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SWF SEEKS ATRACTIVE HEAD SHOT
If online dating sites are really just commercials for single people, then the production values are getting a lot slicker.
The snapshots in personal ads have traditionally been fuzzy and half-baked: Guys standing next to their cars. Or with their shirts off. And of course, the popular “ex crop,” a photo featuring the forearm of a significant other who got mostly, but not entirely, cropped out. But such shots are disappearing as professional photographers increasingly get into the business. The simple goal: Maximize a person’s date-getting ability.
In July, online-dating giant Match.com teamed up with Glamour Shots, a chain of photography studios, to offer free photo shoots and makeovers. Web sites like onlinedatingphotos.com and lookbetteronline.com have popped up in recent months peddling portraiture. Echelon Photography, a traditional New York City studio, even spammed potential customers with e-mail encouraging recipients to “Get the Pics that get you Picked!”
Wasn’t online dating supposed to be less pressure-packed than approaching strangers at a bar or a party? But as people flock to online dating — 21 million people surfed dating sites last month, according to Nielsen/NetRatings — it’s increasingly about standing out from the crowd. “People are really picky, and they can afford to be really picky because there’s such a selection,” says Jon Person, a 29-year-old software developer in Lakewood, Colo. Mr. Person recently had his photos reshot by a photographer he found through lookbetteronline.com.
The Web sites themselves are helping escalate the photo wars. For instance, MatchNet PLC dating services including jdate.com now let surfers search by “most popular.” Not surprisingly, the profiles that pop up first are invariably the hotties, as opposed to people with the most amicably written profiles. One popular feature at Match.com, a unit of InterActiveCorp, is “display as photo gallery,” where users can simply check out the pictures and skip the written profiles altogether.
Donna Sonkin is a fixture of the “most popular” list on JDate New York. “The responses changed when I put a saucier photo up,” she says. Currently, Ms. Sonkin, a filmmaker, is posting four shots. One has her pouting in sunglasses. Every day she gets about 40 e-mails from suitors. “Some men say dumb things, like ‘I didn’t know Sophia Loren was Jewish!'” she says.
All of this is raising new questions about finding the best way to capture an individual’s personality via photos without looking goofy — or fibbing. Dave Coy, a co-founder of lookbetteronline.com, a photography service, says it plans to take one small step toward truth in advertising: It’s launching a “certification program” that will verify that pictures aren’t 10 years old or of a subject’s dreamy younger brother.
One crucial but tough task: Making it look like you’re not trying too hard. “It was blind luck and a lot of sweat,” says Wayan Vota, a Washington, D.C., consultant to nonprofits who had a photographer friend take hundreds of photos of him — in various stages of scruff, in different shirts, and with and without glasses — trying to figure it out. “I have this easy ability to look very cheesy,” Mr. Vota says. He settled on a sun-dappled image of himself in a Cuban-style shirt.
Many of the rules governing online photos may seem self-evident, yet they are routinely violated. For instance, close-ups offer a better sense of what a potential date actually looks like. Gail Robyn Hodes of Stamford, Conn., knows how tough it can be to find any good shot of yourself. “You find one — and you’re a speck, and the Eiffel Tower is looming in the background,” she says. She eventually paid about $50 for a new shot from Echelon.
If a dating site lets you post many pictures, take advantage of that to show different sides of yourself. Carrie Harriman, who lives in Littleton, Colo., has a couple of professional headshots posted on her Match.com profile that make her look like a model. She’s got her sultry side covered with a tummy-baring picture of her in a revealing dancer’s costume. Then, there are the pictures of her with her four kids.
Good News for Photographers
All this interest in portraiture is good news for photographers. Less than 1% of Americans sat for an adult portrait last year, according to the Photo Marketing Association International, leaving plenty of room for growth. Mr. Coy of lookbetteronline.com says his company has already signed up 185 photographers nationwide.
Still, despite all the activity, there remain some skeptical people who shy away from photos that look too good. Says Catrina Gregory, a jewelry designer and former online dater, “In L.A., anyone with a professional headshot is assumed to be an actor and thus usually avoided.”
Write to Ron Lieber at ron.lieber [at] wsj.com