From dodgy backdrops to nasty airbrushing, avoid these online dating photo fails

The New Year is one of the busiest times of year for dating sites. But think very carefully before swiping right on Tinder IAC, +2.43%

But not everyone can pull off a selfie, and those who do should probably take them sparingly, if academic research is to be believed. For men, professional head shots and photos with facial hair were rated the highest and, for women, photos showing the person singing or playing an instrument, playing a sport or wearing a bikini were rated the highest, according to one survey of 2,000 profiles by The Grade dating app.

Female photographs were judged as less accurate than male photographs, and were more likely to be older, to be retouched or taken by a professional photographer.

The Grade aims to help people rate their profile picture, messages and overall profile on a scale from A to F based on profile quality, responsiveness and message quality available for everyone to see. Photos with tattoos and eyeglasses were among the lowest rated for women and hat wearers were among the lowest rated photos for men.

Don’t miss: The worst selfie trends of 2017: Blurry faces, skin lightening and Hollywood smiles

While online daters think their photos are relatively accurate, independent judges rated one third of online dating photos as inaccurate, according to research carried out by Catalina Toma, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

For that reason, she recommends posting a variety of recent photos. “Female photographs were judged as less accurate than male photographs, and were more likely to be older, to be retouched or taken by a professional photographer, and to contain inconsistencies, including changes in hair style and skin quality,” the research found.

Also read: 10 things dating sites won’t tell you

The surge in photo-centric, location-based dating apps proves one thing: People are more interested in your pictures than a lengthy essay about your hopes and dreams. Here are 10 biggest mistakes people make when they upload photos to a dating site or app:

The superhero humanitarian

Some people want to save the world and a date (but not in that order).

What the picture says: “I give and I give and I give.”

What you should realize: “You worked with an NGO for a year? Join the Humanitarians of Tinder hall of fame.”

There was only one Princess Diana. The Facebook page and Tumblr blog “Humanitarians of Tinder” is devoted to Tinder users who post pictures of themselves doing aid work abroad. One man is pictured with three topless women after what seems like a tribal dance, a woman is surrounded by small children Mother Teresa-style, while another man shows a man giving thumbs up while hunching next to an elderly woman selling odds and ends on the street. “It’s totally exploitative to actually try to use that experience to try to get a date,” says Kevin Lewis, assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego.

The group photo

Which one are you?

What the picture says: “I have friends.”

What you should realize: “I can see that! I’d like to meet them instead.”

You want to avoid a game of “Where’s Waldo?” where someone is trying to figure out which one is you. You do want to say, “Look at me, I’m social,” Lewis says. “But if you post a photo of you with an attractive buddy, it can make you look worse.” You also need to be wary when it comes to the company you keep. A strange person standing next to you could be equally distracting, says Helen Fisher, a consultant for dating site Match.com and senior research fellow at The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, which carries out research on sexuality and sexual health. “I would go solo,” she says. “It makes you more vulnerable, more mysterious and ready for love.”

The close-up

‘Look into my eyes. They will chill you to your very core.’

What the picture says: “I have a nice face.”

What you should realize: “It’s a bad sign if someone needs to hide in front of the camera.”

The more information you get in advance, the less time is wasted for everyone concerned. People get suspicious when they see photos with faces only or with hats and shades, Fisher says, and they will wonder what happened to the rest of you. “You always want to include a full body shot,” she says. “It tells you a huge amount about your health, your age, your background and your interests.” She recommends posting full body shots of you at work (outside the office, perhaps) and at play (hiking, if you have a high fitness level). “Your physical image says a lot about you,” Fisher says. “We are walking billboards of who we are. You have to respect that billboard and do your hair the right away and wear the kind of clothes that really advertise who you are.”

The dodgy backdrop

Your surroundings say more than you ever could.

What the picture says: “Look into my eyes.”

What you should realize: “I’m too busy looking at the dirty dishes.”

Behold the man or woman with a majestic backdrop, surfing their way into your life on the Pacific Ocean or skiing their way into your heart in the French Alps. But many online daters, like a pantomime villain, forget to look behind them. An untidy home or something much worse could be a deal breaker, says Jeffrey Hancock, a professor in the communication and information science departments at Cornell University. “There could be a strange poster in the background that indicates they’re racist,” he says. “That’s one reason why Tinder is so successful. We’re really good at picking up visual cues.” And if you have a picture of a landscape, make sure you’re in it.

The pet photo

Your dog should not be on OKCupid.

What the picture says: “Woof!”

What you should realize: “There will be three people (well, two and one dog) in this relationship.”

No one wants to date your dog or cat. They should have their own dating site, and frolicking with your pet may give people the impression that you only have eyes for each other. Speaking of animals, few people like a full-on duck face, but women get more responses with a “flirty face” than a smiling face if they’re making eye contact with the camera, a 2010 study of 7,000 photos by OkCupid found. However, responses fell without eye contact. Men get more responses when they’re smiling without looking directly into the camera and get fewer responses if they pout. It may be because men like to feel a connection while women are intrigued by mystery or think their prospective date must be deep in thought…even if they’re actually thinking, ‘flirty face.’

The airbrushed face

Your photo may be ageless, but you aren’t.

What the picture says: “I look ageless.”

What you should realize: “You look like you went 10 rounds with Facetune and Facetune won!”

Anything a movie star from Hollywood’s golden era could do with an army of makeup artists, lighting designers and photographic retouchers, you can now do with an app and some smudgy thumb work. The results may not be as convincing, however. It’s never been easier to take a selfie with a smartphone and turn yourself into a bad 1980s album cover. Adobe Photoshop once charged hundreds of dollars a year; it now charges $9.99 a month as it must compete with a slew of airbrushing apps. Aillis on Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating system is free and FaceTune is $3.99 for iOS and for Android. Remember, smudge sparingly.

The mad money shot

A celebrity selfie is one way to miss the spotlight on Tinder.

What the picture says: “I’m king of the world!”

What you should realize: “But you’ve been upstaged on your own dating profile.”

There’s only one thing worse than posing next to a stranger’s $100,000 sports car or a yacht in San Tropez or mugging next to a celebrity like the cat that got the cream, and that’s posting it on a dating site. It will likely backfire. Celebrity selfies are likely a sign of low self-esteem and won’t impress someone who wants to see you, not you scalping a TV star for your Facebook FB, -1.85% “The money shot says they’re rich and adventurous,” says Helen Fisher, senior research fellow at the The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, and a consultant for dating site Match.com. “Men do need to show some resources in their online dating photos and women like a man who at least has taken enough trouble to comb his hair,” Fisher adds.

The best picture ever taken

Just another day at the office.

What the picture says: “I just popped to the store for a liter of milk and a bag of sugar.”

What you should realize: “You just popped back to 1975 when Gerald Ford was in the White House.’

Online daters don’t always set out to deceive as they may also be lying to themselves. “It’s really easy to embellish a photograph even without Photoshop,” Toma says. Women are likely to use more makeup than usual — or use a photo where they’ve been professionally made up, for an event like a wedding. “People also have hundreds, sometimes thousands of photos to choose from and can choose the best shot,” she adds. “That may not feel deceptive, but it might backfire if it diverges too much from reality. People are quite biased when it comes to their own physical attractiveness and, without realizing it, may create false expectations.”

The party animal

Life shouldn’t be one long pub crawl.

What the picture says: “I’m the life of the party.”

What you should realize: “And getting you to finish your drink will be the death of me.”

Fisher advises against pictures taken in bars and the sweaty wedding dance floor photo and dressing in drag is a no-no. “No drinking and no smoking,” she says. And for those that link their Tinder photographs to their Instagram FB, -1.85%   account, she advises culling all photos that cast you in a bad light. It would help to live up to the remaining photos in real life, too. There are many other inappropriate places to take a photo for a dating site, including a bathroom mirror in the gym, Hancock adds. Single people also want to avoid places that cast them in a bad light — both literally and metaphorically, he adds. “One bad photo will dominate other people’s whole perception of you,” he says.

The bad caption

“I’m very ‘indepedant’ and like to swim with fishes!”

What the picture says: OMG

What you should realize: “If you can’t use your words like an adult, I will have to TTYL.”

Bad spelling and bad grammar is up there with teeth and self-confidence among qualities that people look for online, according to Match.com’s annual report, “Singles In America,” which has surveyed over 25,000 people. “Don’t go for OMG and LOL,” Fisher says. “Spell it out and use proper grammar.” Otherwise, they may write TTYL (talk to you later) and pass on you and your acronyms. Of course, few profiles are 100% honest, she adds. People do tend to drop in an old photo here or drop a few years there, if they think it will get them a date. “Courtship is not about honesty, it’s about winning and what you are trying to do is make it to square one, the coffee house or the bar,” she says.

(This story was updated on Feb. 13, 2018.)

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