OkCupid photography advice with METRICS!

Don't Be Ugly By Accident!

I love this blog.

DNA Lounge photographers please take note, as their statistical analysis supports what I've been telling you all for years: don't use a flash, and use a shallow depth of field. This implies: use the lowest f-stop possible, and don't use a zoom lens. If you want to zoom in, stand closer.

Previously, previously.

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33 Responses:

  1. vanbeast says:

    The OKCupid blog is pretty much my favorite thing on the internets. And, like you said, it's great that they've got a big fat pile of data to support what every skilled photographer ever will tell you.

  2. rane500 says:

    I'm a little surprised they didn't bring up ISO, but that's another blindingly obvious one and I guess irrelevant for half of the camera's on their list. It's also fun to have a concrete number - "a flash adds 7 years."

    • jwz says:

      They are dealing with only web-sized images, meaning all of those images are already scaled down from the camera original, so ISO means nothing except for the lowest-resolution cameras on the list (only the sub-megapixel ones, probably). And those are probably phones that don't let you set the ISO anyway.

  3. knowbuddy says:

    I cover OkCupid in one of the courses I teach as an example of how databases don't have to be stodgy, "enterprise class", static things. The assignments for make-up work have the students go out to the OkCupid blog, pick an entry, and write a paper on the probable table structure needed to correctly store such a dataset, and the queries involved in generating the reports upon which to base the graphs.

    (And yes, before anyone asks, the student can provide a non-relational answer. None of them ever do -- it's a Bachelor's program.)

  4. hepkitten says:

    i never understood why people constantly rely *on single direction flash. wide-open prime lenses and bump your iso and quit whining about the noise.

  5. pyrop says:

    Also, apparently iPhone users have twice as much sex as Android users.

  6. edouardp says:

    I love how the internet gives people access to datasets that would be unthinkable in a previous age.

    The XKCD colour names one is another example - back when you or I were in college, a sample size of 400 users would have been considered very large, but a popular site, even if run by a single person, can get sample sizes in the hundreds of thousands.

    The noise is in these sets is much higher than in a controlled experiment, but over hundreds of thousands, or millions of data points, the noise vanishes.

    Quantity becomes quality.

    Also, bitter news for Android users.

  7. autodidactic says:

    Recently, I took a picture with my kid, with flash.
    It was horrifying. For once, I looked like I should have an 18 year old kid. Usually, I don't. Or is that REALLY how I look?

  8. spendocrat says:

    "I can't really say why that is, but I can irresponsibly theorize..."

    If only this kind of honesty was more widespread in stats analysis.

  9. davachu says:

    Where did you get zoom from? No mention in the OKC blog.

    Conventional photographic wisdom says that zoom is more flattering. Some of the best portraits I've taken have been at 200mm on a crop sensor.

    On a pointy clicky though, zooming can bugger the aperture. My S90 is f/2.0 at 24mm but f/4.9 at full 105mm zoom.

    • jayp39 says:

      Zoom lets less light in. If you are trying to maximize the capture of light you need to not zoom. In other words: standing closer without zoom or flash is going to give you a better pic than standing further away and using zoom and flash.

      • davachu says:

        "zoom lets less light in"

        Got a source for that?

        If zoom narrows the aperture, sure, which was what I said. But an SLR with f/2.8 through the range will be fine.

        • jayp39 says:

          Yeah, sorry somehow I missed the last paragraph of your post...should not comment on posts right after waking up.

        • seminiferous says:

          The point is that most zoom lenses aren't f/2.8 straight through (even SLR), and a prime lens will generally have a wider aperture than a zoom at the same price point. Yes, that $2000 f/2.8 80-200mm zoom lens will be fine. But hopefully if you spent that kind of money, you already know how to take a decent picture.

          • rane500 says:

            Plus you can get f/1.8 fixed for less than $100 on most DSLRs, making it the more cost-effective option as well.

            Edit: my captcha had quotes around one word and they're both nonsense - they're getting more complex. I guess the legion of live data entry zombies gets tougher every day.

    • jwz says:

      You can't have both a long zoom and a narrow depth of field. Not unless your lens costs as much as a car.

      And I am unconvinced by your uncited "conventional wisdom".

      • davachu says:

        Zoom for portrait? For example:


        Taking portraits with a wide angle results in perspective distortion. I have done actual classes at an actual university. Compare zoom:


        Wide angle:


        See the difference?

        And zooming works for shallower depth of field. For example:


        Googling will produce math that I haven't bothered to understand.

        • rane500 says:

          No offense, but I find your use of that evidence slightly misleading.

          The first article clearly also recommends a fast 50 specifically for the wider aperture, the second photo in the Flickr comparison has her leaning into the lens while the first is not and that has a heavy effect on perspective, and the core recommendations in the depth of field tutorial recommend wide aperture and standing close first with zooming being the last possible step if it's even needed at all.

          (Edited an oops.)

          • davachu says:

            The point is that wide angles exaggerate perspective and zooms flatten it.

            And of course, wider aperture gets you less need of flash. And takes of seven years.

            But you can still do DoF with a narrower aperture.

            How about:


            190mm, f/5.3 and decent DoF. At 50mm, you'd be needing f/2.8 or better to get that. As I said, there's math:


            • rane500 says:

              I do agree with the math point, partially because the various values (and the equipment that can generate them) are incredibly flexible. You can recalculate a combination starting at various anchors to get to roughly the same place.

              I'm not disagreeing with the fact that you can get there with zoom, I think the overall point being made above was that fixed gets you there with less fiddling, better guaranteed results, and perhaps most importantly: it's cheaper. For example you mention needing f/2.8 - well, that's guaranteed to be available on a fixed 50 under any conditions.

              Concerning perspective, exaggeration I will agree with - it was the term distortion I was challenging. The Flickr picture did have distortion but the wide angle by itself was not responsible for it. Referring back to item 4 in your first link - there is no distortion in that picture. I shoot almost exclusively with a fast 50 right now and distortion has never been an issue.


              (I don't typically shoot people so I can't respond with a head shot.)

              Now - one point that is absolutely undeniable and hasn't actually been specifically mentioned: with those zoom settings you can get that great depth of field from a distance that might be out of your control.

        • freiheit says:

          Your examples of zoom for portrait with long focus depth are good photos, but they're good because everything around the subject is interesting. In at least one of those the background is more interesting than the "subject".

          For OkCupid's purposes, however, a photo that leaves the subject (you) as the only thing in the photo is ideal. Everything else blurred out by a shallow depth of field leaves you with a photo that when reduced to a thumbnail and put in an array with tons of other photos allows the viewer to most quickly decide how attractive you are without any visual clutter to get in the way.

          Their article isn't about what makes the best photos; their article is about what makes the best photos to put up on a website.

      • laptop006 says:

        Not long, but still telephoto, my Canon 200 1.8 cost less then a (decent) car. Was only $5k.

      • ywwg says:

        I was about to contradict you, and then this web site smacked me upside the head: http://www.film-and-video.com/dofmyth.htm

        For a constant f-stop, zoom doesn't actually change the depth of field, but zooming in does make the background *appear* softer.

        • jwz says:

          My point was, long zoom + low f = absurdly expensive. At shows, I rarely go higher than f1.8. Trying to do that from the back of the room would be dumb.

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