out for example, an increase in likes/messages/contacts of up to 74% often comes about.

Certain things however, will drive likes down just as spectacularly. 

Things To Avoid in Your Profile Picture

  1. Selfies, irrespective of the context or quality, will reduce likes with up to 40%. 
  2. Bathroom selfies will bring likes down with more than 90%.

The old-fashioned black and white picture, brings some magic into the equation though.  While only 3% of profile pictures include a black and white picture, those that do, experience surges of up to 106% in the likes they generate.

the best profile picture for online dating

Top Mistakes in Profile Pictures

  • Some people use dating sites to virtue signal. A profile picture on a dating site is not the appropriate place to show off contributions to animal welfare or feeding homeless people.
  • Never, ever use a profile picture taken in an apartment or home, where dirty laundry or unwashed dishes lurk in the background or where the reflection in mirrors or on walls and windows can show some compromising details rather left hidden.
  • Be self-aware enough. Do not take a picture in front of an offensive poster or nasty banner, and avoid showing any personal photographs and pictures containing family members, incidentally.
  • Do not be tempted into using the social-climbing shot as a profile picture. A selfie with with Matt Damon or next to a Bugatti parked on Rodeo drive,  will probably hurt more than it will help
  • Avoid using pictures that shows off the party animal. Don’t show any pictures where alcohol is consumed, where cigars are smoked, or where cheeks are bulging with hamburger.
  • If captions are added to a photograph or profile, avoid spelling errors, bad grammar or internet shorthand. According to the Match annual report “Singles in America,” shortcuts like OMG and LOL are attraction killers. Write it out. Use full sentences and proper grammar. Do not appear illiterate.
  • Never use a meme depicting someone else, as your profile photo. Only use photographs of yourself, never strangers.
  • Do not use a picture of the beloved family dog. Only show the dogs in a photograph depicting personal interaction with them. Never the dogs only.

In Summary

At the end of the day, the best profile pictures are meant to depict reality: they are supposed to show off the real person.  Looks are enhanced by doing things with a passion.

Adding pictures that show a person passionately doing the things he/she loves to do, will often create passion in the eyes of the beholder too.  Whether the passion is for surfing, shopping or traveling, the context adds color. 

the best profile picture for online dating

When a profile picture shows the social side of a man or woman’s existence, hanging out with friends and sharing the good things in life, more color is added. 

Adding a great solo picture – for women, showing tasteful and classy made up features, or for men, showing off stylish clothes, great shoes and perfect  denims  –  the best profile pictures become a life story of someone really desirable.