“I wanted photos that portrayed all sides of me. The sporty, the chilled-out, the cheeky, the sexy, and the tomboy…going to the effort of doing a photoshoot also screams that you are more committed to finding someone.”

Professional Dating Photo
Credit: Saskia Nelson

The year was 2013, and Tinder was just taking off. A new era of dating was just beginning. After spending some time swiping the apps, UK-based photographer Saskia Nelson realized that when it came to online dating profile pictures, something had to change.

“I spent many years online dating, looking at terrible pictures. As a creative, I found it uninspiring to look at poor-quality photos when doing something that was potentially the most important thing I could ever do — find my ‘forever guy.’ In all other aspects of my life I only visited websites with cool, quality images, so low-quality and blurry images were a real turn-off for me.”

Nelson decided to turn her uninspiring swiping experience into a business. She set up an agency specifically dedicated to creating strong, colorful images to attract people’s attention on dating sites. Six years later, her company Hey Saturday has been a transatlantic success, operating in numerous cities across the UK and US, and growing. Saskia’s rapidly-expanding team is now made up of 16 photographers based in London, New York, and Los Angeles and takes dating app profile pictures for around 1,000 clients a year (compared to around 200 in her first year of operation).

“Social media was an upward trend, and I could see that more and more people were craving a richer visual experience online,” explains Nelson. “Initially, our core demographic was clients in their thirties or forties, but over the last couple of years we’ve definitely seen an increase in clients in their twenties booking themselves on a shoot. They often say that they’ve been brought up in a visual world and so having good quality images is a completely normal thing to prioritize in their lives.”

While Hey Saturday was once one of the only companies in the dating app photography game, a quick Google search shows dozens of results for similar services. In New York alone, a host of online dating photographers, all at wildly different price points. You might be tempted by budget-friendly options Online Profile Pros or Tinder Photographer NYC, who offer a basic studio shoots or 20-minute speed shoots for around $150 each. At the upper end of the scale, one photographer charges $750 for an hour-and-a-half shoot (with multiple costly extras such as outfit changes and additional retouched photos also available to purchase), and suggests that their expertise can increase your success on dating apps by up to 10 times.

Nelson says that the founding philosophy of her organization isn’t just about providing images where the client looks picture perfect. After all, now that many of us have a professional-quality smartphone camera in our pockets we can all snap the perfect selfie with ease. Soliciting the skills of a professional photographer seems to be more about about portraying parts of your life that might not otherwise get caught on camera.

“Dating photography is a whole new genre whereby we are like the friend who captures you out and about having fun together,” she says. “Clients ask us to help them share their passions in their photos, such as cycling, yoga, music, skiing, or skating. Some are more challenging than others, but we always try and find solutions that come across as natural in the shots.”

Professional dating profile images may seem like overkill, but any seasoned online dater will understand the frustrating experience of sifting through a stack of lackluster photos, trying to decide what will attract the most suitors. Squinting at blurry group shots or poorly-lit gym selfies is par for the course when it comes to securing a date, and struggling to find six pictures that show you in the perfect light can be a tricky task.

“I was going out on dates but rarely got beyond the first meet-up,” explains Olena Sandul, 31, who had an online dating profile photoshoot in New York after struggling to land a second date. “Carefully curated profiles have more chance of attracting someone who is on a similar wavelength. For me it wasn’t about the number of matches, but rather reflecting who I am through my profile.”

Struggling to make romance stick can be a common complaint among online daters. A survey by Hinge in 2016 found that only one in 500 swipes led to a phone number exchange, and that 81 percent of users reported that they had never found a long-term relationship using a dating app. This inspired a complete overhaul of the app, with its founders deciding to focus profiles on personality and positive interaction rather than images and a swipe-based interface. They believe that encouraging users to invest time into creating a more detailed profile infinitely improves user experience. Could the trend for polished pictures be part of this drive toward more mindful online dating?

“We haven’t looked into the success of professional photos, however our statistical model has found that users who use high quality photos receive more swipes compared to those with low quality images,” says Leonardo De Marchi, Head of Data Science and Analytics at Badoo, a swipe-based app operating in 147 countries and 47 different languages “We always encourage everyone to be themselves, so if you are using professional photos for your profile, make sure your photos include laughter or an activity that you love doing. This could simply be a selfie with your pet dog or participating in your favorite sport. This will get you a long way over a bathroom selfie!”

For Cate Maiolini, a fashion producer and stylist working in London, portraying her personality was crucial when it came to taking part in a professional shoot. For that reason, she focused on images of her with her laptop, a book, and in a favorite black dress on the streets of her city to reflect aspects of her life that she would want to share with someone.

“I wanted photos that portrayed all sides of me,” she said “The sporty, the chilled-out, the cheeky, the sexy, and the tomboy. I think having pictures that speak about how you want to portray yourself, instead of just a random selection of photos from your camera phone, and going to the effort of doing a photoshoot also screams that you are more committed to finding someone.”

But say you’ve footed the bill for a photo shoot, spruced up your Bumble bio, and uploaded your favorite shots. But does using professional pictures actually translate to IRL success?

“I would actually still advise mixing up professional photos with your own photos to make your profile look more authentic,” says Sandul. “Your online profile is about the full story — both the bio and photos — however I think that photos really tell the visual story of who you are. And that can be so much more powerful. But yes, I definitely noticed more matches. To be honest though, I was so happy with the photos and felt such a confidence boost that I didn’t really mind how many more likes I got. It all started with me wanting better photos so I could meet more guys, and in the end turned into a very powerful confidence-boosting treat for myself.”