How to choose your best profile photo

Saskia posing for photo

Part six in the Time to Shine Online Dating series.

online-dating-profile-picture-3-300x199You may remember that I’m a photographer by profession – in fact I specialise in providing my London-based clients with gorgeous photos capturing their spirit with the aim of helping them shine online, hence the name of this online dating series.

I’m passionate about using my photography and people skills to help people connect with others and, in some cases, find friendship and love. I think it’s possible I have just about the best job in the world!

With that in mind, today we are moving on to what is almost certainly the most important part of your profile: your photos. It’s the window dressing, the cherry on the cake.

Snap decisions

In the world of online dating, people often make snap decisions based on very little information, and a big part of this decision is the profile photo. Now, according to my good friend Will (the font of all knowledge) 90% of men and 68% of women decide whether to contact somebody for a date based on their profile pictures alone.

It is possible that statistic is somewhat exaggerated, but my point is that choosing your dating profile photos is probably the single most important thing you can do to make sure you secure dates, and more importantly the right kind of dates.

Ok, let’s get down to business. I would suggest that you dig out all the photos you have of yourself that you are considering including as part of your profile. I will then talk you through the dos and don’ts in terms of choosing enticing profile photos, and you can keep or cast aside accordingly. Sound good?

The goal today is to help you choose three to five photos to help you continue to build your winning online dating profile. You might want to set aside a stock of suitable back-up photos that can be called upon when you when you want to change things up – it’s always good to aim to keep your profile fresh.

I will also give you top photography tips where possible for those of you who need to get more photos taken and are thinking of asking a friend to help.

Saskia standing next to a treeLight, bright, clutter-free and in focus

A quick glance at the homepage of any dating site often reveals an unattractive mishmash of poorly lit, cluttered and blurry photos. Anyone with light, bright and clutter-free photos will stand out for all the right reasons. You can bet their profiles will get clicked on loads more than the others, ensuring they have a higher chance of meeting their Mr or Mrs Right much more quickly.

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Top tips:

  • Find a friend with a good digital camera (good photos can be taken on smart phones with a little bit of extra care, see below for more on this).
  • In order to make your picture as pin-sharp as possible, go outside and find a light, airy spot with a plain background. The side of a building or some trees or bushes in the local park will work a treat.
  • If it’s a very sunny day, find the shade, as this will provide more flattering light on your face. The sun can play havoc casting shadows everywhere.
  • Make sure your friend frames you nicely in the photo and most importantly has a steady hand. This will help make sure the photo is super sharp.


For your main profile photo, you will need to have at least one clear head and shoulders shot. Your face should be directed towards the camera and you should be smiling or, at the very least, hinting at a smile.

A smile is your best asset. If you’re not smiling, you may be in danger of making yourself seem unapproachable. Remember: people are making snap decisions based on your top profile photo.

Top tips:

  • Take lots of photos, rather than just one or two. Whenever I go on shoots I always shoot hundreds of photos, because that way I can be sure I will have captured at least 20 or 30 great shots.
  • Try to relax with your friend and have a laugh while they carry on taking the photos – that way they should be able to capture some of you laughing or smiling naturally.
  • Oh yes, and fake smiles are worse than no smiles, in my humble opinion.
  • If you’re worried about double chins and things, ask your friend to shoot you from slightly above so that you’re looking up at the camera – it’s way more flattering.
  • Experiment with different poses – you might try tilting your head in some shots and looking in different directions as well as directly at the camera.
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Express your personality

Saskia in front of a statueNow that you have your main profile photo lined up, you can be a bit more flexible about the supporting photos. Ideally you will need to include at least one full body shot just so that prospective dates have a general idea of your body type before they meet you.

If you can, choose supporting photos that showcase elements of your personality or interests.

Photos of you absorbed in something are perfect – if you’re into painting, cycling, gardening, cooking, sewing, reading, looking at sculptures, etc then photos which show you involved in these pastimes are perfect.

Top tips:

  • For the full body shot, the best way to pose is with one side of your body slightly angled towards the camera rather than straight on (which makes you look broader) and with one foot and arm forward.
  • Always relax and bend your arms slightly.
  • Props can be quite helpful if included in your photos. I sometimes include bikes, dogs, books, records, a guitar, etc. Make sure the prop tells something about you.

Choose solo shots

Tempting as it may be to include a shot of you with your friends, it can actually be quite off-putting at best and intimidating at worst to potential dates.

Now, this isn’t giving you permission to cut people out of photos that you might have – men are particularly guilty of cutting out ex-wives or girlfriends so that you just see an arm thrown casually over their shoulder. Would you find that appealing? Hmmm, probably not.

Use recent photos

This may be buried deep in the list, but please don’t skip over it. The best way to think of this is that every year represents about three in dating years – so it is acceptable to use a photo that was taken one, two or even at a stretch three years ago.

However, if you go beyond three years you are edging into dodgy terrain. The online dating scene is rife with people who use old photos of themselves. Do these people look the same in those photos? Not exactly, no. They usually have slightly less hair, a slightly bigger waist and quite a few more wrinkles among other things…

Your photos need to be a fairly good representation of what you look like now, otherwise, when you get to the dating stage, things could get awkward. One of the biggest gripes when it comes to online dating is turning up for a date to find they look nothing like their photos. Don’t be one of these people.

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Remember part one of this series, supersizing your self-love? Be happy and proud about who you are now, wrinkles and all. It is self-love and confidence that people find really attractive, not the other stuff.

Top tips:

  • If you need some new photos and are worried that you’re not looking as young and fit as you would like, go back to part one of this series and work on your self-love.
  • Once you’re feeling really good about yourself and really on fire, go out with your friend and do a shoot. Have fun with it.
  • Grab your highest stilettos, have a make-over, get your hair done, buy a new outfit – whatever makes you feel fabulous. Your inner confidence and self-love will shine through and no one will be looking at any wrinkles, trust me.

Taking photos on a smart phone

Saskia taking a photo on her smartphoneIf your friend only has a smart phone rather than a nice camera you might just be able to get some shots which are good enough, if they follow these tips:

  • Ensure the camera on the phone is zoomed out as far as possible and use your legs as the zoom (i.e. walk closer!)
  • Find the light – take the photo outside where there is a lot of light but also shade if necessary (remember direct sunlight can cause unflattering shadows on the face).
  • Have a steady hand. To avoid blur, keep the smart phone as still as possible. You can always use a wall or bench to anchor yourself and provide more stability.

I hope you found today’s article useful. If your photos can help tell the story of who you are, then you are most certainly creating an enticing profile. If you are really struggling then it might be worth investing in getting some shots taken professionally. Having good quality photos that represent the spirit of you should help speed up the process of attracting the right kind of people for you.

woman using a tablet for online dating

Back to Time to Shine Online Dating series:


Saskia Nelson

About Saskia Nelson

Saskia Nelson is London’s one and only dating photographer. She supports men and women to find love at all stages of their lives by working with them to create some gorgeous images for their online dating profile and by running a blog, which provides practical online dating guidance. She learned a lot about online dating from her own personal experiences, in her long and bumpy, but ultimately successful, online search for love. Happily, she is now settled with her long-term partner (spotted on Guardian Soulmates) and has two stepchildren (who are awesome). She is passionate about helping London’s single people to shine online.