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16 Research-Backed Profile Pic Tips [Look Better Online!]

Whether you're looking for your soulmate on Tinder, updating your company's website, or just want to make sure your Instagram profile pic is as attractive as they come, chances are you want to look your absolute best in any type of social media profile that you have.

profile pic tips

There’s tons of advice on how to look better online out there. But you don’t want to waste your time on lame hacks that don’t work.

Don’t worry - we did all of the research on the research so you don’t have to!

VIDA's team of dating experts have put together thousands and thousands of compelling photo lineups for our clients. We've also logged countless hours on all the most popular dating platforms, handling all of their swiping, matching and messaging.

In other words, we know the photo lineups we create lead to dates, because we arrange them on behalf of our clients. These 16 tricks are all based on real science that’s all but guaranteed to work.

To start with, you’ll get easy-to-implement strategies, tips and photo do's and don'ts that work for both genders.

Then at the end of the article, you can continue reading gender-specific profile picture tips for men and women that will instantly make you look more attractive online!

1) Have Someone Else Choose Your Profile Pic

Most people can tell whether or not they look good in a photo. But when it comes to choosing profile photos that highlight all the best facets of your personality? Not so much.

To look your absolute best online, you need to nail the trifecta: attractive, trustworthy and competent.

Bumble profile pic

According to research, strangers are way better at identifying photos where you embody all three traits than you are.

You simply don’t see your own face the same way others do. Since you’re so familiar with your own face, you miss all those little things that strangers notice.

That’s why you should never trust your own judgment when it comes to deciding which profile images to include. You may think you have cool profile pics, but your opinion doesn't really matter in this scenario.

First Impressions Are Nearly Instantaneous

Someone who isn’t familiar with your face will form an impression within a mere second of seeing your picture, based on everything from your posture and clothing to the micro-expressions on your face.

This process of making snap judgments based on appearance is called thin slicing. It happens every time someone looks at you, online or off. Getting photo feedback from others allows you to harness the power of the first impression by choosing photos that other people deem the most attractive overall.

So remember: Instead of asking yourself, “How attractive am I?” in each photo, you should be asking someone who doesn’t know you.

You may think you look cool and suave in that photo where you're leaning up against a brick wall with a pensive expression, rocking a hat and a hoodie.

But a woman looking at a guy profile pic like that may be glad she's not running into you in a dark alley. You know you're not dangerous, so it probably wouldn't even occur to you that someone else could possibly you see that way.

A different study confirmed this disconnect applies to selfies as well. Study participants firmly believed they looked the most attractive in selfies, whereas other people thought those participants looked more likable and attractive in photos taken by someone else.

A Simple Solution

Gather data from one of those photo ranking sites like PhotoFeeler to narrow down your pics to the best ones. And save the selfies for social media like Facebook and Instagram.

If you’re on dating apps, feel free to take it a step further with Tinder’s Smart Photos or Bumble's Best Photos feature. This will help ensure you’re putting your most attractive face forward in your dating profile.

2) Skip Those Boring Neutrals

wear red profile pic

If you want your profile pic to really pop, choose a photo where you’re wearing red. According to multiple research studies, both men and women rate members of the opposite sex wearing something red as more attractive.

Not only will you instantly look more attractive, but you’ll also stand out from the sea of people who opted to wear neutral colors.

This works especially well for online dating photos, where most people are awash in a sea of neutrals. Tinder analyzed 12,000 photos and found 56% of women and 72% of men wore neutral colors in their profile pics.

Wear something red, and all eyes will be on you.

3) Take Up A Lot Of Space In The Frame

Whether you’re a guy or a girl, taking up a lot of physical space in the frame instantly makes you more attractive to others.

Researchers discovered these “expansive postures” conveyed both dominance as well as a willingness to share resources with others.

Power postures tip

The academic researchers found that while outstretched limbs increased attractiveness for both genders, men seemed to benefit more from this more than women. So guys especially: take up some space in your pics!

examples of power postures

4) Squinch For Success

Peter Hurley Squinch Tip

Coined by portrait photographer Peter Hurley, “squinching” is when you bring up your lower eyelids just a bit. Most people default to a wide-eyed look when being photographed.

how to squinch tip from Peter Hurley

But aiming for the squinch - 80% deer-in-the-headlights, 20% squint - makes you look more cool and confident. Make sure not to squint too much though. Studies have shown the more you squint, the less attractive you become as a long term relationship prospect.

5) Accentuate Your Jawline

Here's another trick professional photographers often use. When you’re posing for a headshot, accentuating your jawline can make your photo stand out. Peter Hurley has an easy tip on how to do just that:

Bring your head closer to the camera by moving your forehead forward and down just a little:

Peter Hurley jawline tip

From the side it would look like you have bad posture, but from the front (or at a slight angle) it can help add that edge you need to stand out.

how to extend your jawline in a profile pic

6) Put Your Best Face Forward In Your Profile Photo

Researchers have found that people show a strong preference for photos showing the left side of someone’s face rather than the right.

In the study, they theorized that since the right half of your brain is more involved with regulating your emotions and it controls the muscles on your left side, your left cheek is more expressive.

This “leftward bias” has been around for hundreds of years. When looking at portraits painted all throughout history, the majority of the time the subject is painted so that the left side of the face is more prominent.

leftward bias profile pic tip

While your profile picture for FB or Tinder might not be remembered for the ages, you may as well learn from the masters!

7) No More Hunching

Researchers have found that posture matters quite a bit. Good posture is associated with confidence - and confidence is always sexy. People with good posture are perceived as more attractive, so follow your mom’s sage advice and sit up straight.

Sometimes tall people do a lot of hunching in photos to keep from towering over their friends. But to avoid looking sloppy and unconfident, Peter Hurley recommends spreading your legs instead of hunching your shoulders. The more you spread your legs while standing, the better you’ll line up with your friends. This trick can really come in handy for group shots that are taken from the waist up.

8) Take Advantage Of The “Ugly Friend Effect”

When you’re in a photo with people less attractive than you, you automatically look hotter, according to researchers at the Royal Holloway, University of London. It’s called the “Ugly Friend Effect,” and it instantly makes you look better online.

Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist and professor at Duke University, performed an online experiment that confirmed this trick to be legit.

He found that by showing someone a similar but slightly less desirable option, your perceived attractiveness level increases. That’s especially important in dating photos.

In Dan’s study, he presented women with two CGI images, one named Tom, the other Jerry. When only offered two options, the photos were considered equally attractive.

use the ugly friend effect in your profile pic

But when an “ugly” version of Jerry was added to the mix...

“Normal Jerry” was rated as the most attractive of the three. Likewise, when “ugly Jerry” was removed from the mix, and “ugly Tom” took his place, “normal Tom” became the most attractive of the three.

So the take home message of Ariely’s experiment is this: To be as attractive as possible in a photo, stand next to someone who has similar features, but isn’t quite as attractive as you.

A third study from researchers at the University of California found that participants rated people as more attractive when they’re in a group versus flying solo. It’s called “The Cheerleader Effect.”

What the scientists came up with was that when you’re looking at a photo with multiple people, your brain partially averages all the features together. So that means those flaws little flaws you might worry about are more likely to be glossed over than they would be if you’re in a photo alone.

9) Send The Right Signals

No matter how you’re using the photo online, people are judging you on *everything* that’s visible within the frame.

All the expected stuff, like your clothes, expression, and posture get noticed - but it doesn’t stop there. Everything in the background gets scrutinized as well.

Your mission is to make sure everything visible in your photo adds up to a positive impression, and to do that, you need to understand how “Signaling” works. Signaling is what your photo is communicating between the pixels.

how to use signalling in your profile pic

For instance, if you choose a picture like the one to the left for your online dating profile photo, what do you think it says about your personality? Certainly not that you’re a fun guy to hang out with on a Friday night...

And guys, if you're looking for a long-term relationship but lead with a shirtless bedroom mirror selfie, you're likely not going to attract the type of high-quality women you'd consider dating. They probably filed you under "hookup" and swiped left.

That’s how signaling works.

10) Who Can Resist A Smile?

A recent PhotoFeeler study found that if you’re looking at the camera, you’re considered most attractive when you’re smiling. If you’re not looking at the lens, smiling (or not) didn’t seem to make a difference.

So eye contact = smile, but what kind of smile looks best? PhotoFeeler researched that too. People flashing a smile showing some teeth were considered more competent, likeable, and influential than people with a tight-lipped smile.

PhotoFeeler smiling tip

But there is too much of a good thing.

People who sported one of those mouth-wide-open, laughing kind of smiles were seen as more likable than people with a smaller smile. At the same time, though, they were perceived as less competent and influential.

And here’s one more fact that will bring a smile to your face: Researchers in Switzerland found that “A happy facial expression could even compensate for relative unattractiveness.” So if you’re worried about how you look, smile!

If your teeth don’t hit the pearly white mark, it might be a good idea to use a profile pic editor to brighten your smile just a bit. According to a UK study, having pearly white teeth can make you more attractive to the opposite sex. Why? People may see good teeth as a sign of health when it comes to selecting a mate.

11) Show Off Those Baby Blues

PhotoFeeler recently discovered that covering your eyes with something in a photo affects how people perceive your personality - and not in a good way.

Sunglasses profile pic tip

In the study, participants rated people wearing sunglasses as less likeable, and people whose eyes were obstructed by hair as both less competent and less influential.

Tinder’s resident sociologist Dr. Jessica Carbino explained that being able to see someone’s eyes is an indicator of trustworthiness. In other words, if you’re hiding your eyes, you may be hiding something else too. Those sunglasses aren't doing you any favors.

12) Boost Your Trustworthiness

If you want to look especially trustworthy, consider choosing a pic where your pupils are larger. Researchers have found that people with more dilated pupils are perceived as more trustworthy than those with more constricted pupils.

It’s also something to consider when you’re having a pro photo taken - those bright studio lights might actually make you look a little shady…

pupil size dating pic tip

Researchers have discovered that simply thinking about a dark shape, or imagining you’re in a dark room can be enough to make your pupils dilate. But it’s probably easier just to slightly increase the size of your pupil in Photoshop or one of the many online picture editing sites like Pixlr.

And while you’re at it, you could slightly thicken that slight black line around your iris.

limbal ring visible in profile pic

That’s called your limbal ring, and a study in the Journal of Evolutionary Psychology found that people were considered more attractive when those lines were slightly thicker.

But steer clear of extreme closeups - the camera geometrically warps your image, compared to a photo taken from a longer distance away. Research has shown this subtle distortion makes you appear less trustworthy.

trustworthy profile pic tip

The photo on the left was taken from about 2 feet away and the one on the right from about 7 feet. Notice the slight difference in the appearance of the subject’s nose and eyes. While it’s slight, your subconscious picks up on it right away.

The photo on the left didn’t just take a hit in the trustworthy department - he was also considered less attractive and competent than he was perceived to be in the photo to the right.

13) Don’t Instantly Age Yourself

A camera’s direct flash instantly adds 7 years to your perceived age in photographs, according to data analysis by dating site OkCupid. That blinding artificial light creates harsh shadows and highlights flaws, two things you want to avoid.

OkCupid flash adds 7 years

Instead, using a softer light which can hide wrinkles and blemishes. Natural light is universally attractive, so you’ll usually look better in pictures taken outdoors.

14) Take Advantage Of The “Golden Hour”

Pro photographers know that the best time to take a photo outside is just after sunrise or right before sunset. That mellow golden light enhances colors, and makes everything - including you - look better.

According to extensive data analysis by OkCupid, photos taken during the Golden Hour are perceived as more attractive:

take profile pic during Golden Hour

So if you’re in need of new profile pictures for WhatsApp, Tinder, or Facebook, plan accordingly. Grab your camera and head out into the sunset.

15) Dress For Success

PhotoFeeler recently analyzed 800 profile photos to determine what elements would produce the best headshot for professionals. As always on PhotoFeeler, the test photos were rated in three areas: perceived competence, likeability, and influence.

Competent profile pic tip

According to the data, wearing a dark colored suit over a light colored shirt (plus a tie if you’re a guy), boosted your competence and influence scores more than any other style of dress.

Here’s the rest of the study results, in a nutshell...

To take a more attractive profile pic, DO:

  • “Squinch” your eyes
  • Accentuate your jawline
  • Smile wide enough to show a little teeth
  • Wear a suit (plus a tie for men)
  • Use a color correction tool. Overly saturated colors or too-dark photos can leave a bad impression.


  • Cover your eyes
  • Opt for a “face-only” closeup, or a full body shot. When it comes to professional headshots, a waist up or shoulders up photo looks better.
  • Sport a huge “laughing” smile - it’s too much of a good thing.

Keep those do's and don'ts in mind as you're searching for the perfect profile pic!

16) Ditch the Drink

If you’re thinking of using a snap from your monthly “margarita Monday” as your profile picture for Facebook or Bumble, reconsider. As it turns out, having alcoholic beverages in your profile photo makes you look less smart.

The Journal of Consumer Psychology dubbed it the “imbibing idiot” effect, because people with alcohol visible in their photo were perceived as less intelligent.

examples of a bad profile pic

That being said, if you know you’re about to have your picture taken, consider having just one drink first. Researchers found a “mildly intoxicated” person was rated as more attractive than a sober one. Just make sure to hide it from the camera.

But wait, there’s more!

These 16 science-backed tricks to a more attractive profile photo are just the beginning. We’ve got even more tips in store for you!

We’ve scoured the internet for science-based tips, tricks and hacks, and rounded up with the best ways for men and women to instantly look more attractive online.

Guys go here →
Ladies go here →

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