We talk to photographer Saskia Nelson about her take on the online dating profile picture and how she channelled this into her unique business.
Saturday Night’s Alright is currently the UK’s only dedicated dating photography business specialising in creating gorgeous images for single people who are ready to find love. Photos are the most important part of a dating profile and people who are serious about finding someone are turning to Saturday Night’s Alright so that they don’t have to leave the most important goal in their life (finding a partner) to chance. They want to invest in their photos so that they can say they gave dating their best shot. We aim to ensure the photos help tell and sell the story of who they really are.
Why are picture’s on dating profiles not generally a true reflection of the person?
I wouldn’t say they are not generally a ‘true’ reflection but I would say that many pictures are not the ‘best’ reflection of the person. I don’t think it’s intentional but it’s just that generally people often create their profiles very quickly and without investing much time in it, eager to get on with the dating bit. People don’t always have many good photos of themselves on their own, it’s just a fact of life. Or if they do have a good photo, the old favourite, it’s usually a few years out of date. This is a big no-no. Dating photos shouldn’t be more than two years out of date. That aside, if you go to any dating site, the average photo is poorly lit, blurry, badly cropped and often has people cut out of the shot or messy things in the background. It’s pretty hard to figure out what the person is really like when you’re dealing with photos like this.
Can you tell us a bit about your dating experience of bad online dates?
I dated on and off for seven years and had many, many dates with a whole range of different guys. I had one guy who looked like David Beckham in his photo and Columbo in real life! I actually think Columbo’s cute but it’s about setting the right expectations and being honest. If he’d used a photo that looked like him, I’d still have gone on the date but as it was I felt he was being dishonest and if you don’t have an element of trust from the get-go it’s going to be hard to come back from that. I also learnt that it’s always better to meet someone fairly quickly rather than chat on email and the phone for ages. The vibe on the phone and on email can be completely different to when you meet in real life so it’s not worth wasting your time. Probably my worst experience is when I guy used my laptop to access his emails from other girls on the dating site we met on. Ouch. I learned to bounce back from things like this very quickly and move on. I chose not to take the bad dates personally or seriously and found my dating experience a lot more enjoyable. I made it all about the journey rather than the destination. I’m ultimately an online dating success story though. I met my partner on Guardian Soulmates 5 years ago and we’re very happy together.
When did you realise that there was a niche in the market for this?
At the beginning of 2013, I knew I wanted to set myself up as a portrait photographer but as I read loads of articles on marketing, I knew I needed to find a niche. Lots of people asked me if I was going to be a wedding photographer, which made me laugh as I’m so not into weddings, however it did get me thinking about what unique experiences I could bring into the mix and I realised that my 7-8 years of online dating gave me an edge that other photographers don’t have. I did some research and realised that although there were a handful of photographers in London who offered a dating profile photos service, they did this alongside event, wedding, corporate and food photography. I knew that I wanted to launch purely as a dedicated dating photographer because I felt my years of dating enabled me to understand who my clients were and where I’d find them and I knew there are a lot of them. I also knew I could empathise with them, which has been really key in making the business a success. They appreciate that I’ve been on the same journey as them. Plus I’ve always been a bit different from the crowd my whole life, so I knew I wanted my business to be trying something new, something that stands out as different and innovative. I’m delighted to say that since I launched in May last year I’ve been working with hundreds of single people, not just from London but from all round the country. (My furthest client lives in Italy but comes to London from time to time on business so I think of myself as international already!)
What can someone expect from a photography session with you?
I am passionate about good quality customer service and wanted this to be at the heart of my business model when I set it up. So when a client gets in touch with me via my website or via one of my dating expert presentations, my aim is to get a feel for who they are as quickly as possible so that by the time we meet for the shoot I feel I have a good idea of who is coming to meet me and what kind of dating photos they want. I learn more about them in a number of different ways; email chats, phone calls, asking them to complete a questionnaire and also asking them to send me a photo of themselves that they really like. All this information helps me build a picture of them before we meet and helps me decide how I need to be during the shoot to get great shots.
When we meet for the shoot, my aim is to make them feel as relaxed as possible and to forget, if they can, that they are taking part in a dating shoot and try and get them to imagine they are actually out and about with a friend. From the very first conversation I’m trying to establish a sense of trust and if successful I’m more likely to get great photos.
The shoot consists of a relaxed walk or wander around our chosen location in London – it might be somewhere lively like London Fields, Dalston, Southbank, Shoreditch, or it might be somewhere a bit quieter like Battersea or Holland Park, Angel, Hampstead Heath or the Olympic Park - and every time I spot a good backdrop, we will stop and I will capture them walking, leaning, sitting, relaxing, shopping, drinking, reading etc. My unique selling point or ethos is that although the photos are of a professional quality, the vibe of the photo is more that a friend with an excellent camera and eye for photography took it rather than a professional dating photographer and this is where my success really lies.
I would say 99.9% of my clients end up enjoying their time with me despite a lot of initial reservations. I usually bond with my clients especially those on the Revamp (60 minutes) or the Whole Shebang (90 minutes) packages because we’ve spent quite a lot of time together just the two of us, often bonding over dating stories.
Their photos are usually ready a couple of weeks later and they get to choose from double the number they paid for.
Why is a dating profile photo so important to get right?
According to my good friend Will, font of all knowledge, 90% of people decide to date someone based on their dating photos alone, a stat which has recently been backed up by OKCupid’s own research. They concluded that the text is less than 10% of what people think of you. That means if someone’s dating photo isn’t right, they are missing a huge trick. Having the wrong photos probably means that lots of people are skipping over their profile without a backwards glance. What a waste of their time. With a good dating profile photo that captures someone looking at their best without looking like a cheesy professional shot, their dating profile is immediately going to jump off the page and grab the attention of those people who are dolefully scrolling through hundreds of blurry, poorly lit profile photos. A couple of my clients have reported jumping straight into the most popular members list of their chosen dating site. I rely on the clever use of colour and composition too to help make the profile photos stand out.
What is next for you?
Everyone I meet loves what I do and thinks I have a brilliant niche. I already have one freelance photographer working for me with more in the pipeline. My passion is helping people on their journey to finding love and the more people I can help the better. Many of my clients travel from around the country, so I’m keen to start expanding beyond London in the next year or so. I am also planning to start working with stylists and make-up artists as a result of feedback from clients who feel they would like some help with this area too. It’s important for me to listen to what my clients are saying they want and make sure I put the steps in place to be able to offer it to them.
I also work in partnership with Charly Lester, one of London’s most respected and prolific bloggers and relationship experts as The Go To Girls (www.gotogirls.dating). We run dating workshops mainly targeted at women who want realistic and relatable dating advice from approachable and dating and relationship experts.
I am keen to build a strong brand and become known as the talent who made dating photography the next big thing.