Gurushots User Review

October 19, 2016

I recently became aware of photo-contest websites to which users upload their best photos in the hopes of winning either a prize or for the sheer glory of online fame, badges and points. They differ from straightforward photo-sharing sites like Instagram and Flickr in that users are encouraged in various ways to vote for their favourite works posted by other users.

The first platform I tried was Viewbug which I wrote about in this post.

Then I heard about Gurushots, which describes itself as an “online gaming platform for photographers”. At least they’re honest about the emphasis they place on the competition side of their offering.

I joined up to Gurushots with an open mind and no particular agenda except discovering whether it was something I would find useful to advance my photography and connect with other users. All of this was really a new thing for me, because beyond the basics of Instagram and the very outmoded Flickr which I’ve used for 10 years, I’ve no prior experience with anything like this. As an aspiring professional, I had nothing to lose.

guru

I set up a profile and saw that the way it works. You upload pictures in order to enter them into challenges set by the ‘Gurus’ (advanced users). Very quickly the notifications of votes, likes and other types of engagement came flooding in. There are around 8 challenges that I could see in which to participate. For each challenge a maximum of 4 pictures can be entered. The challenges might for example be called Golden Light or Cat Portraits or Looking Up, so fairly broad topics and a springboard for ideas.

Straightaway I found that the gamification of the voting system was very apparent. For each challenge on your dashboard you have something resembling a speedometer. It’s set to the lowest ‘exposure’ level until you do something crucial to get it up to the high level: you have to vote on the other challenge participants’ photos.

How many you vote on determines the exposure level of your own photos. The exposure meter drops as hours pass, meaning you need to keep voting to rev it up to the highest level of exposure on your pictures. From what I can gather, the more pictures you vote on the more ‘voting power’ your individual vote carries. So a particularly avid voter might have “7 X Voting Power”. Gurus’ votes count for 20% more than any other users.

Your dashboard shows various levels of advancement all the way from Newbie to Guru. In order to progress, you must attain a certain level of popularity in so many challenges, attain so many points, and complete a successful ‘swap’, which I still don’t really understand but I think it is when you successfully remove one of your 4 photo-challenge pictures for a different one which then achieves more votes from the community.

This system surely keeps you chained to the site if you give in to the addictive power of it.

This system surely keeps you chained to the site if you give in to the addictive power of it. You’ll feel that you always need to vote or swap out photos or submit to new challenges.

You can even buy ‘swaps’ for $.99 each or less per swap if you buy 20; and ‘autofills’ which are just a big, crazy nothing. An autofill “fills up your exposure meter in all active challenges” and is essentially a day off using Gurushots. That you buy. What a time to be alive.

I’m not entirely sure how Gurushots monetizes, as buying the refills etc surely can’t be that much of a revenue-generator. They do offer a critique service in which amateurs pay pros $8.95 per photo for their critique with Gurushots taking 30%. No doubt as happens with almost all online platforms, after a few years of operation, they change their terms and conditions. They inevitably make users pay for features that were previously free. (As an aside, the inescapable changes to T&Cs of just about every online platform over time make me very cautious. That’s one reason I choose to publish my primary content on my own platform, where the rug is less likely to be pulled from under my feet.)

Gurushots has many fans whose reviews you can read online, and has gotten kudos from this blog for removing the rights grab last year. It means photographers’ rights are supported as Gurushots can’t use their work for general advertising purposes, only for promoting the contest to which the images have been submitted.

In an increasingly vapid and meaningless world this just preys on our need for validation and engagement with others.

However I’m not down with Gurushots. (Excuse me while I round up that high horse, I need to get on it.) In an increasingly vapid and meaningless world this just preys on our need for validation and engagement with others. Fanboys will have you believing that this is just a harmless way for photographers of whatever level to share their work, hone their skills, learn new ways of seeing the world and be part of a creative community.

There are many ways of engaging with good photography without having to spend hours on a website everyday voting in order that your pictures are seen by others. It’s just empty, people! Outside of this one particular website, who cares about the badges you are awarded and the 150,000 points you will have to achieve in order to attain ‘guru status’? Are you going to get more clients? Is your photography going to be worth more? Are you going to feel great about yourself for all the hours and weeks and months you spent completing the game? Maybe. But more likely you’ll feel empty because this is supposed peer interaction that bypasses anything that human beings would actually regard as socially fulfilling.

It is an illusion that means absolutely nothing outside of this little URL

Human beings will always crave validation, whether you are a photographer, a postman or a brain surgeon. Gurushots and others like it feed that need to be accepted and liked by our peers. The numbers can be quite dizzying straightaway and that kind of instant gratification is extremely addictive and gives us a real buzz. But the buzz is short-lived when we realise that it’s fake.  It is an illusion that means absolutely nothing outside of this little URL that we type in when we need an ego boost. Sure we can kid ourselves that it’s just a fun little game and it actually improves our photography but seriously? It’s just a way of getting your ego stroked – and paying for the pleasure whether with money or with time.

Comments

I play with gurushots a bit, I find it quite an interesting and also frustrating platform. I agree the validation it awards is useless but not so sure it doesn’t have a role in improving or developing some users skills and interests, it is never going to make a poor photographer a good one.

If it encourages people to look at the composition or their images and those of others that is good, unfortunately I don’t think it has that effect often, many entrants to a challenge struggle with basic concepts, “faceless portraits” had many full and 3/4 profile head shots, “upsidedown” had images that had been rotated 180 degrees, whatever is entered it seems to always attract some votes! Perhaps the voting needs a “for” and “against” option with images achieving a significantly negative score being dis-guarded.

Other frustrations are the gameplay used with entrants using four very similar images, or the same successful images appearing in multiple challenges over and over.

The site seems to be growing hugely with the number of votes increasing rapidly, I suspect though that is in part due to the multiplier effect, as users move up an have more voting power the number of “votes” increases, more false gratification.

I have been astounded by the quality of some images used and with doubt there are very skilled photographers using the site.

One correction, you write “So a particularly avid voter might have “7 X Voting Power””, that isnt exactly correct, the level of voting power is dependent on your level of achievement, newbie to guru, newbie being X1 and the next level up X2 etc. The guru pick adding 20% caused distortion and I think has been altered to a flat 50 votes.

Gurushots is probably in all fairness more useful than Instagram in honing our aesthetic eye and improving our photographic discernment, but I have to confess that it was only on IG that my passion for great imagery blossomed. The point being that looking at any photographic collection that has been deliberately curated, can be useful and interesting to those who are interested in improving their eye.

I think this must be a reason why people sign up Gurushots, because they want to be inspired by being a part of a bona fide photographic community which has way more kudos and elite appeal than IG.

But I actually think the severe gamification of the platform compromises any claim they might put forward to be authentic or inspiring or meaningful. It’s just a waste of time. One’s photography can be improved by trawling through Google Images, or reading a library book on Cartier-Bresson or joining a Facebook amateur photography group. At least these things do not demand your vital life energy in exchange for one’s photography being improved!

The meaninglessess of Gurushots and sites like it is exemplified in the factors you mentioned – users submitting almost identical images, or images which show an inadequate understanding of the theme.

Or, as you also mention, the same images being entered over and over again in multiple contests. But, worse than this, the same images (or the same photographers) winning different contests! Yes, it happens.

It has been shown on similar site Viewbug that ‘fluffers’ are employed to give false likes and engagement to newbie participants, to encourage them to upgrade to a paid version. This is yet another reason it is so meaningless to me, you’ve no idea whether the likes are genuine from admiring fans or Gurushots pros whose votes count for more (and fluffers, if they have them) getting you hooked. Like you say, it’s false gratification (I wonder what true gratification would look like on this site).

The for and against concept is a nice idea but hopefully you see why this would not work in the context of that Gurushots and its ilk are offering. True photographic value is not high on the list as far as the way the platform is designed, implemented and monetized. Sometimes, it’s a nice, but incidental bonus. It’s a machine, a contest, a money-maker, and above all a numbers game.

I’ve been interacting with Gurushots for about a month now. I’m slowly making my way up the achievement status. Here’s why I’m using it… for now.

Firstly, photography is a hobby for me. It is not a source of income. I am not concerned at all if other people use my images for their gain.

Secondly, it’s a game and nothing more. There is very little interaction with other photographers than the occasional like and quick, “I love this photo” comment. I play the game but I understand how meaningless it all is.

Zoe is very correct in asserting that sites like Viewbug and Gurushots aim to make profit by utilizing ego, self-importance, and validation. To be absolutely honest with anyone that wants their photography validated: Nobody cares. Nobody cares about your photography. There are occasionally people that want others to improve their craft but the majority that play the “challenge/contest games” on these sites do so for their own benefit.

Many that play the game will undermine the rules to get “votes”. Many will post the same subject but with slightly different alterations (against the rules) and those that do so tend to make it to the top in challenges. Some people will “follow” you and when you follow them back they will unfollow you. That way they have thousands of followers but will be following no one themselves. That’s a recipe for “ego”.

I haven’t spent a dime in Viewbug or Gurushots because doing so is no different than putting money into a slot machine. The only thing I’ve spent is giving them access to some of my images.

The only real reason I use Gurushots is because it’s a game. How can I get the most votes without spending money? Which image should I boost. Which image should I swap?

At my current rate in Gurushots I will most likely get to “Veteran” status before my climb stops. And that’s okay.

What I enjoy most about Viewbug and Gurushots is the incredible amount of “quality” and skilled photographs that are posted. People certainly want validation for their hard work, but most importantly their hard work inspires ideas. There are several ideas I want to try in my own photography after viewing some unique images.

And that’s pretty much it. If you play the photography games KNOW that it’s pointless. Most people don’t care about your photography. There are better ways to validate your art, and these contest websites are far from that. All I can say is PLAY THE GAME. Don’t let the game PLAY YOU.

Thanks for the comment, Jamin.

It’s an uneasy relationship that I personally have with sites that you have to spend a lot of time on, with the trade-off being that you are exposed to wonderful images that you might otherwise not have seen. I wrote this post http://zoes.gallery/2016/05/17/ugly-side-of-instagram/ where I went into depth about my addiction to Instagram and where it got me, and what I thought about it once I decided to stop using it until I could return to it with a healthy attitude.

The thing is, any sites or apps that feed the ego are addictive by their very nature. It is one of the universal human needs to be validated, to be recognized, to be rewarded – and as much as we like to think “oh, that isn’t me, it’s the next guy’s that’s like that”. Ego validation isn’t just something for those needy people over there. It’s something at the heart of every one of us, with very few exceptions.

People that use social media like Instagram or photo contest like Gurushots are probably the same ones who are posting their best work, who are striving to make good images, who basically want their own work to be seen in return for looking at the work of others. The people spending hours on such sites aren’t the ones who have yet to post anything themselves.

Having said all of that, I think it can have a positive effect on one’s own photography and on that basis it has some use. And yes, it is a game – and games don’t necessarily have an outcome except to be an enjoyable way to pass the time, move up the ranks, test your own skills, maybe engage with others, and have some fun doing what floats your boat. It’s not a game you can win but it’s more like a hobby that you can pursue to while away some time.

It’s not something I have time to play but I do think it has some use and merit for some people, as you can tell by how many users are posting, I’m sure, very good images.

Thank you! I almost got suckered in to waste alot of time on these two sites when I really need to be working! I stumbled on to your review, gave a sigh of relief and now am getting back to work. This even happened to me on 500px last year and I came out of three day experience feeling ‘used’ and like I’d never get that time back. As an amateur photographer it would be nice to have an outlet for my work, but as you said these sites are just predatory, there has to be a better way. Anyways love your work and blog, you are amazing!

Hey Erin, that’s so funny. And so true! I think we’ve all had that feeling of giving so much of our time and energy to whatever it is – the latest hot thing on the net/social media, even not sleeping in order to play on it – and then suddenly waking up at noon cold, clammy and used, and wondering htf did I get here?!

With photography contest sites, the draw is strong because it’s supposedly more about talent and creativity than the usual social media stuff where it’s all about likes, comments, followers, snooping on your exes, whatever. It somehow seems more legit, almost like ‘work’.

But don’t let that fool you! These sites prey on the same insecurities and weaknesses we all have, and they openly flaunt how addictive they are and, with Gurushots, even stating that it is “an online gaming platform”.

I think there are plenty of better, more worthwhile ways to spend your time like, ooh, everything.

Hi Zoe…and OMG!
Reading your comments re Gurushots and ViewBug really made me wide awake….in seconds…..I am such a fool and a sucker…a true “blond” – I used to say I am only a “bottle” blond…lol…I spent money on both sites (I bought swaps, and boosts) and membership on Viewbug…and the time I spent on voting!…..hours….the only thing I enjoyed was actually browsing through some amazing galleries…and interacting with some fellow members/photographers..and yes…meeting some people from amazing places…and also some comments were great and very helpful getting me to google and read about “how to”…
You made me see it is all an illusion…..and maybe only few “likes” or peer awards are/were genuine…and I completely get it the things your are saying about our egos and gratification and craving attention/recognition etc…so so true…said all that other sites (more professional) charge an arm and a leg to enter photos to contests or Challenges….and you never get to know how your photos were judged and if they were even up to a standard ..I am glad my delusion is gone (Thank you!)….I may still visit those 2 sites (have profiles there) but will just enjoy browsing through and playing a bit…IF/WHEN I have spare time and really NOTHING else to do!…..I am cured….lol….

I’m glad that it’s been eye-opening, Nina! That was my intention – to expose the seemingly harmless game/bit of fun as a total waste of time and energy (and sometimes money too). There’s always something better to do!

Hi. So I just joined Guroshots today. It was fun getting votes for my amateur photography and I found the numbers were consistent with the quality of the pics I was submitting. The problem I see is that the voting process doesn’t guarantee that people actually like your photo. It’s easy just to click on any photo without much thought until you have filled your speedometre. I suspect a lot of people do this. However, the competition is tough. It’s not likely amateurs have any chance of winning. My best photo received some 600 votes. I reached elite in one challenge. (I’m quitting my day job!) I would never consider paying for the swaps and boosts. I can’t believe anyone would. Anyway, thanks for your informative review.

I appreciate your taking the time to do the review. I am virtually immobile at the moment so having fun on both Guru and Viewbug. You do learn important things, like how to make photos for the internet, that horizontal is preferred, that thumbnails need to be attractive, that kind of thing. I could not care less about the popular vote, because the results are so predictable, though it is interesting to see what a majority of people like (angles, man made, bright colours). I am after the Gurus’ votes, but honestly? Some of their picks have me shaking my head in wonder. At least VB has some explanation of why a winner is a winner. That helps. Many times on GS the winning photos are taken down by their paranoid owners (hey, if we liked it that much, we’d have screen-thieved it already). That is one example of piggy behaviour by some players. The administrators only respond if you scream very loudly, and then it is to keep you from raising an issue. If you cheat or inadvertently put up a wrong photo, you can simply enter another photo and get the same exposure. There was also a time when one user account at a low level gave me many votes within a few minutes, so I took screenshots because it was a clear system hack and reported it. No response. So.

Thanks for the comment William. It’s funny, on this and my related review on Viewbug, nobody has yet stepped in to defend these platforms. Basically they are a bit of fun until you realize you’re being preyed on. They are completely unaccountable… and forget about trying to understand how they work and what’s real and what’s fake engagement. Once a user has become hooked, it is a short step to paying for the various services to boost their exposure. They basically traffic in creating an addictive, fake, opaque and unaccountable system that preys on some of our basic needs for validation, while rewarding ritualistic behavior.

Krisztina Lencses

I find it extremely unfair on Gurushots, that some people are using other photographer’s images as their own! I am a newbie, so I am not sure how things go. I’ve tried to report them to GuruShots, but nothing seems to happen. Is the “report copyrights” button there for decoration only? I have also sent messages to GS with names and links to prove who are the real photographers, but no reply. GS’s rules about Copyright: …You must own all submitted images. If you submit images that don’t belong to you, your account will be permanently removed.” I’ve already reported at least 5 person but their accounts are still active. I know for sure they are using images from:
Tom Miles http://www.tmphoto.co.uk
Gene Schiavone http://www.geneschiavone.com
RJ Muna http://rjmuna.com
… just to name a few. Today I’ve decided to inform them.

All very valid comments. I’m ‘playing’ on both VB and GS – but with eyes wide open. I cannot ‘defend’ either site, but I DO find they have A LITTLE worth.

The GS model is the weaker of the two imho – and I certainly don’t pay for anything there. It’s a bit of fun, and nice to see how my pics stack up against others. So I now have 35,000 GS points. Well WHOOPEE DOO, aren’t you impressed? ;-). As a previous writer says – voting (and entry) is not very judicial – even I find I just click on images close to the challenge topic just to fill up that exposure speedometer. That’s mainly because the download speed is often so slow I’ll vote for anything that EVENTUALLY appears just to ‘fill ‘er up’. The ‘social’ aspect of GS is sadly lacking – virtually no contact with other members, and I really don’t know the benefits of ‘following’ anyone there, so I don’t. Couldn’t care less about who follows me either. Prizes seem to be intangible (ego strokes) – with the occasional chance to have an image included in an exhibition (they say). There is usually a (nominal) entry fee to be considered.

With VB the community peer contact is a little better, not great, but better … with a crude messaging system (you can’t broadcast to all your followers for example, and even cut/copy & paste doesn’t work in messaging.WTF?) BUT amongst the ‘fluffers’ there are some genuine members who may become ‘followers’ too. The prizes here are very real however, and the (extremely low) probability of winning one is at least a slight incentive to keep on going. I did pay for a year of PRO membership (I’m definitely an amateur) – it’s not exhorbitantly expensive and gives free access to ALL contests. Contest access depends on membership level, with enough free ones to make it interesting if you don’t want to pay. They have both CONTESTS (set by VB ‘staff’ – with prizes from a camera strap or bag to a fully paid photo tour of Italy being awarded) and CHALLENGES (set by other members – points and prestige/recognition are the only award). VB does have some astonishingly good members (so does GS … but I find VB a bit above them) and ALSO publishes some good advice, tips, and will present themed collections, so you do get something back for joining. You WILL be inspired by a lot of what you see. VB also has some very credible internationally recognised photographers judging their contests.

So, with both the more you play and engage the better you will do with PEER ‘recognition’ – and that’s ‘phony’ – I’m not in that game.

BUT: With both sites I usually do agree on the merits of winners’ entries. Somehow the best do seem to get the most attention and votes. My status and ‘awards/votes’ on both sites is (I think) reflective of my creative capabilities (and certainly in VB’s case that’s how they promote themselves – “FIND OUT HOW GOOD YOU REALLY ARE” – so I think you get a good appreciation of your artistic merits and capabilities through basically ‘the wisdom of crowds’.

I do find the topics for contests and challenges useful to set me themes for taking shots. I’ve only recently started taking the photography game fairly seriously, so that’s useful rather than just heading out without a focussed purpose and aiming for the next pretty flower or whatever I see. I’ve never tried “night shots with bokeh” before (had to look up what bokeh even meant) so the inspiration and goals set are useful. And you can see others’ entries so know beforehand what you need to measure up to. There are however too many ‘the colour red/purple/blue/yellow/dots”‘, or “your best rainbow/sunset/dog/cat’ type topics – so you just move on (or NOT and enter/re-post the same images you did for the same topic the last 247 times). There are however enough good new ones to keep me challenged.

Yes, I will tire of it, and will probably lapse my VB membership to the ‘free’ level next year – but FOR NOW both sites are fun to play, I enjoy sharing my ‘work’ with others – and THAT’S IT.

GOTTA GO NOW – MY EXPOSURE METERS WILL BE DROPPING …. LOL!
Nice blog!!

Excellent review, I agree on all…however, what makes an artist truly special is “vision” that is a unique expression of the self, and the risk it takes to “put it out there”. These sites are not helpful except to see what is cliche or has already been done well, and to see what will sell. My father was a gifted water colorist who spent a lifetime being pulled between what is popular, and what is really art.

Please, don’t be mean, it’s -like it’s said- only a game, and it can help you share and try to receive sort of critics without being (or willing to be) a professional photographer like you personally aspire to become.

Enjoyed reading your blog post with regards to guru shots and I am in total agreement with you. People would be better off spending time reading various articles on line rather than joining in with the (you love me and I will love you brigade). One good article to read, equivalence, by Minor White.

regards Iain C

Great article totally agree, I joined the site few days ago, and it’s very addicting, especially when you have big archive of good images, it may be good for beginners to go out more and shoot, and see the different types of ways to shoot a subject, but overall I don’t see how it helps for creating amazing images if you already have good grasp on photography, but it’s still fun as long as you remember to not take it too seriously

After recently joining Gurushots, I have repeatedly thought the experience to be very “plastic”…especially for seasoned photographers. The website is definitely geared towards people who are seeking validation leading one to question the point of it all. At first I enjoyed voting on the various challenges because it gave me access to see some rather phenomenal photography. The concept of “blind” voting adds some objectivity but it also plays to the need to be liked. Apparently there are people who have time to vote often but I would rather devote my time to taking my next set of great shots. The challenges may inspire many beginners to get out to improve their photography but experienced photographers most likely will not find it to be motivating. It can be fun to participate but it can feel cheap if you are more serious about your photography. I probably would not have joined Gurushots if I had read this article first because I really don’t enjoy being a slave to the “vote”. I greatly appreciate your insight as I am now climbing out of the vortex!