Should I Get Professional Online Dating Photos Or Is That Disingenuous?

Photographer taking a photo of a woman

I’m 24, and I’ve always seemed to have good luck with online dating.  I’ve met lots of people that way, including my last two boyfriends and a lot of now-close friends. Lately, though, I have this weird dry spell: I still get contacted, but can’t seem to make it to a first date.

I know that you recommend that people use really great, perhaps professionally done, photos. So I’m thinking of upgrading mine to get out of this dry spell. However, I have one worry about getting better photos: If I dress up really nicely, get my hair done, and get photographed in flattering lighting, won’t I look different in my photos than I will on a first date?  After all, a first Internet date is generally a casual daytime meetup, so I wouldn’t be sporting a nice hairstyle or tons of makeup, nor would I be posing under rosy, forgiving lights.

As much as I’d like to attract more men, I don’t want to do so disingenuously, because then I’m sure they wouldn’t call after the first date anyway.

I’ve browsed other women’s profiles (to check out the competition) and a lot of them use casual photos too, so I think this is a concern that a lot of women have.  Please advise us!


I’m really quite interested in trying to figure out why you’re going through a dry spell, but that wasn’t your primary question. Let’s just save that for a rainy day.

Anyway, here’s my theory on professional photography:

Due to the enormous competition, you want to maximize your chance of getting a first date. This doesn’t mean posting a photo from five years and twenty pounds ago. But if it means getting a clear, digital, close-up of you smiling with your hair and makeup done just right, I wholeheartedly endorse it.

If it means getting a clear, digital, close-up of you smiling with your hair and makeup done just right, I wholeheartedly endorse it.

You might be more comfortable wearing sweatpants at home, but that doesn’t mean you wear it to a job interview. Your job is to GET the job. And nothing gives you a better chance to get a first date than an amazing photo of you at your BEST.

That said, I’ve always held onto this one photography maxim in regards to online dating profiles:

You’re only as attractive as your worst photo.

Which is why it baffles me that people take professional headshots and then put up a few god-awful mug shots drunkenly taken on a webcam. Anyone who clicks through is going to assume that you look like the drunkard, not the professional.

So if you’re going to go the professional route — and I encourage you to — make sure you also have a bunch of real-life digital photographs that have context. You and your friends at the beach. You and your family at a wedding. You and your dog at the park. That kind of stuff, which reveals a personality that pro shots tend to obscure….

And when you get your pro shots, just put up two of them — one close-up as your primary picture, and one full-body shot as your fourth or fifth picture. As long as you look like the same person in each photo, you will not risk the possibility of misrepresenting yourself.

But since other people do, remember this other pet theory of mine: your date will most likely be 20% worse looking than his/her best photo. Be pleasantly surprised if this is not the case.

For what it’s worth, I have used professional photographers three different times, and each time, it’s made a marked difference in my visibility and response rate. I didn’t do any Photoshop to get rid of wrinkles, and I wasn’t wearing black and hiding behind a file cabinet to obscure my weight. I just took the time to make the most of my looks.

Remember, these photos are intended to represent you at your BEST, not to fool people into thinking you’re someone that you’re not.

Remember, these photos are intended to represent you at your BEST, not to fool people into thinking you’re someone that you’re not. So, please, contact a photographer and watch your profile get more hits instantly.

I’ve been thrilled with the results and trust you will be, too.

Click here to find a photographer in your area.


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  1. 1

    Totally agree, I encourage my friends to get professional photos made, or at least take a new set of good quality photos showing you at your best. This is no different for a woman than getting made up, putting on a killer outfit, and going out on the town to meet people. It’s all marketing and that’s a good thing.

    Guys are especially bad at posting lousy photos and for them I think it’s even MORE important to stand out. It’s been my experience in the various cities I’ve lived in that there are far more men then women using online sites, which means it’s even more competitive for the guys and thus necessary to find ways to stand out.

  2. 2

    I agree with Evan & Lance. I particularly agree with Evan’s thoughts on how not to misrepresent yourself.

    Informed consent. That’s what we’re talking about here. You want to know what you’re getting (as much as photos allow). The trick with professional photos is if they do not accurately depict the person via lighting that is too good or *gasp* photoshop. Evan’s guidelines are particularly good, but if the photos aren’t augmented by a ‘real’ photo or two, I personally check out. I understand it’s about marketing yourself in the most *flattering* light, but I prefer accuracy. Personal preference. Sara, don’t let this dissuade you from Evan’s good advice. I’m in the minority, I think.

    Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s start a list of photo do’s & dont’s for fun. The assumption here is you want to attract a nice, classy, healthy partner…

    1. Men, don’t post pics of you without your shirt. (Particularly if you look like Sasquatch)
    2. Ladies, don’t post pics of you with your friends who are hotter than you. (Men look at your friends, not you)
    3. Men, don’t post pics in front of your car. (Do I really ned to explain this?)
    4. Ladies, don’t post pics of you in your thong or underwear. (Men, I sure hope this doesn’t apply to you either)
    5. Everyone – post recent pics, not ones from 1994!
    6. Men, don’t post pics from when you had hair, and didn’t look like you were pregnant if that’s what you look like now.
    7. Ladies, don’t post pics from when you were pregnant.
    8. Everyone – don’t post pics wearing football/basketball/baseball jerseys. (I don’t need to explain this, do I?)
    9. Everyone, don’t post black & white pics. (They can be so inaccurate & misleading)
    10. Everyone, don’t post pics of your children. Mention them. (We want to visualize you, not your child).
    11. Don’t post random pics of landscapes, beaches, etc. without you in them (clearly). Who the hell cares about that? If I want to see a waterfall, I can.
    12. Don’t post pics of you doing tequila shots, keg stands, etc.
    13. Don’t post close-ups so big nose hairs look like redwoods.
    14. Ladies, don’t post pics of yourself with pro athletes/actors. (Men think you banged them & other ones & will even if you are ‘taken’ ie. – think you are a star f*%^#r)

    Any additions?

  3. 3

    I don’t think Sarah is going to put a line in her ad that reads “24, but can pass for 14”, but I have to say that I think it is a bad idea for people to wrote how old they think they look. As long as we are on the subject of pictures in personal ads.

    Let the viewer decide.

    If you are 40 but can REALLY pass for 30 you don’t need to tell anyone that. People will see it. However, if you can’t pass for 30 and you write that you can, you come off looking like a vain person out of touch with reality.

  4. 4

    That was a fun list! People actually do this? I haven’t tried on-line dating, I wouldn’t know. Interesting.

    I guess pic’s really can tell the tale hmm. I suspect some of us get told we look younger than we are often enough and we believe them. Going to have to start thinking of those people as liars from now on.

  5. 5

    I’m in the minority, insofar as I prefer “real” (ie, non-professional) photographs. When I see men’s profiles with professional photos I tend to assume that they’ve been touched up, might be a tad vain, and are just trying too hard. Occasionally I’ll come across a photo that is more artistic in rendering, and these I feel better about, so long as there are other real-life photos.

    When I say real-life photos, however, I think these should be quality photos. Not photos where the guy is holding out his arm taking his own picture or looking plastered or as though he just rolled out of bed. But photos that somebody else took where he’s alone (or with an animal, tourist site, etc) and that make him look good. (And I said solo photos, because not only are men attracted to girl’s friends, but women are attracted to the boy’s cuter friends!) You can have flattering non-professional shots, and I think it gives the profile more authenticity which can be highly desirable in online dating where sometimes things seem a little fake.

    My $0.02

  6. 6


    Glad I could make you smile. I think it’s the 1st time I’ve done so… 😉

  7. 7

    I followed a link on this blog to another “I can’t believe he’s still single” . And following under that was a catagory, “Caption This Bachelor”. Very humous pic’s – and even more so the comments. So I see Verbosity what you are getting at. And maybe there is a site out there similar regarding women as well. Ya know, maybe something funny, but NOT pornographic?

    Anyway, makes a case for choosing pic’s you put over the internet WISELY.

    The more I read about internet dating, the more I think people are really BRAVE to try it. It works for many apparently, so who knows for those of us who are skeptics until we try?

  8. 8

    You can use professional photos, but please make sure that these photographs still represent you. I had a friend who took professional photos after having her hair and makeup done, and she looked absolutely fabulous. Unfortunately, the pictures looked nothing like she did in person. I stared at them for awhile before realizing that yes, it was possible to make her look like this without photoshop. She got a lot of responses online, but never any second dates (one guy actually left in the middle of the date after a trip to the bathroom). So I would second the suggestion of using a professional shot to get people to click on your profile, and having a candid one represent the real you.

  9. 9

    I’ve had better results with professional pics. Evan is right.

  10. 10

    jaclyn Feb 12th 2008 at 01:53 am 8 wrote:

    You can use professional photos, but please make sure that these photographs still represent you. I had a friend who took professional photos after having her hair and makeup done, and she looked absolutely fabulous.

    Sounds like a good argument for a makeover

  11. 11

    My opinion is ….they don’t have to be “professional” but they do have to be clear,current,quality photo’s of decent resolution & size. At least 1 should be from the knees or ankles up. They should also be consistent ladies….not 4 different “hair do’s” and “colors” as well as from the same decade !! …LOL If I ran a website 99% of the photo’s would be rejected ! Of course then thier would be no one on it. But the ones on it would be quality…..all 10 of them !! 😉

  12. 12

    I always wonder what people were thinking when they decide to put a really old picture in their ad next to a really new picture.

    “Hey look, I used to look fairly good before I let myself go”

  13. 13

    I’ve always wanted to do a stand up comedy routine using a screen and computer connected to the internet and just go thru BAD online profiles ….lol and after I’d point out “the obvious” I’d say ……….”And these people wonder why they’re single” …LOL
    I would have never ending material…….too funny

    Oh and my favorites are the people(not just women I’m sure)who have “post graduate” degrees and their profile looks like a 5th grader strung 2 sentences together about who they are and what they’re looking for ! Puuhhhhlleeezzzz !!!!

  14. 14

    I admire Sarah and her desire to be honest. I also can see Evan’s point that a good photo could help in raising response rate.

    I also feel that if there is too big a disparity between the photo and the reality, it can be a big letdown, especially as some of us are very hopeful about the people we finally get to meet.

    I also know a man that was quite upset when a women he met online flew in from another country to meet him. She had a nice face and she sent a “glamour shot” style photo that he found quite attractive. He didn’t think to ask for a full body shot. They corresponded a year, and at one point she said she had a “slight weight problem”. He took that to mean 5 – 10 lbs and didn’t care. He told me when he finally flew out to meet her, he was very very disappointed. He was nice enough to blame himself for not asking for more photos. But he is the exception – I think some other men in this situation wouldn’t be so nice about it.

    I also agree with another poster that men need to do a better job with the photos they do post. I scanned the over 40 age group on match, and was surprised at the poor quality of the pictures. Either this group lets themselves go, or they don’t know a thing about what constitutes a good picture.

    However, despite that, as Evan has said before, he gets most of his business from women and not men, so I guess men think they can get away with it. Men might think women don’t care about looks, and maybe a lot don’t, but I’m sure women who do care constitute some percentage.

  15. 15

    Li -Ann;

    That is an impressive story. I know online dating is supposed to be more convenient, but is that convenience really worth it when someone flys to another country to have a moment that could have happened in the first 30 seconds of a real life encounter, without the disappointing build up or expense?

  16. 16

    I’ve found people become more attractive to me the more I come to care for them even if I might have found them to be plain upon first meeting. But that’s all about getting to know someone in person.

    In the on-line venue where you know people are going to be judging you initially by your picture as well as your words, it would seem logical to submit photos that aren’t unflattering, yet accurately reflect what you look like. What a let down it must be to meet someone you’ve been corresponding with for some time, only to find they don’t like your face, or body type. Seems honesty could avoid some uncomfortable meetings.

    And you know, having a slight weight problem could be in the eye of the beholder–what one person considers round, to another would be fat. And 20 lbs. overweight is a small weight problem compared to 50. Or 50 compared to 100. So maybe the woman in Li-Ann’s example didn’t think she was lying about her weight problem when she wrote of it. Perhaps she thought after getting “to know” someone for a year via correspondence her size would not be an issue.

  17. 17

    Any man that’s been online knows that if you just see a woman’s head shot and you ask them for a full body shot photo 99% of the time you’ll never hear from them again because they’re obese. that’s why as Evan will tell you the object of the game is to get to the phone and meet in person ASAP. No one online has ANY value until you meet them IN PERSON. If anyone gets sucked in to the “pen pal” /”phone pal” abyss and gets emotiionally attatched to someone they’ve never met it’s their own fault.

  18. 18
    Evan Marc Katz

    Actually, JB, I’m going to have to disagree with you on that. Yes, no one online has any value until you meet them in person; inasmuch as we shouldn’t get too attached/excited about a blind date with a stranger. However, I’ve been saying the same thing since “I Can’t Believe I’m Buying This Book” in 2004: the object of the game is NOT to meet ASAP. That just creates a parade of random interaction with barely screened losers. And frankly, I’d rather go on two great Friday night dates a month with women I’m excited about than to go on five coffee dates a week because I’m in a rush to meet. Email online, email offline, talk on the phone, and if the person is STILL interesting, THEN meet. And by the way, you can do all of that in less than a week…

  19. 19

    I’ve been doing the online thing off and on for probably SIX YEARS now, with mixed results, but I find it’s standard good practice to have great pictures. Doesn’t mean Glamour Shots…just well framed, well lit pics with you clad in good clothing. There’s nothing underhanded there.

    I also ALWAYS ask for additional pictures after I’ve begun a dialogue, usually after I reach the hook point and I know I can get a number. Again, standard good practice. Sometimes this takes on the form of a myspace exchange, where people store MANY TIMES more pics than on a dating site. The picture exchange is just another test, and it helps to screen out the crazies and unattractive dorks.

    With that being said, I’m going through a phase where everyone I meet is offline. I’m single and can’t wait to go out on V-Day and talk to tons of attractive, single women. What are you doing for V-Day?

  20. 20

    Yeah, I made a mistake saying YOU say that but other “online” experts I think do come close to saying that because let’s face it women online control 99% of all interactions due to the fact that they are getting bombarded by a seemingly endless supply of men and have many options. Where as a guy is basically lucky enough to get 1 response for every 50 women he emails. If he gets a “live one” that shows some interest and he doesn’t keep her attention enough to meet her fairly quickly she’ll be on to today’s 30 responses where you guys can bet 2 or 3 of those guys WILL steal her attention away from you. Of course there are exceptions for the guys that are “9’s” or “10’s” but I’m speaking on average.

    You know Evan that the odds of ANY average guy being able to pull 5 coffee dates a week is slim & none especially with the women he’s REALLY interested in. Now if he emails every BBW on the site I suppose it’s possible.

    Btw no one gets a Friday or Saturday night anything unless they’re “qualified” for it. If I’m not seeing someone whose worthy of those nights I’m out meeting real women instantly the “old fashioned” before the internet way and having a great time doing so. All I can say is THANK GOD every woman ISN’T online dating ….lol Sometimes though both of those worlds “collide” if you know what I mean….LOL

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