With over 50 million singles on Tinder, distinguishing yourself from the flock can prove laborious. No longer will the bathroom-mirror selfies of chiseled abs or the dog-loving-frank-smile combo be enough. That's why some photographers are banking on the popularity of the impish dating app by offering their services to make users look their best.
“People have this tendency to create their dating profile in less than 10 minutes even though it could be the most important thing they do for their love life," says British photographer Saskia Nelson. In May 2013, she set up Saturday Night’s Alright after spending eight years on online dating sites and growing tired of seeing the same blurry and dingy portraits. “My pet peeves are red eyes and messy bedrooms in the background. For one, people want to connect with your gaze. If they see two scarlet lasers coming out of your eyes, they’re going to move on. And, having a pile of dirty clothes behind you is not a great way to make an impression. Remember you’re trying to sell yourself and your lifestyle.”
To help her clients figure out what characteristics of theirs to put forward, Nelson sends them tips and a questionnaire ahead of the photo shoot. She advises them to treat the session as they would a date, and thus prep for it in a similar manner. Wear clothes (and underwear) that make you feel good, trim your beard, bring props that showcase your interests. She also has them thinking about who their current inspirations are or when they are at their happiest. “I go from photographing a senior to a 22-year-old." she says. "With that kind of range, I like to know whom I’m meeting ahead of time so I can prepare." Then, they go out for a stroll through a neighborhood of London that fits her customer’s personality. Battersea Park, Ladbroke Grove or Southbank for the even-tempered; Brick Lane, Shoreditch or London Fields for the edgier ones.
In New York, similar online dating experiences led Charlie Grosso, an advertising and editorial photographer, to launch Tinder Photography last October. She sees it as a way to supplement her income between assignments, have a bit of fun and elevate the standards of the images she comes across when perusing the app. “I wanted to apply my storytelling skills to creating dating profile pictures," she says. Therefore, she spends a few hours with her clients wandering the city in hopes of uncovering their endearing idiosyncrasies and capturing them using both a single-lens reflex and an iPhone. The latter, she claims, helps make people look more relaxed. “The time I spend walking and talking with them is just as important as those when I point my camera at them. The goal is to make images look less staged, and more like snapshots," she adds.
Though photographer Max Schwartz is not one for deception when it comes to dating profile portraits, his start in the business came after he jokingly created a fake website called Tinder Headshots. It quickly went viral. As it took a life of its own, he felt compelled to follow through. Used to working with actors and male models, this new practice helped him hone in on his people skills. "It’s like speed dating," he says. "I have thirty minutes to get to know the sitter and have them warm up to me enough that they relax in front of the camera. I found that when people talk about themselves and their passion, their expression changes. That’s often the sweet spot."
Rather than try to recreate candid moments, Schwartz favors the traditional headshot. "It’s more straightforward and as engaging, especially if the person comes across as warm and approachable," he says. "Guys often try to look too stoic or overly manly." And, in keeping as close to the truth as possible, he refuses to retouch the resulting images. "There’s nothing worse than going on a date and realizing that the person looks nothing like their pictures. They should look like themselves, just the best version of themselves," notes the Brooklynite with marketing acumen. He recently developed a spin-off, Look Like a Boss, headshots meant for LinkedIn.
No matter the style, online profile photo services are thriving. Nelson dedicates herself entirely to it now and has hired a second shooter. She has plans to expand to other cities, and perhaps other countries. "I have such an extensive experience of online dating," she says, "that I want to share it with others." She recommends trying to spend 20 minutes a day on dating website or apps and allocating no more than one hour to a first date. “The photographs are just the beginning.”