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So, one thing that we’ve learned in all sorts of verticals, particularly dating, is that amateur photos convert better than professional or stock photography.
(Actually, that’s not always true. But sometimes it is, and when it is it tends to be very true.)
Why? Well, for most people, “professional” photography means “someone’s trying to sell me something”. And that’s not a great way to get them to, for example, sign up to a dating site.
Unfortunately, amateur photography for some demographics, particularly older guys, is hard to find. By far the easiest way to find a wide range of photography tailored to your demo is to use a stock photography site.
But stock photography sites have very few amateur-looking images, and lots of very professional, carefully-lit, bland images.
So what to do?
Well, it’s not a perfect solution, but you can use Photoshop to make your stock photos look a whole lot more like amateur, real images, and reap the rewards of higher conversion rates.
Here’s an example:
The Basic Principle
There’s no single trick to making pro photos look amateur. Instead, there are a bunch of different things you can do to “de-professionalise” your photos.
What we think of as a “professional” photo is largely a photo that doesn’t have any of the mistakes amateurs make.
In a professional photo, the subject is well-framed in the picture. It’s properly focused and not blurred. The picture is composed well and there’s nothing distracting in the background. Exposure and color levels have been properly balanced in post-production.
To make the photo look more amateur, we simply introduce one or more of these errors. We blur it a bit as if the camera wasn’t quite still when the photo was taken. We move it to an awkard “selfie” angle. And so on.
Generally, I find that applying two or three layered “amateurizing” filters is enough to make a professional photo look properly amateur. A single filter just looks like you’ve done something wrd to a stock photo, but more than one gives the proper “taken at 11pm on a lonely Saturday with a cellphone” feel.
If you’re preparing a whole bunch of photos – like a grid on a landing page, for example – it’s best to vary the filter and number of filters you’re using on each one. That stops them from looking too uniform and gives a naturalistic variation in how much care was taken on each picture.
Nine Ways To Make Pro Photos Look Amateur
The Dodgy Resize
Stretched or over-enlarged pictures are everywhere on dating sites in particular – and this is a really easy effect to copy.
For an ultra-simple approach, just use the Transform tool, and stretch the image a bit either vertically or horizontally. You want to hit the sweet spot where it’s still obvious the person is attractive, but the picture looks like it’s been munged by a complete amateur.
An even more effective technique is to reduce the photo size beyond the size you need, then re-enlarge it. For example, if you’re prepping a photo for POF, reduce it in size (Image » Image Size in Photoshop) to 60 pixels high, then enlarge it back to 80 pixels. It’ll look slightly pixelated and much less professional.
Mess With Exposure
One sure mark of a cheap camera or crap photographer is if the photo is over- or underexposed: too dark or too light.
I don’t recommend underexposing your pictures, because they’ll “pop” a lot less. But overexposing them can make them pop more, while also looking less professional.
In Photoshop, go to Image » Adjustments » Exposure in the menu. Then tweak the top two sliders. I usually push “Exposure” up until the photo’s got bad glare but is still recognisable – the “using a flash indoors” look – then mess with the offset a little too. Setting the Offset up gives the slight white-out of an over-lit picture, whilst setting it dark increases contrast (good for visibility on the page) whilst also generally making it look like the photographer had No Clue what he/she was doing.
Blurry Blurry Wobbly Wobbly
When trying to fake amateurism, blur is your friend.
There are two types of blur that work well. First is the old classic, Gaussian Blur (Filter » Blur » Gaussian Blur), which just softens the image, giving a remarkably good impression of a badly-focused camera. Blurry images often have surprisingly high CTR – this one’s nearly always worth a try.
Then, for a more precise simulation of a wobbly cellphone, Motion Blur (Filter » Blur » Motion Blur) works a treat – it’s one of my go-to effects. Tweak the direction of the motion (the circle with a line through it) so that it’s either up-and-down or on a diagonal. Peoples’ hands rarely wobble in a precisely horizontal line.
Add Extraneous Detail To The Background
This is a little more hassle than just applying a filter, but it’s startlingly effective. In my experience it’s one of the few effects in this list that can sell an otherwise perfect stock photo as being amateur as hell, by itself.
Pro photographers go to great lengths for a “clean” image where the person they’re picturing is the only feature, or by far the most obvious feature, in the picture. So we reverse that by Photoshopping something into the image that any pro photographer would have Photoshopped out.
Start by looking at the background of your photo, and finding an image of something that would naturally be in the background – a lamppost, a post box, a sign, a lampshade, whatever. Ideally you’ll want it to have a clear background, but it doesn’t matter that much.
Copy-paste it into your image and Transform it (CTRL+T) until it fills a portion of the background.
Now either use the Eraser tool to erase everything but the object, or (probably better) add a Mask and paint out everything else using the Mask. Erase the bits of the object that should be covered by the person in the image too, of course.
If the background’s blurred, you should also blur the layer with your image on it a little.
You’ll end up with a great, awkward-looking picture that instantly passes muster as Not Professional.
There are a couple of giveaways for a “selfie shot” that are very easy to photoshop into a pro image.
For starters, of course, make sure the person’s arms aren’t visible!
Then, use the Transform tool to tilt the image a little in the direction of the arm that they’re supposed to be holding the camera with. Stretch the image out to fill your image frame again. This makes it look like the photograph was taken at a slight angle, as selfies almost always are.
To make it look even more realistic, use the Perspective tool (Edit » Transform » Perspective). Either use the handles at the top to tilt the image down slightly (for the above-the-head-camera look) or use the handles at the bottom to tilt it up. You don’t need to use much Perspective here: it’ll start looking very amateur quite quickly.
Fix The Clues Of A Pro
There are a couple of clues of a professional photographer that it’s worth getting rid of.
First, if the background has the circles or polygons of out-of-focus light called “Bokeh”, use the Blur or Smudge tools to get rid of them. Amateurs rarely shoot with shallow enough depth of field to show bokeh images so they’re a dead giveaway of a pro.
Secondly, if there are highlights on the side of the person’s head from “rim lighting”, it’s worth removing them, as this is a classic “studio shot” tell. It’s a bit tricky to get rid of them, but you can do it by duplicating the layer, setting it to “darken”, and then going over those areas with the Healing Brush (NOT the Spot Healing Brush) or the Clone Stamp, cloning skin or hair tone from an area without highlights.
Amateur Images Achieved!
And that’s it! You now have the tools to make any professional image look like it was shot on a blurry, out of focus cellphone – and get the rewards that come from genuine-looking images.
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