Professional photographer spec

Hello, photographer! Thanks for working with one of my clients on their online dating profile pictures. Here’s what I look for in a great set of online dating pics!

Online dating profile pictures

Most of my clients hire you to get a great primary profile picture. These “main” images usually appear in multiple contexts, crops, and sizes within an online dating site, and they also need to pop when compared to the pictures of the subject’s competition, haha. So I tend to be more rigorous for “main” pictures than I am with any other type of photo shoot!

Setting: I almost always have photographers shoot on location, even if that means “at a bar.” My goal is for client photos to look as if they could have been plausibly shot by a friend, even though a professional photographer and dating coach team is going to bring a higher level of polish to the table! Studio shots can work if the photographer has a desk, etc. that the client can pose at, so it doesn’t look like a deliberately studio-y shoot.

Pops at any size: In addition to being displayed at the top of a complete online dating profile, a user’s primary profile picture is going to be viewed in search and match results. It has to show a flattering yet interesting glimpse of the subject’s face, with lighting and contrast that makes it pop even at a very small avatar size.

This is an example from OkCupid showing suggested profiles to click on (top) and ones I’ve already visited (bottom). See how easy it is for a pic to get lost in the masses?

Profile pictures are usually 64×64 pixels in most scaled-down contexts, but they can often be reduced to as small as 32 px. It’s hard to stand out at that size, but that’s what we aim for!

On most sites, a profile picture gets cropped into a square avatar, but other sites use 4:3 or even a circular crop, or a combination of different crops for different contexts. In order to accommodate these different views, there must be enough spacing to allow for a close but not TOO close crop of the subject’s face and hair.

None of the pictures in this OkCupid example are an example of a perfect profile picture—but a few, like the gal on the beach (top left recently viewed) and the guy in the corner (bottom left recently viewed, are especially difficult to make out at this size. (Let’s not even mention the dude who uploaded the wrong photo rotation, haha.)  Only a few of the “You recently visited” faces clearly stand out in this view and showcase whether the subject might possibly be worthy of a clickthrough.

The contrast, lighting, and crops are all working against these singles. The best example we have here is the second guy from the left, top row—even though that may not be the most flattering or perfectly color-balanced shot, we can see roughly what he looks like even at tiny size. He’s well lit, his face is clearly cropped for maximum visibility without killing ALL negative space, and he stands out from the background. If we had browsed his profile and needed an image to jog our memory, this pic would suffice. But he doesn’t exactly look like he’s having fun. :)

Atypical and fun facial expression: The subject’s facial expression is the biggest part of what makes a great profile picture! The vast majority of online dating pictures are of the subject smiling at the camera in a somewhat posed fashion. Because this more typical portrait-like shot can get very boring to users who are browsing hundreds of singles, I go out of my way to get primary profile pictures that stand out from the crowd.

I seek a very natural, unposed vibe in online dating pictures. Atypical facial expressions are the best, as long as they are still flattering. I will always go for a laughinggrinning, or even rolling eyes or smirking expression before I choose a run-of-the-mill smiling-into-the-camera picture. I like to try and capture some kind of joie de vivre or general amusement with life; something that shows personality and not just cute looks. (I’m usually on site for my Seattle shoots, distracting my client and cracking jokes and hamming it up while my photographer captures the moment.)

Here are some examples of the kind of atypical facial expression vibe I’m after in a primary profile picture. I’m working on getting some professionally shot “do” and “don’t” examples, but in the meantime these have to suffice. I apologize that they’re not really up to professional standards in terms of  image quality, my grooming, etc! However, they should serve to convey the kind of facial expression I try to tease out of my clients for their primary profile picture.

My expression is so silly and joyful that it’s  effective at communicating my personality.
I get compliments on this despite the terrible focus/lighting/shadows! The facial expression looks approachable and amusing/amused, and different than a standard posed smile-at-the-camera shot.
This was my professional head shot for many years. The facial expression of amusement and enthusiasm verging on frustration was very atypical for a setting like LinkedIn, so it helped me stand out from the droves of boring buttoned-down head shots. However, the contrast is way too low between my hair and the background image. Imagine how much better it would pop with great lighting and a solid, darker or brighter colored background!
Here we have a good atypical smiling shot. It’s not THAT far outside the boundaries of a typical “say cheese” image, but I look a little more candid and playful than most posed, normal-smiley profile pics.
This isn’t what I’d go for first and foremost, but if a client were hard to loosen up while they were looking at the camera, I’d try to make them laugh and capture something like this. It’ll do for someone shyer.
Another example of an atypical expression. My quizzical look isn’t a generic smile, and it invites conversation/commentary more than a typical expression would.

This collection is far from comprehensive, but now you’ve got an idea of the expression spectrum I’m looking for! And yes, I now feel like a total narcissist, heh.

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