London-based online dating photographer Saskia Nelson, of ‘Saturday Night’s Alright’, gives her top tips for taking a great online dating profile picture on your smartphone.
I may be a pro photographer, but I’m still a huge fan of mobile photography. It’s inspiring, the number of people out there taking great shots on their phones, but a quick glance at Facebook tells me these people are in the minority. Yes, sadly it’s very easy to take bad photos on your phone and then post them straight to dating websites or social media, but by following a few simple ground rules you can significantly improve the quality of your photos. Also, with a few simple editing tricks, you can create some genuinely cool portrait photos for your dating profile. No expensive camera (or fun dating photographer!) required. If the photos are of yourself, you are going to need to find a friend with a steady hand and an eye for composition, ideally, to read this.
1. It’s all about the quality
There are a few simple steps to follow to ensure you take a high quality photo. Follow these suggestions and you’ll see the quality of your mobile photos shoot up, and make you more attractive to potential dates!
Lose the flash
In simple terms, photography is all about light, and the better the quality of light, the better the photo. Photographers are obsessed with finding good quality light. Flash photography only works well on portraits when the flash-head is taken off the camera. This obviously isn’t possible with a smartphone so you need to become adept at shooting without the flash. Why can’t you use the flash, you may be asking? Well on a camera, flash creates the most unflattering light for portraits because the light source is coming from a small area close to the lens. It produces a flat, uneven light that creates deep, hard-edged shadows, often bleaching out the skin tone and giving the subject the highly undesirable red-eye.
The easiest way to avoid this is to head outdoors and seek out some good quality natural light. The easiest and most flattering light to work with is the nice, even light you find on a cloudy day. The clouds act as a giant diffuser, spreading the light evenly across the face, meaning there are no horrible unflattering shadows. Most people think sunny days are the best for portrait photography, when actually it is the most challenging to work in. Shooting in direct sunlight creates horrible shadows across people’s faces which can be unflattering and distracting, so if it’s a sunny day head to a shady, yet bright, area. This will immediately even out the light on the face.
If, for some reason, you have to take the photos indoors then the first thing you need to do is turn off the automatic flash function, which can be done very easily on most smartphones. Then, during the day time, take a good look round the place that you’re in and find the natural light sources. Windows, skylights and glass doors are all idea. Then place the subject so their face is facing the light source. Make sure to look at how the light falls on their face. Are there any unpleasant shadows? Is the light spread as evenly as it can be? If the light isn’t as strong as you’d like it to be, remember it bounces off anything white. You can use walls, or a white board to bounce the light from the window back on to their face. Experiment with the different light sources until you get something that works.
Never use the camera’s digital zoom. Always have it zoomed out as much as it will go and use your legs to get nearer your subject. The minute you start zooming in, you lose image quality and on a mobile camera you need as much quality as you can get, although this isn’t the case if you’re using a smartphone with an optical zoom.
Keep your hands steady
Have you seen those people who hold their mobile phones up in the air to take a photo? Hmm, their photos are going to be rubbish. Photos need to be in pin-sharp focus to get attention from daters and the best way to do that is to make sure you have a steady hand. In fact, a pro photographer would either use a wall to steady themselves or bring their elbows into their side (using their body as a kind of tripod) to keep the phone camera as still as possible. It’ll be worth it. Oh and don’t forget to tap the screen and focus on the eyes. Having the eyes in focus is crucial for creating a great portrait.
2. Frame the shot well
For portraits, it’s worth thinking about the composition of the shot. You don’t always have to put the person in the middle of the shot, in fact it’s more appealing to the eye if you put them slightly to one side – either side works (it’s called the rule of thirds for all you techno geeks). And for a super flattering angle, take the shot from slightly above, as this can hide a multitude of sins! Avoid (like the plague) shots taken from slightly below, as suddenly you can see up people’s noses, see their chins in all their glory etc.
3. Be different
One of the key things to a good dating profile photo, besides being good quality, is making it stand out from the sea of blurry, poorly lit ones you see so often. So, how can you do that if you’re just taking a photo on your mobile phone? A good photo tells a story, so how can you tell potential dates something about you in one quick mobile photo?
Do you like music? Grab some cool, big headphones. Like food? Pose with a 99 ice cream. How about getting your favourite book in the shot, or your bike?
Think about the background
If you’re not into the prop idea, that’s OK, just make the background work for you instead. Head to the colourful parts of your town like Notting Hill, Dalston, Shoreditch, the Southbank and find some interesting backdrops to use, such as street art, colourful markets, cool cafes, shops with bunting, etc. If you look hard enough, and that really is the key thing, you’ll see all kinds of cool things that can add a bit of colour and life to your photo.
4. Edit with some cool apps
The beauty of mobile photography is that there is a whole wealth of cool photography apps, which you can often download for free, allowing you to edit your photos to help make them stand out. Use them to edit brightness (can make the skin look much better, but don’t misrepresent yourself!), and add a bit of colour pop and contrast if need be. Don’t be tempted to over edit, as it will put potential dates off. My favourite apps for editing smartphone photos are ‘Afterlight’ and ‘VSCO Cam’ (great colour pop without using a filter) but there are tonnes out there.
5. Break the rules
I’m a bit of a maverick, if truth be told, and am a firm believer in breaking the rules to get an interesting shot. So, experiment. Take lots of shots. Play around with props, clothes, hairstyle, make up, backdrops and in amongst all the shots, you should find a few awesome ones which will help your dating profile stand out from the crowd. Good luck and, most importantly, go have fun doing it. That’s when you’ll get the great shots.