When scoring a date depends on some photos and a couple hundred characters, those pictures best be flattering. Attempting to take the perfect online dating profile picture can be a bewildering and discouraging experience, though — one that can result in phones being chucked out windows and resolving to be alone forever.
Fortunately, a couple esteemed portrait photographers agreed to show us how to take photos that make people swipe right, so fetch your phone from the middle of the street, wipe those tears from your handsome face and come along so we can get you a nice date.
Get Your Grooming Done
Before even considering snapping a few photos, make sure to clean yourself up. If you wear a full beard, this means trimming your neckline and cheek line. If you prefer to be clean-shaven, check out our 15-step face shaving guide. If you have some dry skin, moisturize your face. If you have bushy eyebrows, trim those fellas. If you have a case of bedhead, style your hair. If you need a little makeup, make sure to take a look at our face-saving guide first. Whatever you need to do to look your best, do it now.
Pick Some Poses
Sure, candid, natural photos are great, but posed photos give you the power to flaunt your best assets. “I find that guys look best when you take photos of their best side, which in my experience, is often the side where you see their hair parting,” says portrait photographer Peter Quinn. Alternatively, a Wake Forest University study suggests that photos featuring the left side of the face are often perceived by others as more pleasant, since we tend to display more emotion with that side.
There are also some simple tweaks to poses you can make to avoid sporting a double chin and give yourself the appearance of a stronger jawline. “I often advise folks to dip their head a little to have the chin-point cover up the extra neck skin, or they can turn their head a little to carefully hide the less flattering terrain beneath the chin,” Quinn says. Zane DuMont, another portrait photographer, adds that “a turned or tilted head can emphasize the jaw and make it look more chiseled.” To that end, he also emphasizes that you should never take photos from below, since that accentuates any unflattering elements below the chin.
If you have sweet abs, research also shows that young men (under the age of 30, at least) tend to receive more messages when they post shirtless profile pictures. But avoid being too obvious about it — and absolutely avoid taking a mirror selfie — since that gives people the idea that you might be a narcissist, which is obviously no good. So consider snapping a shirtless photo during, say, a pickup basketball game, since sports pictures tend to perform especially well, something we’ll talk more about momentarily.
Consider incorporating your hands, too. “Everyone loves a portrait that shows both the hands and face close by — all the greatest portrait photographers utilize the hands and face method,” DuMont says. “Fix your hat, run your hands through hair, adjust your collar or unbutton your shirt. Maybe avoid the cheesy chin on fist thing, though.”
Choose a Background
Where you take your profile pictures can be just as important as you being in them. For instance, a recent sampling performed by the dating app Hinge found that men who take beach photos are 80 percent less likely to get a like, whereas sports photos are 45 percent more likely to get one. Why exactly beach photos perform badly remains unclear, but it could be because they’re a bit stale and cliché, especially in the realm of social media. Sports photos, meanwhile, tend to do well because they can spark a conversation about your hobbies. The sampling also found that photos of you enjoying a night out, “which ranged from photos of friends at a restaurant to holding a drink at a bar,” increased likes by 74 percent.
Likewise, research shows that men are 19 percent more likely to receive messages when their profile pictures are taken outdoors. eHarmony studies also suggest you can benefit from taking photos that display your interests, whether they be politics, travel, exercise or even your dog. If you have a hamster, even better — research shows that dating profile pictures that feature these furry rodents increase incoming messages by a whopping 351 percent.
Smile and Look Into the Camera
The same Hinge sampling found that men are 43 percent more likely to receive a like when they post a photo smiling without teeth and 102 percent more likely to receive a like when they post one looking forward into the camera. “A simple trick is to look slightly above the lens to give a slightly more awake look,” Quinn says. “I use a Canon, and I ask folks to look at the Canon logo, which is right above the lens.” DuMont adds, “For a natural smile, saying the word ‘yes’ helps fabricate that look.”
Good lighting is important, too. “Soft window light always looks good,” DuMont says. “You want to avoid harsh shadows, unless you understand how to make them work for your face shape.”
Ditch Your Friends
For the photo, at least. No matter how cool your buddies are, having them in your dating profile picture is a recipe for confusion, since potential suitors might have trouble figuring out which person is you. This could explain why TIME found that group shots as a primary profile picture leads to 42 percent fewer messages.
While statistics and advice about taking an attractive profile picture are sweet, what’s even sweeter is when your profile actually represents who you are, so when you meet up with your matches in real life, they don’t run away screaming, “IMPOSTOR!” So just be you, man, and the rest should fall into place.
To quickly review everything we learned today, go get yourself a hamster.