Dating App Photos — Everything You Need to Know

...and some things you may wish you didn't know

· photography,online dating,dating apps,dating profiles,dating

Hi! I’m Steve Dean, and I've been an online dating consultant and coach since 2011. Over the past decade, I’ve seen over 500,000 online dating profiles across over 250 different dating apps. Every day I see the same mistakes from both clients and friends, so I’m finally sharing my best tips and practical considerations here! If you ever want to dig deeper or chat with me directly, I encourage you to book a quick call with me on my coaching page.

steve dean stands next to a reporter at the women's march in washington, DC, holding a grump cat sign which reads "current mood: No.". the reporter is interviewing him with a small handheld microphone.

A friend snapped this photo at the 2017 Women's March and it's been my go-to life-in-a-nutshell photo ever since. Also, fun fact: there's a section about photo captions further below. Read on!


Step 1:

Understand why photos matter

Ok, let’s get started! The average dating app asks you to upload anywhere from 1–10 photos (about 6 on average). The most important thing to remember is that you have about six opportunities for your photos to impact someone enough for them to consider matching, messaging, or meeting you. Six opportunities to tell your unique story.

Realistically, most people make their decision to like/pass within 3 seconds of landing on your profile, so they may only ever see 1–2 of your photos before moving on. What this means for you is that your photos matter, and your photo order matters.

Someone you may soon meet or even fall in love with, somewhere else in this world, is picking up their phone, expecting to come across 50+ other profiles today, and might just come across yours. They may do so while laying in bed, while sitting on the toilet, or while at a bar surrounded by friends.

Will your photos catch their eye long enough for them to engage?


Step 2:

Get to know your ecosystem and how you’re viewed within it

Some people mistakenly believe that for online dating, they must look as generically attractive as possible in order to get matches. However, getting “more matches” is useless if your matches aren’t people you’d ever want to meet in the first place.

Low-compatibility matches are like weeds in your garden — they take up attentional space that you could be using to cultivate more meaningful connections. If a dating app has 50,000 users, but you only want to go on dates with maybe ~5–10 total people before finding one you really click with, then your profile needs to weed out up to 49,990 out of those 50,000 users.

Critically, it’s also possible that your photos are failing to present you in a compelling enough light for the people you’re actually compatible with to consider matching with you. In our digital dating ecosystem, it’s ludicrously easy to pass on someone. Let’s take a look at some data. Per the aggregated Tinder statistics collected by Peach App, in 2021 the average 32 year old male on Tinder was rejected by 99.7% of the people he swiped on.

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If you’re expecting 99.7% of people to pass on you by default, then it really is in your best interest to make every single photo do as much heavy lifting as possible.

Female-identified users fare significantly better, but can still expect well over half of the people they like to not reciprocate the interest.

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Step 3:

Identify which dimensions of your life to include

The beauty of dating apps is that they do the work while we sleep, working around the clock to present our profiles to potential suitors…but what will those people see? Will they see your face? Your body? Your silhouette from behind as you hike a mountain?

It’s commonly recommended that your first photo shows you, with your face and eyes clearly visible, making engaging, warm eye contact with the viewer, or looking slightly off-camera, smiling at someone else nearby. It’s also fair game to try a photo of you doing something you enjoy, ideally with your face clearly visible. I think that at the very least, you should be visible enough in your first photo for your suitor to be able to easily recognize you if you were to meet up in person.

It’s ok to include photos of you that don’t show your face later in your photo lineup, especially if they capture fun and engaging dimensions of your life. Rather than solely show yourself at the angles you personally deem your “most attractive,” focus on using each of your photo slots to take the viewer on a journey through the important parts of your life / important things to know about dating you. For instance, here are just a few life dimensions you could capture:

Life Dimensions to Capture in Your Photos

  • Where you spend your time each day
  • Sports or activities you enjoy
  • You surrounded by things that make you happy
  • Places you've visited, things you did there
  • Qualities your friends & lovers appreciate about you
  • Glimpses into your intended future
  • Plants, animals, or people you spend a lot of time with
  • Your religious, community, or spiritual values
  • Your professional ambitions
  • Your emotional range
  • You doing something that a lot of people know & respect you for

We all contain multitudes, which is why it pains my soul to see people put up 5 selfies in a row and somehow believe they’ve meaningfully conveyed who they are. Whether it’s our best day or our worst day, we are more than what we look like. Unfortunately, modern dating apps enable others to judge us almost exclusively based on what we look like, so in order to fight back, we must consistently strive to add context and dimensionality to our dating profiles, photos, captions, videos, gifs, audio snippets, messages, and more.

Some apps allow photo captions as well, which is a great opportunity to capture some of the nuances not visible in your photo lineup, or elsewhere in your profile. Photo captions can offer windows of insight into your life, your sense of humor, and your creativity. Here are some themes your captions can riff on:

Creative Approaches to Photo Captions

  • Throwbacks to things mentioned in your profile
  • Fun facts about you, or something in your photo
  • Story time / anecdotes
  • Reflections on your life goals / values
  • Glimpses into your sense of humor
  • Date ideas you'd like to queue up for the near future
  • Questions you'd like your viewer to answer

Here are a few of my captioned photos from various dating apps:

Photo of Steve head nuzzling a wild icelandic horse. Caption reads: Made a new friend in Iceland. Might be a cute single friend, but is sadly not available for dating. Available for pettings and head nuzzles, though!"
steve dean stands next to a reporter at the women's march in washington, DC, holding a grump cat sign which reads "current mood: No.". the reporter is interviewing him with a small handheld microphone. Caption reads: "got interviewed by a japanese tv news station at the 2017 women's march in DC. I think they enjoyed my poster"
photo of steve dean sitting on a couch in a well-lit room, smiling at the camera and holding a mug. caption reads: "plantsitting for a friend on St Marks. normally i sit for cats and dogs, but I do have a soft spot for well-lit apartments. more sun plz"


Step 4:

Check out your friends’ photo lineups and see how they tell their story. Ask for feedback on how to better tell your story.

When I’m helping my clients build their dating photo lineups, I always challenge them to ask their friends and former lovers for feedback. It’s incredibly helpful to get honest perspectives on whether your photos capture your life as people who actually know you understand it. They’ll know when you’re coming off as superficial. They’ll know when a photo feels forced. They’ll call you out if you have 3 selfies in a row. That visceral, honest feedback is worth its weight in gold. They may even suggest dimensions of your life that they believe really make you unique, and encourage you to try including types of photos you may have never considered.

If possible, ask your friends to see their photo lineups as well, and ask them to share the story they think someone might be telling themselves in their minds as they scroll through their specific photo lineup. Ask them to share their internal story as they scroll through your photos as well. Hearing people tell these stories can be hilarious at times— there’s literally a comedian in NYC who sells out venues with her live reads of people’s Tinder profiles.

Below, I’ve shared a sample phone lineup from one of my dating apps. Every time I try this storytelling exercise with my clients, they share delightfully blunt, comical, and sincere feedback on the photos I chose.

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Note that when it comes to photo lineups, you may want to present a very different vibe of photos on a hookup app versus a more relationship-oriented app. With many thousands of dating apps on the market, photo selection can and will vary wildly.


Step 5:

Assemble all your photos; take more photos on your own; ask your friends to take some; and if necessary, consider working with a professional photographer

An all-too-common frustration among my clients is that they simply don't have any good photos. Maybe they never take selfies. Or their friends don't really take photos when they're out and about. Or all their photos are out of date. Or they only have awkwardly posed group photos. It sucks when you simply don't have photos that capture you across the dimensions that matter.

On the bright side, even your best photos may be out of date within a few years, so the process of capturing your life in photos is one that continues for as long as you're living your life. My photo lineup rotates every few years, and as new phone models come out with better and better cameras, our capacity for awesome photos just gets better day after day.

That said, if you don’t have photos you’re happy with, and you don’t have friends who are around to take photos of you, then it’s not unreasonable at all to go the route of a paid photographer.

It’s important to do all the pre-work I detailed earlier in this post, because if you just run out and try to hire a professional photographer to take a bunch of headshots for you, it’s highly likely you’ll end up with 100 photos showing mostly your face with a generic background, and few (if any) photos that capture meaningful facets of your life.

In the world of online dating, those staged, posed, and LinkedIn-esque headshots will consistently fall short. Generic headshots fail to accomplish your most important job on a dating app: to give your viewers an honest window of insight into your life and make them feel excited about the possibility of being right there by your side. This applies equally on relationship apps and hookup apps. Fun, engaging, unique photos make the entire process of online dating so much more enjoyable and effective.

As you’re exploring which photographer might be a good fit for you, remember to communicate the key variables you’re working with, including the number of photos you hope to ultimately use for your apps (typically 6–10), and the dimensions of your life & personality that you want to accentuate. Discuss with your prospective photographer which kinds of scenes and vibes they might envision for capturing you in all these lights.

After you’ve selected a photographer, make the most of your time together by attending to the following:

Preparing for Your Professional Photoshoot

📸 1. Bring multiple changes of clothes, and not just professional attire.

On dating apps, it comes off as tacky when people have more than one obviously photoshoot-quality shot of them in the same outfit in their profile.

📸 2. Bring your friends (and their pets!)

Your photos should involve you living your life and being surrounded by good people and cuddly critters. Avoid obviously posed shots where everyone is merely smiling and staring at the camera. Duchenne smiles, always.

📸 3. Focus on action shots and photos that capture fun social or intimate moments, you telling a joke, cooking/presenting food, playing an instrument, giving someone a boost, rolling in the grass with a dog, leading a hiking troupe, etc. You, in action, doing things you love, (optionally) surrounded by people who love and respect you.

📸 4. Make it clear to the photographer that the background matters.

If it’s just you smiling up against generic backdrops, the photos won’t do much work for you. Sure, they show what you look like, but they don’t show any insights into your life. The thing that makes dating app photos truly stand out is that they invite your viewers to see your life in action and imagine themselves alongside you, cheering you on, maybe even cuddled up with you.

📸 5. Avoid some of the most common pitfalls that can quickly turn off even your most compatible matches, such as:


  • wearing sunglasses
  • looking angry, surly, creepy, resentful, or dangerous
  • holding knives or weapons
  • holding dead animals (unless you’re trying to attract fellow hunters)
  • doing or wearing something that could get you fired from a job or banned from the app
  • using the same facial expression in every photo
  • showing off your kids (it's fine to mention that you have kids in your profile, but it's a dangerous violation of their privacy to include their photos in your public facing profiles)
  • not making eye contact . At least one photo should have you looking at the camera. This will make it much easier for your date to recognizes you when you ultimately make eye contact IRL

I asked for some additional insights from my photographer / documentarian friend Matt Cusimano, and here's what he said:

"I think online dating photographs are often analogous to the paradox of dating itself: We're the most attractive while we're in a secure relationship, but (for those who are monogamous) how can we exude this secure relationship energy during a period of being single?

Some of it is simple aesthetics: try something more creative than gym pics, photos of prized fish, selfies in your truck. But some of it is psychological: give your friend a camera for the night, have them take candid photos of yourself, show people what you're like when you're not performing, give them a glance into what you're like in a relationship while you're not in a relationship, let them imagine that you're on the other side of the camera taking their photo candidly." ~ Matt Cusimano, Mango Tree Docs


Matt also sent me some photos from a recent shoot he did (published with the model's approval):

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What I love about these photos is that they really help capture a vibe every time. We have so many resources at our disposal for capturing the vibe of our lives, including our clothing, our surroundings, our expressions, and any of the things we interact with. Take advantage of all these elements, and make them uniquely yours.


Step 6:
Test out your new photos; take time to swap them around until the matches & messages you receive become more relevant.

As you upload new photos, your dating apps' algorithms will begin to go to work showing you off to their users, and attempting to show you matches who are ever more closely aligned with your vibe and your preferences. The mere act of uploading new photos is enough to already give you a bump in the algorithms, because it's a sign of activity, and dating apps frequently give preferential treatment to their most active users.

Remember, it’s okay to include photos (or profile elements) that may turn off lots of people. That’s sort of the point! Fun and playful photos can attract fun and playful people. Some photo lineups can even reduce the incidence rates of unwanted messages. My friend Anne explains,

“For several years I always included one photo that had 100% efficacy rating at eliminating dick picks while still producing sincere interest and messages: a pic of me dressed as Miss Frizzle from the Magic School Bus series. Whenever I used it in a profile, I’d see sleazy DMs go away pretty much instantly, and when I tried changing it out, the creepy messages resumed. Purely anecdotal, but it’s helped to inform my thinking about profile pics. I always theorized it worked because of how it blended a sort of innocent nostalgia with genuine relatability.”

Photo of a smiling woman standing in front of a blackboard and table dressed in a Miss Frizzle outfit, with a stuffed animal lizard on her shoulder and a toddlers ride-on schoolbus by her feet

Anne’s “Miss Frizzle” photo 

Of course, Anne also includes other photos in her profile that showcase her in less over-the-top scenarios, like sitting by her laptop working from home.

photo of a woman looking up at the camera while sitting with her laptop on a couch in a living room next to a plant. the laptop has a variety of stickers on it

But note that even in the above photo, you can glean additional insights about her thanks to the presence of stickers on her laptop! Keep this in mind when setting the scene for your own photos. If you’re at home, you can include photos of your books, pets, and/or recently-prepared foods, to better capture some of the nuances of who you are and what sets you apart.

• • •

That's it! Do you feel more confident about how to present yourself on dating apps now? Have you come across other styles of photos or setting-the-scene tips that have worked for you? Please share them here in the comments!

Want to chat with me directly? I offer free diagnostics calls where we can talk about your dating history/goals, and decide what your best options are moving forward. You can book a call with me anytime directly from my coaching page 🤗

Further Reading…

The Friendship-First Approach to Dating
how a small shift in perspective can completely transform our dating lives

How To Say “No” Without Lies, Flaking, or Fadeaways
A guide to saying “let’s just be friends” or declining a suitor’s unwanted advances