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The Perfect Online Dating Profile Picture, According to Research

Briallyn Smith 17-04-2017

Sure, we’ve all heard not to judge a book by its cover. But in the online dating world, sometimes a picture is all you have to go by!


Photo-heavy profiles are now the norm across most major dating sites, so picking the right profile pictures is the key to your success in finding matches. If you don’t have good photos 5 Things To Avoid When Taking Selfies Selfies shouldn’t be taken lightly, and there are many things you need to avoid. Read More ? You’re likely not going to get many dates.

Picking out photos to use can feel like a lot of pressure, especially if you’re someone who likes to avoid the camera.

Thankfully, there really is no need to stress. Major online dating companies regularly complete large-scale surveys to figure out exactly what potential matches find attractive. Based on their research, you will have the perfect selection of profile photos in no time!

Immediate Deal-Breakers

Okay, before we get into the specifics, let’s cover a couple key rules right off the bat. For most online dating sites, the following photos often lead to immediate rejections.

  1. Photos with Exes — It doesn’t matter how good you look in the photo. If a potential match sees a photo that makes it look like you are already in a happy, monogamous relationship, they’re gone. And no, putting “the girl in my pic is my ex lol” at the end of your profile does not cancel out her presence in your photo. If anything, it makes you look like you have some unresolved history there.
  2. No Photos of Yourself — People taking a chance on online dating want to know who they’re talking to. Yes, you might have some great ocean photography or photos of an adorable pet. That’s great. But, they shouldn’t be the only photos on your profile. Not having any photos at all of yourself on a dating profile makes it look like you have something to hide, and matches don’t find that attractive.
  3. Avoid Obvious Photoshops or Filters — People want to know what you look like, and they want the unvarnished version.

Surprisingly Not a Deal-Breaker: Attractiveness

Seriously. In fact, research by OKCupid shows that being too attractive might result in receiving fewer messages. This holds especially true for men — if you’re average, or even below-average on average, you’re more likely to receive messages from women.


And even if attractive people get more messages, it doesn’t mean that they’re fastest to find an offline connection. People who receive a lot of messages tend to spend less time replying to messages, making it difficult for them to truly connect.

So, to be clear, your attractiveness (or lack thereof) is unlikely to be the only reason your profile isn’t getting attention.

Clichés Aren’t All Bad

Common sense might make you think that posting an overdone trendy photo will lead to an immediate negative opinion from potential matches. However, the online dating statistics 7 Online Dating Stats That Just Might Surprise You How many of these online dating stats did you already know? At least one of them will catch you off guard. Read More show that several often-mocked photo poses actually help users to get more messages.

For men, if you have abs, you might as well show them off. Eric Klinenberg, co-author of the book Modern Romance, says that the research shows ab photos (of men under thirty) can work in your benefit. Just make sure you don’t take them in front of a mirror — a study by Zoosk showed that 29 percent of women actively dislike mirror selfies.


Want to use an especially good selfie in your profile? According to research by Wired magazine: if you’re a woman, go right ahead! Strangely enough, the most effective photos for women are often selfies taken at the “Myspace angle” where the photo is taken from an angle high above the head.

Use Photos That Start a Conversation

The best profile photos will lead to a conversation. But what kinds of photos are most likely to do that?

If you’re a man, the research shows that simply taking a photo outside can lead to 19 percent more messages. According to eHarmony’s research, other great conversation starters include photos that indicate an interest in politics, travel, exercise, or theater. If you have a cute pet, all the better — pose with them in a picture and you’re set!

It’s a different story for women. The same study shows that the most attractive interests for women to showcase on their profile are health, food, family, dancing, and art. But beware: for women, pet photos can lead to decreased interest 6 Online Dating Mistakes You Should Never Make Online dating is a complex world, and you need to do everything you can to stand out to potential matches. Here are six key pitfalls to avoid. Read More . You might want to save the photos of you and your cat for a later date.


Be the Star of Your Profile

If you think about it logically, this one makes a lot of sense. Group shots are incredibly confusing for people viewing your profile for the first time. They have no way of knowing which person is you!

In fact, found that group shots as your primary photos led to 42 percent fewer messages, and found that group photos on a man’s profile lead to a 29 percent decrease in women’s interest. If you want to use a group photo anyways, be smart about it.

(Don’t) Smile for the Camera

If big smiles are all your face can do in photos without looking pained or awkward (I’m right there with you), they aren’t hurting your chances. But, if you really want your pictures to get attention, OKCupid found that other facial expressions perform better with potential matches.

For women, a flirty smile given into the camera is your best bet. Researchers believe that when you are smiling at someone else in a photo or looking off into the distance that potential matches don’t feel the same connection as they do when they seem to lock eyes with you from a photo taken with you staring into the camera.


For men, the statistics show that you’re best off looking away from the camera without a smile. Just keep in mind that you want this photo to come across as mysterious and intriguing, not creepy. And a “looking away from the camera” photo shouldn’t ever be a selfie. You are fooling no one.

Consider Your Profile as a Whole

Let’s talk strategy. For most online dating profiles, you should be posting more than one picture. Four photos can help to give a well-rounded perspective on your life and offers a good amount of conversation fodder without being overwhelming. This is when we synthesize all the research and apply it by creating a truly attractive and attention-grabbing profile.

  1. Your first picture needs to be of you (and only you), and should be the most flattering photo you have. Recent research shows that people form their first opinions of others in less than 1/10th of a second, and that those opinions are likely to stick. Make your first impression your best impression, especially on high-speed dating apps like Tinder.
  2. Your second photo should be a photo that shows you participating in one of your interests. If it’s one of the “attractive” interests mentioned above, all the better! Keep it casual for this photo, and show that you’re comfortable being yourself.
  3. Next, a photo with one or two other people or a pet (if you’re male!). While you don’t want to fall into the group photo trap mentioned above, you do want to show that you have a social life, and that you are a real person and not a Tinder bot The 5 Worst Tinder Scams: Tips for Dating Safely on Tinder Here are Tinder scams, like the verify account scam, that you should look out for, along with advice on how to avoid them. Read More !
  4. Use another photo of you travelling, participating in a fun hobby, or doing something you love. If you have a full-body shot, all the better. Research by Zoosk shows that including a full-body photo of yourself increases the number of messages you receive by 203 percent!

Most Importantly, Look Like Yourself

In the end, the goal of online dating Frustrated with Online Dating? These 9 Apps Are Doing Things Differently There are several problems with what online dating looks like right now. These apps offer solutions to each of these problems so you find the one that works right for you. Read More is to meet up with your matches in real life. If your profile doesn’t represent you accurately, it doesn’t matter how perfect it is statistically! Making small tweaks to improve your chances is fine, but pretending to be someone you’re not is a recipe for disaster. Be true to yourself so that you can build a strong foundation for whatever kind of relationship you are interested in.

What are your best tips for online dating photos? Did any of these statistics surprise you? Let me know in the comments!

Image Credit: ArtFamily via

Explore more about: Online Dating, Selfie.

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  1. Becca
    June 22, 2019 at 4:24 pm

    I'm an older, widowed female who's on a dating website for the first time. I've found certain characteristics in photos of males that bother me. Aside from what's mentioned in the article, I find the following to be a turn-off or even downright creepy: A shadowy selfie, taken from below, with no particular expression on his face. A primary photo in which his mother also appears, holding his hand. Ditto if taken with Dad and/or Mom, appearing quite sick or debilitated. A man reclining, showing his bare, hairy just , and especially if he's also winking. Makes me feel he's interested in one thing. A man who won't provide a photo at all, or provides one that is shadowy/blurry/taken from a distance. The kind of photo I find most appealing is one in color, close up and clear, with at least a semblance of a smile, and not one in which he's attempting to "show off" in some manner. Just a clear, candid photo of him only in the picture.