World's least photogenic man seeks love
May 31, 2011 12:33 PM   Subscribe

I'm a below average looking guy to start with. In photos, though, I look like the troll from under the bridge. I'm going to sign up for online dating soon. How can I obtain a picture of myself that doesn't scare small children and pets—or, more importantly, 18-25 year old girls?

I have no photography skills, nor do any of my nearby friends. Obviously I could hire a photographer, but doesn't that seem kinda vain and pathetic? Plus: are there really that many photographers who serve the niche between "portfolio shots for a model" and "your buddy takes a picture of you in front of a cool building?" All I can find on Google are sketchy, borderline-scam services.

Or could I just read up on how to take flattering photos and expect, with tons of trial and error, to produce something decent?

Hope me.

I found some previous questions about more specific aspects of this topic, but I'm looking to get a sense of all of my options and how to reason about picking one.

I'm in Western Massachusetts, for what it's worth.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (47 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Take a picture of you in front of a building. Don't have a closeup shot. If you're not overweight this might work. Good luck.
posted by Electrius at 12:37 PM on May 31, 2011

This is a great place to start. I love their blog.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:38 PM on May 31, 2011 [5 favorites]

Do you look horrible in photos, or do you just look horrible in 'low-light bar table photos taken by drunk friend with flash set way too high' photos?

Go outside and do something active with a friend with a camera (hiking always makes one look cool) and have them snap dozens and dozens of photos in the natural light. One of them will be presentable.
posted by Think_Long at 12:38 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

I can almost guarantee you that the issues in the photographs of yourself that you have seen are angles, contrast and lighting.

If you stand 6 feet tall, getting your picture snapped by a 5-foot-4 person that's also standing, guess what? We're looking up your nose.

Your photos have middle-of-the-road contrast settings. Everything looks muddy.

Your lighting sucks. Fluorescent? Crappy little flash? Staring at the sun so you're squinting? All will create the appearance of a troll, or perhaps a mole man.

Read up on taking flattering photos, and take lots of them. Don't plaster on a Christmas snapshot smile -- do something else. Do something you enjoy. At the very least, you'll gain a new hobby and learn how to take better pictures.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:39 PM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

1) Don't smile.

2) A good photographer can work wonders. I know one, local, whose ability is just shocking to witness. No makeup, no Glamourshots, no teased out hair, but everyone in her photos just look that much more attractive.
posted by adipocere at 12:43 PM on May 31, 2011

Obviously I could hire a photographer, but doesn't that seem kinda vain and pathetic?

Absolutely not. On the contrary, it makes you look responsible and, believe it or not, people really do care that you care about yourself enough to get a nice picture taken.

Plus: are there really that many photographers who serve the niche between "portfolio shots for a model" and "your buddy takes a picture of you in front of a cool building?"

Yes, there are tons of them.

All I can find on Google are sketchy, borderline-scam services.

Google is definitely not the place to start, but if you're going to use Google, google for a local graphic designer, call them up, and ask them who they would call/hire to do your photography.
posted by circular at 12:45 PM on May 31, 2011

If you want someone else to take it and don't want to pay much, I'd go down to the local university and find the fine arts department. Probably there's a bulletin board where people offer their services, or you can ask around.
posted by desjardins at 12:46 PM on May 31, 2011

I also hate the way I look in photographs, and I also didn't have any photographically-talented friends. I convinced two complete non-photographers (a friend and a relative) to each hang around with me outside, taking pictures -- and I got some decent shots from each session. (And I got some good shots of them! It's fun, once you've relaxed about it a bit. If you have a friend who's also getting into online dating and is in need of pictures, it's perfect.)

I think part of the "not photogenic" thing, at least for me, is that I hate being photographed and avoid it like the plague -- so of course there weren't any good photos of me. If you take, like, a billion shots, you probably will get at least a few that are usable.

And if that doesn't work, then it's time to look for a pro or experienced student.
posted by pie ninja at 12:48 PM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have no photography skills, nor do any of my nearby friends.

The photo of my that ended up being the most popular (including with my current girlfriend who I met online) was taken by someone with no photography skills on a cell phone camera in not all that great lighting. I would not have suspected that anyone would have liked that particular one, and just uploaded it because it was sitting on my hard drive at the time. As far as I can tell the main thing that photo has going for it is that I look genuinely happy and nonchalant, rather than fake posed or having a photo smile.

So, my advice is to have people take photos of you at random times and once you have some, ask people which ones they like. Or use something like OK Cupid's My Best Face to have random Internet people rate your photos against each other.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:49 PM on May 31, 2011

Outside of photography, you may want to consider if your hairstyle, facial hair, glasses, and/or wardrobe are doing you any favors. It's amazing how a bad haircut or an outdated pair of glasses can undermine your looks.
posted by xingcat at 12:50 PM on May 31, 2011 [9 favorites]

Hire a photographer, sure! It's not pathetic. If I were in your position, I'd see if I had any friends who are really into photography and have DSLRs, even non-local ones, and go visit them for a photo shoot. Barring that, I'd google around looking for blogs in my area with good photography (or maybe search flickr for groups for local stuff?) and then email those local photographers to see if any of them would be up for selling some of their time and expertise.

If you were in NYC, I'd offer to just do a photo shoot for you myself! If you ever head down here, in fact, memail me and we'll do it. I love practicing portrait photography and helping people at the same time! (I really want to just offer this to any NYC-area folks on okcupid. It would be SO much fun.)
posted by Eshkol at 12:52 PM on May 31, 2011

If you think you look bad in photos, you'll tense up, hunch your neck, clench your teeth funny, etc. This will make you look bad in photos. Also, if you assume you're funny-looking, any photo you see will just confirm you in your opinion. And if you assume you're funny-looking, you're more likely to dress badly, thus looking worse in photos.

Get a friend whose taste you trust to help you with the clothes/specs/haircut/facial hair thing. Work on your posture - stand up straight and drop your shoulders. Then take a bunch of pictures and use the best ones, remembering that 1. you will be your worst critic and 2. you don't need five hundred random girls to be attracted to you; you only need the right one.
posted by Frowner at 12:54 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Take A WHOLE BUNCH OF PICTURES....did you know that most models have photo sessions in which they take 1000's of pictures and then only end up choosing 2?

For some people is just not that easy.
posted by The1andonly at 12:56 PM on May 31, 2011 [13 favorites]

Obviously I could hire a photographer, but doesn't that seem kinda vain and pathetic?

Nope. Everyone should have a photo of themselves that they like. A terribly posed photo could look pathetic, but just a plain photo of you in a studio, looking like a normal guy, won't seem odd at all.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:02 PM on May 31, 2011

Also, once you get a bunch of pictures, ask someone you trust for help in choosing one or more. You may not be able to see yourself objectively, since you hate pictures of yourself.

And as far as hiring a photographer goes, do you have friends or family that would like having pictures of you? I took photos of myself, my boyfriend, his brother, and his brother's girlfriend and gave them to family for Christmas. (It required working out a good lighting setup -- the on-camera flash is one of the least flattering lights there is -- and then taking many, many photos to find ones in which nobody was making a weird face or blinking.)
posted by telophase at 1:06 PM on May 31, 2011

In my life I've had maybe one photo taken of me that I actually think looks half-decent. I'm not a particularly good looking guy, but I take really lousy photos.

So, you are not alone.

If you don't want to go the pro route (which I think is actually pretty reasonable) then have a friend take pictures. Lots of pictures. Use every single setting on the camera when you are doing this. Take pictures with and without flash. B&W, color, and every wierd lighting/color setting they have. What does the ISO setting actually do? Time to find out! Close up, far away, far away with zoom. Figure out the aperture settings on the camera and mess with them. Take pictures of yourself smiling, frowning, with a neutral expression, drinking a martini, looking at a shrimp on a toothpick, sitting on a chair, leaning against a building, etc.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:09 PM on May 31, 2011

Join your local Flickr meetup group. You will do normal outdoor activities with people who are good at taking photographs, learn more about how to take good photographs yourself, and make new friends, some of whom may want to date you.
posted by matildaben at 1:15 PM on May 31, 2011

The vast majority of shitty self-shots are shitty because of crap lighting and poor angles.

If you were in the LA region, I'd volunteer to take pictures of you — I win facebook profile shots for plenty of friends of friends.

I do have one goofy solution for you — Dress as nerdily as you can and then go to Sears or Olan Mills and have them shoot you. It will look goofy as hell, but it's not a shot that has to be taken seriously, so you can totally fuck around and everyone that sees it will think, "There's a guy with a sense of humor!" but also because they have the full fill lights and everything, it'll also look kinda good.

(This is also the secret for super cheap band photos).
posted by klangklangston at 1:20 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Contact some wedding photographers, tell them what you need/want, and see if their prices are in your budget.

Check their websites to see if they produce the kind of photos you'd like - do they have the right energy/settings?

And yes, I've seen professional photos on dating sites, it's a minority but no unheard of. And you can talk to the photographer about this too - maybe you want the photos less processed/more 'raw' for the dating sites?

Go for it. You do want to capture your best side, and sometimes you need help. I would be careful of the line between a "good pic" and "false advertising". Don't try (too hard) to hide all your negatives, wear makeup for the shoot (unless you normally do), etc.
posted by jpeacock at 1:21 PM on May 31, 2011

Good lighting is much of the battle. One thing to try is to sit next to a window, so the window lights up one side of your face (for example, here areseveral examples of the face-lit-from-the-side portrait).

A few previous questions about how to look better in pictures:
how can I learn to be more photogenic?
I need good photos for online dating, what am I doing wrong?
how can I look better in photos?
How do I look more like myself in snapshots?
tips on posing for photographic portrait
what should I think about when getting my picture taken, so I look better?
I'm ugly, how do I cope? - has advice about how to look better in pictures
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:23 PM on May 31, 2011 [22 favorites]

If you decide to go with a photographer, I know some people who used Paper City Pictures in Holyoke for their engagement photos. By all accounts, they really enjoyed their experience.
posted by fairfax at 1:39 PM on May 31, 2011

Just a data point here: When I met The Current Mr LyzzyBee (and we're talking 10 years together now), on a dating site, the photo he sent of himself had him looking like a homunculus on a HUGE chair. And I still met up with him. I mean, it wasn't a fake huge chair thing, it was just a largish chair with a smallish man. So it's not all on the photo, I promise!
posted by LyzzyBee at 1:46 PM on May 31, 2011

Daytime. Good lighting. No flash. NO FLASH.

Unless you're using a softbox or other studio equipment, there's not a single person in the world who looks more attractive with the flash turned on.
posted by schmod at 1:47 PM on May 31, 2011

An exception to the "no flash" rule is to go super lo-fi. Find an old photo booth or an older polaroid camera. There's something about the nuclear blast of light that pushes past the badness and actually makes people look cool in an Andy Warhol kind of way.

Otherwise, try this. Enlist the help of a friend with any sort of camera to be the photographer.
  • Wait until 1 hour before sunset
  • Go outside
  • Turn off the flash
  • Don't stand directly against a background
  • Zoom the camera all the way in
  • Have your photographer get as far away as necessary to frame you in the zoomed-in shot
  • Have your photographer get a little higher up than you, maybe standing on a chair
  • Take about 100 shots
If one of those photos isn't awesome, I'll give you a full refund.
posted by the jam at 1:56 PM on May 31, 2011 [10 favorites]

I read an interesting article not too long ago about this, and I really wish I could find it.

One of the things in the article about taking better photographs of yourself that stuck out to me was to have the "focus" be you, and have the background be blurry. This is hard to achieve with a point and shoot or cell phone camera, but I took a picture of me (in shitty flourescent lighting btw) and then used Photoshop to blur the background, keeping me in "focus."

I met my girlfriend on-line, and she has stated that this picture (which wasn't my profile picture) was her favorite. I had posted another I thought I looked cooler in (sunglasses, baby!) but her response on that one was... "Meh, you're lucky your profile seemed interesting, you had decent grammar and could spell, otherwise I would've never clicked past your sunglasses picture...)

Of course, YMMV, but it appears to have worked for me....
posted by Debaser626 at 1:56 PM on May 31, 2011

Oh.. the theory is that your eye naturally focuses on things you find attractive, and this forced focus fools the brain into thinking something is more attractive than it really is. They had run a study of the same person where the background was blurry and not, wearing the same clothing, and this person was rated much higher on the attractive scale before panels when the background was blurry.
posted by Debaser626 at 2:00 PM on May 31, 2011

Things I see a lot in online dating photos that I find immediately unattractive:

- Don't wear a hat in all your pictures. Not only will I assume you are balding, but I will assume you are balding gracelessly and are probably really hung up about it.

- Ditto sunglasses. People do look better in sunglasses, and this can help a lot of photogenic-ness issues, but I want to see your eyes in at least one photo. It doesn't have to be your main profile photo, but give me one photo of what your entire face actually looks like in real life.

- It's pretty easy to spot most photos designed to hide what you actually look like. Including photos that hide your weight. I'm going to meet you eventually. I'm not blind. You cannot fool me into sleeping with you.

- Please men of the internet dating world: no more photos of you playing the guitar on your couch. Unless you actually play guitar in a currently active band. This makes you seem more cookie-cutter/boring, not less so.
posted by Sara C. at 2:06 PM on May 31, 2011 [6 favorites]

I completely agree with all the suggestions above ( no flash, better angles etc) but I have actually had good luck taking pictures of MYSELF with my iPhone, photobooth etc. I think this is because there are angles of me that I like better than other people do -- some well meaning friends don't mind capturing angles that they think make me look cute, but I look at and think "OMG Shirley Temple chubby cheeks." Also, yes take lots of photos and pro photos can be great as long as they don't look like headshots for actors or glamour shots, obviously.
posted by sweetkid at 2:11 PM on May 31, 2011

Nthing the suggestion to check out local college bulletin boards and also the classified ads in local "alternative" free newspapers for photographers. Trust me, they won't think you're "pathetic" for wanting a good head shot - if you're uncomfortable telling them it's for a dating website, make up a story - you're starting to get some freelance articles published and that you're getting requests for an accompanying photo, so you're looking for a hip/nature-y/intellecutal (insert appropriate adjective) type of look. And I know this will sound goofy, but I've actually learned some very helpful tips from watching America's Next Top Model (a guilty pleasure of mine). I've long hated the way I look in photographs (I've always had a pudgy face, no matter how large or slender the rest of my body was over the years) but - no kidding - by following a few of Tyra's oft-repeated instructions I've managed some acceptable family photos recently where my face didn't look like a baked potato. First of all, elongate - stretch the top of your head upward toward the ceiling from your shoulders just before the camera clicks. Also, don't smile with your mouth, but with your eyes. Use the muscles just above your cheeks to lift the corners of your eyes while leaving the mouth position fairly neutral. And don't look directly face-on into the camera - right before the shot turn your head ever so slightly to the left or right, while still focusing your eyes on the camera lens.
posted by Oriole Adams at 2:12 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

How far west is Western Mass? (People in Boston see a big "here there be monsters" on the map west of 495!) If you're around the Pioneer valley, it might be worth contacting the Hallmark Institute of Photography in Turners Falls... if there's one thing photography students are always looking for, it's models. Maybe you could work something out there.
posted by usonian at 2:30 PM on May 31, 2011

1st, look at a few pictures of yourself, in the mirror. You are used to your mirror image, so pictures will always look 'off' to you. Looking at your own picture, in the mirror, is more accurate, to you.

When you're having your picture taken, straighten your back, and take and let go of a deep breath. Consciously relax your shoulders.

You can probably improve your looks with a great haircut, making sure your skin is in okay shape, and wearing something flattering.

Get a photographer. Look at their portfolio to see if you think their head shots look good. For 100 - 200 you can get a good head shot.
posted by theora55 at 2:34 PM on May 31, 2011

I'm going to say screw the wedding photographer route. You just need someone who IS a friend to take a decent camera with burst mode (as in, you hold down the button, it keeps taking pics) out on a sunny day. And commit to taking no less that 30 minutes of photos. I mean seriously, someone holding down the button for 30 minutes.

And if you're not good looking, you need to start looking for some comedy shots.

The woman who's going to be into you is going to be into you for non-traditional takes on attractiveness. So take some non-traditional photos. You standing by a scarecrow in a scarecrow pose. You mimicking a statue's pose. Or facing off with it. Coming out of a telephone box opening your shirt. failing to scare children. Holding up the morning moon. Try ANYTHING and everything and take no less than 30 burst mode pics of anything you try.

You do that and FIVE will be good. But they will be VERY good compared to other "guy with a guitar" photos of other guys. And for a girl who's really ready to move on from dudes like that, yours will stick out like a gold coin in pile of kitty litter. If you have a good profile, that might just get it done.

But let's be clear, MANY MANY women are scanning the pics to find a guy who looks like Bradley Cooper's younger brother. You're not that. You will not BE that no matter how good of a picture you take or what kind of photoshop is involved. Your expectation should be that YOU'RE after a girl who's one of the few who are looking for something different and you're going to give her a reason to stop and take a look. THAT is the goal here.

Also don't smile. Anything but smiling.
posted by rileyray3000 at 2:36 PM on May 31, 2011 [4 favorites]

Take/make the photo black and white.
posted by 4ster at 3:36 PM on May 31, 2011

You might try Flickr to see if there are any photo groups for your area. Flickr has forums for their groups, and I'm sure you could post there looking for an amateur photographer to meet you somewhere in the area to take photos. You're very likely to find someone who is talented and has rarely or never taken photos for pay. Look at their portfolios, offer a little money and expect better results than you could do for yourself. Everyone wins.
posted by cnc at 3:46 PM on May 31, 2011

Maybe it's just me, but I didn't want to see a guy on a dating site with a studio photograph taken. I wanted to see them in everyday real life - natural, normal shots of guys.

Take a LOT of photos (with all the good advice given here) and pick a few of your favorites.

Also, you actually don't want to look better in your profile photo than you do in real life. Much better to make yourself surprisingly more attractive in person than what your photo shows.

Good luck!
posted by LilBit at 4:28 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Take/make the photo black and white.

Yes, try this. I can take one regular and one B&W picture of myself in the same light, in the same pose, in front of the same scenery, and the B&W will look at least 75% more decent every time.
posted by gueneverey at 5:01 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

A related question: if you have a bunch of normal photos, is it okay to include one of you LITERALLY made up as horror movie monster, complete with professionally scary makeup?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:05 PM on May 31, 2011

Take/make the photo black and white.

Disagree -- when they see you, you'll be in color. Also, I would smile -- everyone's more attractive when they smile. Honestly, don't look like a total weirdo and have a decent profile and you will get responses. No one is truly that terrible looking ( I remember a similar question a few years ago where the woman posted a photo of herself as well and we were all WTF? you look great...)

I think one of the worst photos I can recall is one in which a guy was wearing a pale blue beret and posing with his dog, also wearing a pale blue beret.

In that one pic, I could tell four things:

1) He thought pale blue berets were cool
2) He thought pale blue berets on dogs were cool
3) He thought 1) and 2) were SO COOL, he took a picture.
4) He thought 3) looked so awesome he made it his dating profile pic.

None of this had anything to do with what he looked like, but he had such terrible taste that I passed imediately. It's just taste -- somewhere out there was a girl with a pale pink beret, a dog and a dream.
posted by sweetkid at 5:17 PM on May 31, 2011 [12 favorites]

A related question: if you have a bunch of normal photos, is it okay to include one of you LITERALLY made up as horror movie monster, complete with professionally scary makeup?

Maybe to a niche audience. Maybe.
posted by sweetkid at 5:24 PM on May 31, 2011

I have exactly the same problem: basically not a very good-looking guy to start with and totally unphotogenic. I tend to use the "throw enough shit against the wall" approach to getting an acceptable photo: have someone take lots of photos of you. Lots. Posed and unexpected. Just have them keep firing away and try to forget they're doing it. Chances are that one of them will look halfway decent, and there you go.
posted by Decani at 6:12 PM on May 31, 2011

Remember that professionals take dozens if not hundreds of photos to get the "best" shots
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 7:24 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you do go to a professional portrait photographer, you should be dealing with someone who thoroughly understands both the process of photography, and the art of getting a subject to reveal himself appealingly in a portrait. They'll likely use a specialized portrait lens, and will suggest poses and lighting techniques that minimize shadowing, and lines. But for a combination of affordability and usable results, I'd really suggest you use a business portrait service, because the kind of picture you probably want, is pretty much their daily bread.
posted by paulsc at 10:12 PM on May 31, 2011

Instruct a photographer to make the picture look like you took it yourself, only it looks like you got lucky and took the best fucking self-cell picture in the world. And see if she'll show you how you supposedly took the picture, so you won't feel like a total fake. Maybe it will be a real cell phone picture but perfectly framed and lighted.

And don't smile. The latest research is that women going through online dating sites go for unsmiling men with that bold cover-of-a-romance-novel look in their eyes. (Men go for women who smile, presumably because it makes them less scary.)

So maybe a professional cell phone picture of you looking serious and sexy in a kilt (how are your legs?) and sitting high atop a hill, but put something odd in the picture to puncture the self-seriousness. Your faithful meerkat companion perched on your bare knee?

Then look for the woman you could lie back with and talk in the dark for hours. She'll be the keeper, even if she, like you, has got a face that would stop a sundial. Just turn off the lights. "Honey, I'm home... ly!" *click*
posted by pracowity at 10:45 PM on May 31, 2011

This is gonna sound ridiculous, but it's working for me, so hell, here goes...

I've never felt photogenic before either, and it wasn't until I got an iPhone and started using those trendy photo apps (Hipstamatic, Instagram, Camera+) that I was able to get a good picture. If your iPhone has the reverse camera, even better, 'cause you can hold your face in a flattering pose, and then click away. The Camera+ app even has a multiple shutter, so you can choose the best shot. I know people have a love/hate relationship with those apps, but I get so many compliments on my Facebook profile pics nowadays, and it really has helped my confidence, so now I don't balk as much when people use REAL cameras on me!
posted by polyester.lumberjack at 12:00 AM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've conquered my camera fear since getting a smartphone, same as polyester.lumberjack. I knew that every time someone pointed a camera at me I'd freeze up in fear of the resulting terrible photo and the photo was always, always terrible. I decided I needed to stop letting that happen and start owning those photos.

Find whatever digital camera you can, turn on the timer (its easier to pose when youre not thinking about pressing the button) and point it at yourself, take photo, review photo, delete photo if its hideous, keep it a while if theres something you like about it.

Figure out what makes you look least goofy. Chin up or down? Camera higher or lower? How are you smiling? Like a lunatic? Dial it back a touch. Do you look odd when you look directly at the camera? Try focusing on a point beyond the lens. Do you look odd face on? Try different angles. Do you look tense? Blow a raspberry, stick out your tounge or yawn and try again. Think of something that made you laugh recently, think of someone or something youre fond of.

You should come out of this process with a pose or two that works for you and next time instead of 'omg this is going to look terrible, take the damn picture already, RICTUS OF FEAR' you'll be thinking 'chin down a bit, a smile to this point, not all the teeth, focusing on something in the distance beyond the camera, yeah, photo pwned!'
posted by Ness at 6:25 AM on June 1, 2011

I'd just like to add here that a profile picture isn't absolutely necessary. I found my honey of 3 years without one, after all. I look horrible in pictures--nothing but chubby cheeks--so I just skipped that part and made it clear in my profile that I'm no great beauty. Sure, a profile picture probably improves the odds, but don't let the lack of one stop you from putting up a profile. Most of the profiles up there are so lame that a well-written one will stand out even without a picture.

Best of luck to you. I hope you find someone as wonderful as the one I found.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 2:52 PM on June 1, 2011

a friend of mine once advised that it's good to put HONEST pictures of yourself on your profile - some that highlight your good features, but others that show your flaws as well. don't be ashamed - when you eventually meet up with someone, they're going to see what you look like anyway. why start off on a lie?
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 11:03 AM on June 2, 2011

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