4 Secrets of the Ultimate Profile Photo

Looking good online can make a difference when it comes to taking out loans and applying for jobs.

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Your high school sweetheart isn’t the only one looking you up online. Your online photos are also being seen by prospective employers, credit checkers, or anyone curious about your background.

[See How to Create Your Back-to-School Budget.]

With so much at stake, why not spruce up that photo and make a great first impression? Investing in a few visual improvements can mean saving (and earning) more later.

Here are four secrets to taking an awesome profile photo, according to a recent study by dating website OKCupid, which analyzed over 11 million opinions on half a million photos.

The Flash Will Age You

Film may add ten pounds, but flash can add seven years. Soft light diffuses and can even hide blemishes and wrinkles, while bright light only exposes every flaw.

If you must use flash, try softening it with a piece of tissue in front of the bulb, or bounce the light off a wall or ceiling.

Certain Times of the Day are Better than Others

Optimal times are late night and late afternoon. Photos taken late in the afternoon tended to be more pleasantly lit, while those taken late at night were more provocative. Now, this could have to do with lower inhibitions as one gets drunker or lonelier as the night goes on, but the data shows that nighttime photos are best.

Either way, if you don’t want to be overly provocative, you might want to opt for the late afternoon time slot for your photo shoot. Remember: You don’t want sun glaring down into the lens, and don’t forget the seven years rule.

[See How to Save on Back-to-School Shopping.]

Be the Main Visual

Keeping you as the main visual subject creates a sense of intimacy and connection with the viewer. This is all about you, remember? So you need to be the main focus of the photo. The rest of the background should fade away into a pleasant haze.

This effect—sharp subject with the foreground and background in a softened state—is called depth of field, and the shallower the depth of field, the blurrier the peripherals. It is basically just the portrait setting effect on many point-and-shoot digital handhelds, but it works wonders.

Type and Brand of Camera Matters OKCupid found this hierarchy of awesomeness in each of these camera categories. You might want to keep this in mind next time you go shopping for a digital camera:

• Digital SLR: Panasonic, then Canon, then Nikon.

• Point-and-shoots: Leica, then Sony, then Panasonic.

• Camera phones: Sidekick, then Apple, then Sony.

Broadly speaking, the more complex the camera, the better the results you will receive. This is particularly true if there is an array of photo settings and options available and you aren’t afraid to play around with the manual settings.

Cameras with interchangeable lenses (digital SLRs) will take better shots than a point-and-shoot, which will take better shots than a camera phone. 

Will Chen is the co-founder of Wise Bread and the Money Tips Network, the premiere network of personal finance blogs. Wise Bread's book, 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget, debuted as the #1 Money Management book on Amazon.com.