As part of the 2020 Singles in America survey by Match, 53% of app daters reported prioritizing their search for a relationship more than they did before the pandemic. 58% said they’d shifted toward more “intentional dating,” and 63% said they now spend more time getting to know potential partners. 52% re-evaluated their “checklists,” and 59% are considering a wider range of potential partners.

In the United States, Google searches for “dating” hit a five-year high this July, with everything from “how to date” to “top dating apps 2021” topping charts (the latter increased by 3,400%). Advertising pros understand the importance of relating to what matters to consumers, so we expect to see compelling new trends in their visuals going forward.

Love and romance-themed shoots have always been popular in commercial photography, but the last year and a half have dramatically changed the way people date—meaning there’s more room than ever to get creative and try new ideas. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the trends redefining the world of dating, and provide tips for working with couples to enhance your Licensing portfolio.

Spotlight on: Online dating

Online dating isn’t new, but it took on new significance during the last year. According to Tinder’s Future of Dating report, 2020 was the busiest year on the app: per member, there were 42% more matches and 11% more swipes. Engagement on the app is up, with 19% more messages sent per day in February 2021 than the same month in 2020. Meanwhile, almost half of those on Tinder had a video chat with a match amid the pandemic, with 40% planning to continue using video to get to know people even after COVID.

The Singles in America survey by Match also points to the prevalence of video dates. As part of that survey, one in five singles reported going on a video date during the pandemic, with 56% saying they felt chemistry while video-chatting and 50% saying they fell in love over video. 69% said they’d go on video dates again. Photographing the early stages of love and dating in 2021 can mean documenting every step of this digital process, from matching online to exchanging text messages to meeting up over Zoom.

For inspiration on visualizing app dating, check out Getty Images’ collaboration with the photographer Willie B. Thomas, called ‘Swipe Right.’ Keep in mind that Thomas created his own dating interface for the shoot to avoid any intellectual property issues. As with shooting any kind of technology, you’ll have to avoid or remove any branded elements or designs specific to the app or device/phone you’re using.

Spotlight on: Reopening

Speaking of the Singles in America survey, two-thirds of respondents said they were ready to date in person again. Still, in-person dating might look a bit different, with 20% saying they’ll insist their dates wear a mask.

In a post-vaccine world, feel free to photograph people going out for safe date nights—whether it’s a picnic in the park or coffee or dinner at a restaurant—but consider including timely details like masks or coverings where appropriate (e.g., before the couple reaches their table).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Tinder’s Future of Dating report found that the phrase “go on a date” hit a historic high in US member bios in February of 2021. Members also started using their bios to confirm they’d gotten vaccinated. Tinder recently saw increases in terms relating to activities ranging from roller skating to snowball fights, so don’t be afraid to get creative with your date ideas, either.

It can help to talk with your couple about what they like to do on a typical night out. Ask what they missed most during the pandemic and what they cherish about their time together. If you’re shooting on private property (like a restaurant or cafe), you need a property release to license your photos for commercial use, so approach the tenant or owner before the shoot. You can potentially use a shallow depth of field to render the location completely unrecognizable, or you could always choose a public park, beach, or similar outdoor spot.

Spotlight on: Senior love

Diversity and inclusion are important in all areas of commercial photography, so make sure you’re working with couples of unique backgrounds, experiences, ethnicities, abilities, sexual orientations, body types, and ages. Seniors are underrepresented in commercial Licensing, including love and romance-themed photoshoots, so consider highlighting the joys of love after 55.

A few years ago, a survey of 8,000 people over 50 found that 78% of couples hold hands at least sometimes. 85% of the happiest couples said “I love you” at least once a week, and 74% exchange passionate kisses. Of the couples that were “extremely happy,” 88% reported planning time alone together. And in 2021, single seniors are looking for love online as well. Google noted a 3,500% increase in the search term “dating apps for older people” this summer.

In May, a survey from Choice Mutual found that 37% of seniors have dated in the last five years, with approximately a third using dating apps to connect with people. About 66% of those who used apps or websites had relationships with someone they met on the platform. 29% of seniors reported going on a date with someone they met through a website. When visualizing the world of dating in the modern world, online or in-person, highlight real-life relationships that inspire you.

Spotlight on: Genuine micro-moments

Tinder’s Future of Dating report found that the use of the words “cuddle” and “hand-holding” went up by 23% and 22%, respectively, with more people craving small physical gestures that felt impossible during the pandemic. In addition to nights out on the town, remember to capture those smaller micro-moments at home, whether it’s holding hands while watching a movie or snuggling up together after a long day. Cozy nights at home with takeout—or getting creative together in the kitchen—have helped many couples weather the pandemic amid lockdowns.

Note: Always avoid over-sexualizing your models. Steer clear of explicit nudity or suggestive poses that could be seen as demeaning, and instead capture them as they are—honest and real.

Authenticity has been a buzzword in commercial photography for years now, but it’s especially important when working with couples. Tinder found that members became more vulnerable and honest during the pandemic, with mentions of “anxiety” and “normalize” going up by 31% and 15x, respectively. Thousands participated in the app’s “Put Yourself Out There” challenge, which encouraged members to flaunt their personalities, creativity, and authentic selves.

To capture these real-life moments and connections, get to know your couple by asking questions or going out for a pre-shoot cup of coffee. Instead of asking them to pose for the camera, consider taking a documentary-style, fly-on-the-wall approach to photographing their daily lives. If you give them time to feel comfortable in your presence, they’ll reward you with genuine expressions and gestures of affection and tenderness.

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