Don’t Be Ugly By Accident!

August 10th, 2010 by Christian Rudder

If you're anything like me, you usually think of your pics in terms of content: Here's me smiling. Here's me looking tough. Here's me in Hawaii with that wacky turtle. And so on. Today, however, we'll analyze photography from a numerical angle—we'll discuss flash, focus, and aperture instead. We feel like people don't really think about these things when they choose a profile photo, and yet, as we shall see, their misuse can seriously mess you up.

As always, our data comes from dating site OkCupid, one of the largest, and most interesting, datasets on the web. This article aggregates 11.4 million opinions on what makes a great photo.

. . .

Our experiment:

  1. We collected 552,000 example user pictures.
  2. We paired them up and asked people to make snap judgments, like so:
  3. We collated these millions of judgments with the time of day each picture was taken, what the shutter speed was, and so on. Almost all modern cameras embed this stuff in a special header, called EXIF data.
  4. We made graphs.

Here are our findings:

1. Panasonic > Canon > Nikon.

The type and brand of camera you use has a huge effect on how good you look in your pictures. This is a plot of the most popular makes:

As you can see, the general pattern is that more complex cameras take better pictures. Interchangable lens cameras (like digital SLRs) make you look more attractive than your basic point and shoot cameras, and those in turn make you look better than your camera phone. I'm not sure what's going on with Kodak all the way to the right there. They might want to consider making sharing more difficult.

Beyond the advantages or shortcomings of any specific brand, the more-complex-is-better trend bears out at all ages:

And we also found similar numbers looking only at people who uploaded all three types of photos. Putting such a triplet together dramatically illustrates the difference: