7 Tips to Create a Profile Photo: There's More Than Meets the Eye

How well does your online profile express who you truly are? For millions of people today, this is not an unimportant question since the results can strongly impact their future.

For years, patients have come to therapy seeking guidance about their relationships. "Why can't I meet someone?" or "Why do I attract the wrong people?" Sometimes clients say they're in love, but wonder how to make it last. I also see unhappy couples who want to separate, but are afraid to be single again.

Nowadays, I'm frequently asked about the online dating process, an increasingly popular means by which relationships start. The most common question is about the profile photo. "Which will get me the most attention?" or "What should I make of the people I'm attracted to -- is it their smile, the color of their eyes, the way they wear their hair?" Many report that online photos play a key role in getting the process started. Whether it's visual chemistry or love at first sight, your photo says a lot about you.

I'm particularly attuned to the importance of body language, having been a professional dancer and model before becoming a psychologist. I know that nonverbal cues can communicate a lot -- especially in the way they are interpreted in a profile photo. For example, a person sitting on a couch will be viewed differently from someone standing or leaning. If you make eye contact or don't, pose with a pet, buddies or alone -- these choices all make a different impression.

Below are some things to think about when creating your online dating profile:

1) One Site Does Not Fit All: Keep in mind that a profile picture may work well on one dating site, but not on another. Each has its own demographic. What is appealing to a 20-somethings can be quite different than what works for someone over 50. For example, a 21-year-old female may find the photo of an active, athletic, playful man appealing because she is looking for fun and experimentation. An older woman may be more interested in a guy who appears accomplished, secure -- and yes fun -- because she is seeking a long-term partner who is stable and reliable. Start by thinking who you want your audience to be, and how to connect to them.

2) The Winning Combination: There are two characteristics that make a profile picture popular on almost any site; approachability and confidence. While these may seem like intangible features, they are powerful when captured in a photo. Think about how to convey an interest in others and a desire to interact. Add a confident expression with a self assured stance and the combination is bound to get attention. A great headshot says, "I enjoy my life and if you join me, we can enjoy it together."

3) Think Outside the Beauty Box: Perfect, symmetrical features may be considered beautiful or handsome, but are not necessarily appealing to the average person. A male or female may have features that are considered model-like (wide set apart blue eyes, small nose, high cheekbones, strong chin, etc), but unless they seem warm and friendly, they don't necessary attract partners. A beautiful photo can appear untouchable, cold, self involved and narcissistic. Few of us would find those who strut down fashion show runways approachable. While we may admire beauty from a distance, we yearn to be with others who are soft and touchable. Sensuality and intimacy do not require perfect looking features.

4) Real Is Really In: A relaxed and natural photo results in more interest than one that looks studied. A moment captured while doing something that truly interests you -- walking your dog, listening to music, watching a sunset -- is more appealing than one that is posed and stiff. And, photo-shop is rarely a good idea, since it tends to detract from the impression of authenticity. People seek others who they can trust, who are willing to display their true self. We all know that no one looks perfect -- except in the digitally altered images we see in the media -- so it's not worth pretending otherwise. Instead, try some soft, natural lighting that highlights your best features and minimizes the ones you like least.

5) Those Smiling Eyes: A person's smile and eyes are the two physical features men and women say are most noticed in a profile photo. A genuine smile -- and eyes that smile in an engaging way -- provide a window into a person's character. Someone smiling appears to enjoy life. Eyes can be inviting by saying, "come inside and see what I'm thinking," Sometimes professional photographers tell models to "make love to the camera" with the same idea in mind -- they want a picture that appears interactive, not still life. Use your smile and eyes to maximize how much you can say about yourself without words.

6) Let The Locks Flow: After a person's smile and eyes, hair comes next in terms of how much it tells you about someone's character. Spend less time on what outfit to wear, and more on choosing a hairstyle that expresses who you are. For women, long, flowing curls suggest sensuality. Ever notice how often models appear to have 'wind-swept' hair? The effect is created by fans and used to suggest vitality and movement. Try a shot outside on a windy day. Or, put your hands in your hair to imply you are fun loving and touchable. Some say hair that is tousled is also appealing in that it expresses a willingness to let loose. A ponytail or a tightly pulled back style is viewed as rigid or controlled -- which may be good for a resume, but not a dating site. Men whose hair looks relaxed, but not unkempt, come across as sensitive and fun loving. Many women enjoy a slightly scruffy look, but disheveled hair and scraggly beards don't work.

7) You Are What You Love: Many online dating sites suggest you keep other people out of your photos -- no children, parents, friends or pets. Some even encourage keeping extra information about yourself out -- your profession, your hobbies. I find it depends on the site and on how important these "extras" are to you. If being a parent is a significant part of your life, or you spend a lot of time gardening, sailing or traveling with friends, I encourage people to show those parts of their lives. If a person looks interested in what they are doing, it's their passion that will be noticed most.

Bottom line, if you are involved in online dating, you want your photo to attract viewers. And you want those who show interest, to see the person you truly are. Use the tips above to create a profile that is real and engaging -- and let me know how well it works for you.


Vivian Diller, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in New York City. She serves as a media expert on various psychological topics and as a consultant to companies promoting health, beauty and cosmetic products. Her book, "Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change" (2010), edited by Michele Willens, is a psychological guide to help women deal with the emotions brought on by their changing appearances.

For more information, please visit my website at www.VivianDiller.com; and continue the conversation on Twitter @ DrVDiller.

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