With some online dating services boasting hundreds of thousands of eligible and eager potential matches, the gallery of photos is as diverse and intriguing as the profiles themselves.
Much like catalogues, most services allow members to post their photos. An informal, unscientific, perhaps even absurd study of the photos we put online may generate some interesting observations. Here's one guy's breakdown:
The studio - Posed studio picture, sometimes a glamour pose, sometimes with plenty of make up, frosting or airbrushing. These are image-conscious types, theater folks or professionals. Appearance is very important, and they want you to know it.
The yearbook - The old, reliable, stand-by picture for the person who cares enough to have others see what he/she looks like but is not vain enough to head over to the Sears photo studio. That sky blue backdrop and classic yearbook profile angle with a firm grip of the mortarboard is always nice. But if you graduated in 1982, it is deceptive to post that photo today.
Action Jackson - These are usually from a recent vacation or extreme sports outings. These are adventuresome people: parachutists, surfers, swimmers, kayakers, mountaineers, who are saying, "You want to hang with me because I am down with excitement;" "I live life to the fullest;" or "I look good in a wet suit."
Bouncing babies (a.k.a. Baby Fever) - It is no secret that many marriage-minded women want to have babies. There are volumes of photos with women holding, cradling, caressing or bouncing on their knees babies. These photos say, "I am good with babies and I want one, now." Friends tell me there are guys out there bouncing babies, too, conveying the same message about their readiness to be daddies.
Man's best friend (woman's too) - People love their pets, maybe more than their future babies. Dogs and cats frequently make appearances in photos. These photos tell you that the person loves his or her pet, and people who love their pets are generally nice, warm people. But there is a fine line between loving your pet and becoming a cat lady.
Headgear - This is more common with guys. A guy wearing a hat usually denotes one of two things: an unnatural, fanatical devotion to some sports team or baldness. Sorry, dudes, that's reality.
Music man - Employed mostly by guys and mostly with guitars. This seeks to convey a well-roundedness that sweeps a woman off her feet. It is really saying, "Oooh, look at me, I'm a Renaissance Man. You have to want me." A guitar is a masculine instrument and these guys likely have rock star fantasies. I have not seen anyone photographed with a clarinet or kazoo. These photos straddle the line between cool musician and band geek.
The formal - Old prom photos for younger people, leftover frat or sorority formals, bar mitzvahs and wedding photos. These are popular for obvious reasons. People get dressed up for big events: guys in tuxes and women sporting heavy makeup, hairdos and taffeta, all intent on looking their best on one special day. These are nice but not representative of how most people usually appear. The analysis is transparent: women are frustrated with being bridesmaids and guys are showing you how they would look atop your wedding cake.
Welcome to the party - These are pics where the individual is in a group, frequently a group of drunk-looking girls at a party. These say, "Hey, just because I'm doing this online dating thing does not mean I don't have friends. Look, I do have friends and we had a great time at this Hawaiian luau."
Deuces wild - Sometimes we take our best pictures with our friends. That is all fine and dandy, but when you post the photo with your best friend, it can be quite vexing. Caution: When posting a photo with your best friend, there is always the possibility that the person who contacts you may find your friend more attractive than you.
Excess baggage - These photos, obviously, picture the people with an ex. Logic dictates: You may not want your potential significant other seeing you for the first time in a photo with your previous significant other.
Trick or treat - Halloween costumes make frequent appearances: bunny ears, colorful wigs or devil horns. These depict fun and playfulness while reminding us that we are never too old to be treated or tricked.
Stevie Wonderland - It is not necessary to be hypnotized by eye contact but it is important to be able to look into the eyes of your potential mate.
Gag me with a photo - Pranksters like gag photos: swim suits, cartoon characters, TV or movie stars. There are extreme close ups, distant perspective, in focus, out-of-focus, upside-down arrangements and bizarre angles that would have made Orson Welles envious.
If you look long enough, you will see the patterns and begin to recognize your own categories. We all do what we can to look our best and put our best image out there. We post photos that reflect our personalities and, we hope, will attract that special someone. I have observed that there is one truth about photos, which was succinctly stated by my friend Rachel, an online dating veteran: "It doesn't matter because nobody looks like their photo anyway."
Roy S. Gutterman is a New Jersey-based writer. Visit www.Lrev.com.