How to Cash In on ERAS Photos as a Photographer in the Spring and Summer: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Cash In on ERAS Photos as a Photographer in the Spring and Summer: A Step-by-Step Guide

If you are a photographer looking for a low competition niche market that is in high demand during the spring and summer months, you might want to consider offering ERAS photos. ERAS stands for Electronic Residency Application Service, and it is the system that medical students use to apply for residency programs in the United States. As part of their application, they need to submit a professional photo that meets certain specifications and showcases their personality and professionalism. This photo can make a big difference in their chances of getting an interview and matching with their preferred program. 

However, not many photographers are aware of this opportunity or know how to cater to this specific clientele. Medical students are busy, stressed, and often have limited budgets and time for taking photos. They also have specific needs and preferences that differ from other types of headshots or portraits. That’s why they need a photographer who understands their situation and can provide them with a high-quality service that meets their expectations and requirements.

In this article, we will share some tips and strategies on how to market your services to medical students and schools for ERAS photos. You will learn how to create a portfolio that showcases your work, how to network with potential clients and referrals, how to advertise your services on relevant platforms, and how to highlight your professionalism, reliability, and flexibility. By following these steps, you will be able to attract more customers, increase your income, and establish yourself as an expert in this niche market.

But first, let’s look at some data that shows why ERAS photos are such a lucrative and rewarding niche for us as photographers. According to the latest statistics from the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), there were 39,205 total positions and 36,277 first-year positions offered in the 2022 Main Residency Match, which are the largest numbers on record. Medical doctor applicants submitted an average of 68 applications while Doctor of Osteopathy applicants submitted 92, and international medical graduates submitted 139. 

These numbers show that ERAS photos are in high demand and that medical students face a lot of competition for residency positions. Therefore, having a professional and appealing ERAS photo can make a significant difference in their application and increase their chances of getting an interview and matching with their preferred program.

How to Help Your Client Stand Out With an ERAS Photo

As an ERAS photographer, you are not only providing a service, but also a consultation. You are helping your client create a positive first impression and highlighting their unique qualities and strengths to the residency programs they are applying to. You are also helping them achieve their career goals and dreams by increasing their chances of getting an interview and matching with their preferred program.

To do this, you need to share with your client what works and what doesn’t when it comes to ERAS photos. You need to educate them on the best practices and tips for taking a professional and appealing photo that meets the ERAS photo requirements. You also need to advise them on how to avoid common pitfalls and mistakes that can ruin their photo and their application.

For example, you can tell your client:

  • How to dress appropriately for their specialty and target audience
  • How to choose a flattering color and style that suits their skin tone and hair color
  • How to apply makeup and accessories that enhance their features and not distract from them
  • How to pose and smile naturally and confidently
  • How to express their personality and professionalism through their facial expression and body language
  • How to select a suitable background and lighting that creates contrast and clarity

By sharing your expertise and experience with your client, you will gain more credibility and trust. You will also build rapport and loyalty with your client, who will appreciate your guidance and support. You will increase your referrals and testimonials, as your client will be more likely to recommend you to their peers and colleagues who are also looking for an ERAS photographer.

How to Help Your Client Meet ERAS Photo Requirements

One of the first things you need to know as an ERAS photographer is the specific requirements that medical students need to follow when submitting their photos. These requirements include:

  • Dimensions of 2.5 x 3.5 inches
  • Resolution of 150 dpi
  • File size of 100 KB
  • Color photo
  • Frontal view of head and shoulders
  • Face in middle
  • Neutral solid background

These requirements are not arbitrary; they are designed to ensure that the photo is clear, consistent, and professional. A photo that does not meet these requirements may be rejected by the ERAS system or look distorted or unflattering on the application.

To illustrate this point, let’s look at some examples of good and bad ERAS photos. 

The good photo meets all the requirements and shows a confident, friendly, and professional applicant. The bad photo violates several requirements and shows a casual, distracted, and unprofessional applicant. 

Some of the common mistakes that you should help your client avoid are:

  • Wearing inappropriate clothing or accessories
  • Having a busy or dark background (a dark background is acceptable if it doesn't hide your client's features)
  • Cropping or resizing the photo incorrectly
  • Having poor lighting or focus
  • Making unnatural expressions or poses

The best way to help your client avoid these mistakes and ensure a high-quality ERAS photo is to offer your services as a professional photographer who specializes in this niche market. You will have the equipment, skills, and experience to take a photo that meets all the specifications and showcases your client’s personality and professionalism. You will also save your client time and money by providing them with a fast and convenient service that fits their schedule and budget. 

How to Capture Professional and Appealing ERAS Photos

As an ERAS photographer, you need to know how to capture photos that meet the ERAS photo format requirements shared earlier. However, meeting the format requirements is not enough; you also need to make sure that your photos look professional and appealing. This means that you need to pay attention to the clothing, grooming, setting, lighting, and posing of your clients. Here are some tips on how to capture professional and appealing ERAS photos:

  • Clothing: Your clients should wear professional clothing that would be appropriate for a medical school or residency interview. It’s a good idea to suggest your clients bring multiple wardrobe options in case something doesn’t work. Remember that these are future doctors and medical practitioners, so a professional look is critical. For men, this generally means a jacket with or without a tie; for women, this means a dress or pantsuit. You can guide your male clients to a more contemporary look by suggesting checked or window pane patterns. The clothing should be solid-colored and contrast with the background. Avoid white button-down shirts or loud colored ties for men; avoid tight clothing or anything too low-cut for women. 
  • Grooming: Your clients should have a professional haircut that suits their face shape and style. They should also hydrate in the days leading up to the shoot to minimize bags under their eyes or dry lips. Help your female clients avoid unflattering makeup by offering to work with your hair and makeup artist (if you have one). If you don’t have one, review online portfolios for hair and makeup artists and recommend a few to your client.

If you follow these tips, you will be able to capture professional and appealing ERAS photos that will impress your clients and the residency programs they are applying to. 

How to Choose the Right Equipment and Lighting for ERAS Photos

As an ERAS photographer, you need to have the right equipment and lighting to capture high-quality photos that meet the ERAS photo format requirements. The equipment and lighting you use can make a big difference in how your photos look and how your clients feel. Here are some tips on how to choose the right equipment and lighting for ERAS photos:

  • Equipment: You should use a DSLR or mirrorless camera with a portrait lens that can produce sharp and clear images. If you are just starting out, there are some excellent consumer cameras that do a good job on a budget. I personally started with a Sony A6000 before moving into the more professional Alpha series. An 85mm lens is popular for headshots; however, you can use a 24-70mm or 70-200mm lens if you don’t have an 85mm prime. You should also use a tripod to stabilize the camera and avoid any blur or distortion. Use photo editing software to crop and resize the photo according to the ERAS photo format requirements.
  • Background: Offer your client a few different neutral studio backgrounds. Your backgrounds should be solid; something simple, like a light or neutral gray, is perfect. White is another good option. Avoid a dark background that could hide your client’s features. Outdoor headshots are not recommended for residency applications, as they detract attention from your client.
  • Lighting: Your clients should have good lighting that illuminates their face evenly and highlights their features. If you have a natural light studio, that can create some really flattering light on the face. However, soft studio lighting with strobes or LEDs with a softbox will also create a flattering soft light. When done right, your lighting will really highlight your client’s eyes. There are a number of lighting techniques that work, but the simplest is clamshell lighting with a white or transparent reflector placed about halfway between their waist and shoulders. Use the white side of v-flats to contain light or the dark side if you want light shadows on the sides of the face. If you have the budget to do so, I highly recommend the Westcott Flex Cine Peter Hurley Studio Kit. If you can find the daylight version, that's the best bang for your buck and produces soft, flattering light. 
  • Posing: Your clients should pose naturally and confidently in front of the camera. As the photographer, you need to make sure they don’t feel like they are posing. Create a process that helps you position your client without using technical jargon everyday people would not understand. Use clear direction and break up the awkwardness with conversation and humor. As far as their positioning, you want to have a full-frontal view of their head and shoulders, centering their face in the middle of the photo. No worries, centering can be done in post if preferred. A light, natural smile that shows some teeth conveys friendliness and approachability. If you are just getting started out as a headshot photographer, I highly suggest checking out the Peter Hurley tutorials here on Fstoppers. You will learn some great techniques for lighting as well as engaging your clients.

How to Market Your Services to Medical Students for ERAS Headshots

As an ERAS photographer, you need to know how to market your services to medical students who need ERAS headshots. Medical students are a niche market that has high demand and low competition for ERAS photos. However, they are also busy, stressed, and often have limited budgets and time for taking photos. Therefore, you need to use effective marketing strategies that can attract their attention, interest, and trust. Here are some tips on how to market your services to medical students for ERAS headshots:

  • Create a landing page or a social media page that showcases your portfolio and testimonials. You need to have an online presence that displays your work and your credibility as an ERAS photographer. You should include samples of your ERAS photos that meet the format requirements and look professional and appealing. You should also include testimonials from your previous clients who can vouch for your quality and service. If you want to make it easier for medical students to contact you, include your phone number, pricing and location. Medical students are a busy group, so if you can include a direct booking tool on your site you are more likely to book more work. 
  • Offer group discounts or packages. You need to consider the budget constraints of medical students who may not be able to afford a full-price photo session. You can offer discounts or packages for groups of students who book together or for referrals who mention your name. 
  • Market and host an ERAS specific mini marathon day. You can organize a mini marathon day where you offer a special deal for medical students who need ERAS headshots. You can book multiple clients in one day and offer them a discounted rate for a quick and easy photo session. You can market your mini marathon day by creating a flyer or a social media post that advertises the date, time, location, price, and benefits of your service. You can also partner with a local medical school or student organization and ask them to promote your event to their members. Create a sign-up sheet or an online registration form to manage your bookings and collect payments in advance. This way, you can maximize your efficiency and income by serving multiple clients in one day.
  • Contact medical schools or student organizations and offer your services. You need to reach out to potential clients who may not be aware of your services or the importance of ERAS photos. You can contact medical schools or student organizations in your area and offer your services as an ERAS photographer. You can also offer to give a presentation or a workshop on how to take a good ERAS photo. 
  • Attend medical career fairs, trade shows or networking events and hand out your business cards or flyers. Network with potential clients who may be looking for an ERAS photographer. 
  • Ask for feedback and reviews from your clients and post them online. You need to collect feedback and reviews from your clients who can provide honest and positive feedback about your service. You can ask them to fill out a survey or write a review on your website or social media page. You can also post their photos (with their permission) and tag them or mention their names.

By following these tips, you will be able to effectively market your services to medical students who need ERAS headshots. You will attract more customers, increase your income, and establish yourself as an expert in this niche market.

Jeremy Bustin's picture

Jeremy Bustin is a portrait and headshot photographer in Atlanta. He specializes in corporate photography and actor headshots. His work also spans event photography, commercial photography, editorial photography, and studio photography.

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Superb article, thank you

Glad you enjoyed it!

Well written, and a nice niche. However, I wonder if anyone else was concerned by the implications of this system based on superficial appearances and candidate familiarity with expectations for the photo. It sounds like a recipe for bias over qualification. With a bit of poking around, I found a 2018 study, published in the Dermatology Online Journal, done on dermatology residency matches.

From the study: "Candidates who smiled, wore glasses, and wore jackets in their photographs were more likely to match. There was no difference in the rate of matching among applicants depending on whether their photograph was of professional quality or whether they wore formal attire in their pictures. Gender specific characteristics were not found to be influential in the match outcome for male applicants. Among female applicants, having hair to the shoulders or longer was associated with a positive match outcome."

The male specific characteristics refer to hair, including facial hair. Not surprisingly, women are being held to some traditional stereotypes. The recommendation of the study is that committees not have access to the photo until it is time for the interview. Until the dawn of a more enlightened era, photographers can pass this information on to clients.