Gurushots – Survival Guide (Part I)

I have been play­ing with Gurushots on and off for a while now, and want­ed to tell you how it works, my expe­ri­ences, some tips & tricks, and what I love and hate about it.

If you are not famil­iar with Gurushots, I would describe it as a social media plat­form for gam­i­fied pho­tog­ra­phy con­tests. Here is a link to the plat­form, if you haven’t seen it:

GuruShots | The World’s Greatest Photo Game

Love tak­ing pho­tos? Make your pho­tog­ra­phy more fun, excit­ing and reward­ing! Join dai­ly pho­to chal­lenges, Get instant feed­back from 4B+ month­ly votes Win …

As there is lots of stuff to cov­er, I will split the arti­cle into a series of three arti­cles. There will be a fourth one if I ever get to Guru status.

The basic out­line of the series is as per the fol­low­ing table of con­tents, but as I haven’t final­ized the remain­ing parts II and III, things could change a little.

Part I: The Basics (covered by this article here):


  • Web­site or mobile app?
  • Enter­ing images into chal­lenges, types of chal­lenges, chal­lenge briefings/rules
  • What hap­pens at the end of the chal­lenge — win­ners, guru picks, awards, points, achievements
  • Pro­gress­ing on the ladder
  • How Swaps, Keys, and Fills work
  • Vot­ing and Vot­ing-Pow­er, Views, and Expo­sure Bonus Meter
  • Vote/View Ratio
  • Fol­low­er / Fol­low­ing oth­ers, and Likes
  • Report­ing system

Note: I won’t go into the fea­ture of sell­ing images of yours as prints. You can play the game with­out using that fea­ture. I haven’t looked at it, as I pre­fer to sell my image prints on my own, with my own pric­ing and qual­i­ty control.

I am also not cov­er­ing the rel­a­tive­ly new ‘Team” fea­ture, I don’t have any expe­ri­ence with that as of today. Maybe I’ll cov­er that in a lat­er arti­cle if I decide to join a (or cre­ate my own) team.

Part II: Discussion of side effects of Gurushots (upcoming article):


  • Spend­ing mon­ey on Gurushots
  • Spend­ing time on Gurushots
  • Spend­ing emo­tions on Gurushots — win­ning and los­ing, qual­i­ty of images

Fur­ther top­ics: Game addic­tion, time & mon­ey wast­ing, keep­ing you on the plat­form with vot­ing, events, teams, chal­lenges, ‘Activ­i­ty’ sec­tion, noti­fi­ca­tions to enter chal­lenges or par­tic­i­pate in a (paid) exhi­bi­tion, swap images, use fills, buy bun­dles, the prospect of price ‘mon­ey’

Part III: How I use Gurushots, and Tipps & Tricks (upcoming article):


  • Think of Gurushots as a GAME you can change the odds by find­ing a work­ing strategy
  • Use Gurushots to get bet­ter at photography
  • Use Gurushots to get expo­sure (if you enter paid exhibitions)
  • Use Gurushots to test images for their pub­lic ‘insta­gram­ma­bil­i­ty’ and wow factor
  • Strat­e­gy: sta­tis­tics, votes/view ratio, tim­ing and usage of keys, swaps, and fills, dou­ble swap
  • Vot­ing for good images only
  • Resources: red­dit, face­book groups, and ebooks
Global Photo Club

One thing first: if you want to read about how to game the sys­tem and get to ‘Guru’ sta­tus quick­ly, I can’t help you with that. My cur­rent sta­tus in the game is ‘Mas­ter’, which is the rank below ‘Guru’. But I will talk about strate­gies and tac­tics which are obvi­ous­ly not suc­cess­ful (I have lots of expe­ri­ence with these!), so you don’t have to make the same mistakes.

This first arti­cle of the three-part series is about the basics of Gurushots. Let’s dive right into it.

Website or mobile app?

You can play the game by cre­at­ing an account with Gurushots, on Join­ing is free, and play­ing is also most­ly free, but there are in-game pur­chas­es avail­able, and some fea­tures are only acces­si­ble by pay­ing real mon­ey (e.g. the exhi­bi­tions). I’ll dis­cuss that mon­ey aspect in a sep­a­rate sec­tion, it is important.

You play online on the web­site, or you can down­load an app to your mobile phone. That app also needs a con­nec­tion to the inter­net to work.

Both ver­sions have a slight­ly dif­fer­ent fea­ture set, the web­site is more com­plete, but the mobile app has also fea­tures which the web­site does not have (e.g. the cir­cle-cropped pro­file images of con­tes­tants can be enlarged to the full orig­i­nal image on the mobile app, but not on the web­site). Be aware of the mobile data usage, as a lot of images are trans­ferred for the vot­ing, so heaps of data is used. 

I use both ver­sions at dif­fer­ent times, but the images are nat­u­ral­ly more enjoy­able on a big­ger screen. Unless you look at very low-res­o­lu­tion images, then a small screen would save you from some ugli­ness. More on that lat­er when I come to the qual­i­ty of images peo­ple enter.

Types of challenges

In Gurushots, you play the game by enter­ing images into pho­to com­pe­ti­tions with a spe­cif­ic top­ic and rule­set. These are called ‘chal­lenges’. As there are sev­er­al hun­dred chal­lenges per month avail­able on the plat­form, there should be a top­ic avail­able for every­one to join. And lots of top­ics repeat after a while. Chal­lenges are cre­at­ed by Gurus (play­ers who climbed the lad­der to ‘Guru’ sta­tus), or ‘Guru Pros’. Not quite sure how they get this sta­tus. Are they employ­ees of some sort?

The chal­lenges can have dif­fer­ent attrib­ut­es, be sure to check each of them before you enter:


The chal­lenges can be quite short, only a cou­ple of hours. The short­est one I had so far was three hours. Or they can be very long, sev­er­al weeks. Most chal­lenges are a cou­ple of days long.

An inter­est­ing dif­fer­ence between the web and the mobile ver­sion is the dis­play of the remain­ing time. I just checked one chal­lenge which is dis­played as ‘1 Day left’ on the mobile ver­sion, but 45h 08m 07s on the web­site. So don’t be fooled by the mobile ver­sion when it says: 1 day left. It could prob­a­bly be any­thing between 24h 0m 1s and 47h 59m 59s. If you want to know the exact end time, go to the web­site and dis­play it on a wider screen.

Number of images allowed

At the time of writ­ing, they have 1, 2, or 4 image chal­lenges. If it doesn’t say ‘2 Pho­to Chal­lenge’ or ‘4 Pho­to Chal­lenge’, then it is a sin­gle image chal­lenge. Exhi­bi­tion chal­lenges are nor­mal­ly also ‘4 Pho­to Challenges’.

For the 2- or 4‑image chal­lenges, you are not required to pop­u­late all slots, you can leave them emp­ty if you wish. You only have to have at least one image in a chal­lenge. If you want to win a mul­ti-image chal­lenge, you prob­a­bly can’t win with­out fill­ing all slots. But you don’t have to fill them up all at once, except for the first one.

The chal­lenges have slight­ly dif­fer­ent attrib­ut­es, depend­ing on how many images you can enter. The sin­gle-image chal­lenges for exam­ple do not sport the ‘Boost’ but­ton and are nor­mal­ly short­er in run time. And they don’t have a ‘Top Pho­tog­ra­ph­er’ Win­ner, only a ‘Top Pho­to’ and ‘Guru’s Top Pick’ win­ner. I get a bit more into details about the dif­fer­ent win­ning con­di­tions in a lat­er section.


All chal­lenges have some­thing for the win­ner to win. But it is nev­er mon­ey, even if they state the ‘Prices’ for a chal­lenge in a $ Val­ue (e.g.: Prices: $260).

The prices are bun­dles of ‘Fills’, ‘Keys’, and ‘Swaps’ (more on that fur­ther down), which rep­re­sent a cer­tain amount of mon­ey if you would oth­er­wise buy them in the game. But you can’t win actu­al mon­ey. If you would win a bun­dle by win­ning the chal­lenge, you also can’t exchange the bun­dle ‘price’ for the equiv­a­lent real money.

Some chal­lenges have prices that are dif­fi­cult to put a mon­e­tary val­ue on, for exam­ple, you get men­tioned in an arti­cle as a ‘Top Pho­tog­ra­ph­er’ or some­thing like that. What is that worth? You judge on that. Some might put a high val­ue on it, oth­ers don’t care.

In gen­er­al, read the details of the com­pe­ti­tion to know what the price would be if you win. And read the win con­di­tions. For exam­ple: ‘The top 100’ does nor­mal­ly mean the top 100 images in the ‘Top Pho­to’ cat­e­go­ry and not the top 100 pho­tog­ra­phers in the ‘Top Pho­tog­ra­ph­er’ category.


The top­ics of the chal­lenges could be any­thing, but they try to make it inter­est­ing enough for lots of mem­bers, but not too many mem­bers. And they try to spread out the top­ics so that you don’t have three Black&White com­pe­ti­tions at the same time, but they could be one after anoth­er. You can see what they have planned in advance (‘Upcom­ing’ chal­lenges), so you have a bit of time to pre­pare images if you want to. 


I men­tioned that before, all chal­lenges have a spe­cif­ic rule­set. Espe­cial­ly if you are after win­ning the Guru’s Top Pick, you should read the rules very care­ful­ly, as the Gurus often men­tion what they would like to see, or more impor­tant­ly, what they don’t want to see. For exam­ple water­marks or bor­ders. You can avoid dis­qual­i­fy­ing your images from the start if you com­ply with these rules. If you don’t, you might get away with it or your images might get disabled/removed if they are off-top­ic or vio­late oth­er reg­u­la­tions. E.g. pre­vi­ous win­ner images are not allowed to par­tic­i­pate in future challenges.

Read the rules and com­ply. Easy as that.


Some chal­lenges have spe­cif­ic require­ments. That could be your rank (e.g. only ‘Mas­ter’ rank mem­bers are allowed to enter, or only ‘New­bies’), or it could be that you can only enter images that have been uploaded in the last week (‘new’ images). You get the idea. These require­ments are nor­mal­ly hard-enforced, as the sys­tem knows what rank you are or when you have uploaded images, so it can deny entries based on that automatically.

Global Photo Club

Entering images

Once you signed up for Gurushots, you prob­a­bly want to look at some chal­lenges to join, so you need to upload images to your pro­file to make them avail­able for the con­tests. It’s free to sign up and play, but there are in-game pur­chas­es you can make to gain advan­tages over peo­ple who do not pay. More on that lat­er in the ‘How Gurushots make mon­ey’ sec­tion. One note here: It is cor­rect that all the perks (the ‘fills’, ‘swaps’, and ‘keys’, see fur­ther down) are also avail­able for free if you are very patient and par­tic­i­pate in many chal­lenges with­out using up any of the three. That is because of every x par­tic­i­pa­tion in a chal­lenge you get these perks, specifically:

  • a free ‘fill’ every 3 challenges
  • a free ‘swap’ every 5 challenges
  • a free ‘key’ every 7 challenges

An exam­ple of what ‘free’ means: If you plan to do a late entry into a 2 image chal­lenge and you want to win, you have to use 1 key to unlock the chal­lenge, and 1 key to unlock the boost. To get the two keys you need for free, you need to par­tic­i­pate in 14 chal­lenges before that, with­out eat­ing up a key. So, yes, you can play with­out pay­ing mon­ey, but you are in for the long haul.

You should think about what your goal is when you join Gurushots. Why do you play it? You can use it in dif­fer­ent ways. Most peo­ple might join for the obvi­ous rea­son, to par­tic­i­pate in a game with pho­tographs, get recog­ni­tion for the images (votes), get com­ments on sin­gle images, earn perks and badges, lev­el up, and just sim­ply show off their images to the world. It is a social media plat­form with com­mon mechan­ics you already know from oth­er social media platforms.


If you join to build an out­let for your pho­tog­ra­phy busi­ness, your approach might be dif­fer­ent. You might want to show­case your images, so be care­ful to not mix in your fam­i­ly pho­tos, be true to your brand. The images you upload might also be dif­fer­ent from nor­mal people’s pho­tos, I see a num­ber of peo­ple using water­marks for their pho­tog­ra­phy busi­ness, to pro­tect their images from theft and to dis­play their busi­ness brand. I per­son­al­ly hate it when peo­ple enter images with their water­mark, for me that defeats the pur­pose of anony­mous vot­ing sys­tems, and it dis­tracts from the image. I tend to not vote for images with a water­mark, but I am not reli­gious about it, as the vot­ing sys­tem is not com­plete­ly anony­mous any­way (see fur­ther down in the sec­tion ‘Vot­ing’). So if you use water­marks for ‘Brand­ing’, be sure you are on-top­ic and have very good qual­i­ty images. Oth­er­wise, it would prob­a­bly hurt you more than it helps your brand.

What images to enter?

So what kind of images should you upload? Well, that very much depends on so many things I can’t list them all here. If you enter the com­pe­ti­tions to win, then you should think about how the vot­ing sys­tem favors a spe­cif­ic kind of image. They should have the instant wow fac­tor, be just sharp enough to appear sharp for a split sec­ond the vot­er needs to vote your image up (over-sharp­en­ing makes sure the view­er per­ceives it as sharp), have lots of con­trast and they should be over­sat­u­rat­ed and of course, you need to use HDR in its worst appli­ca­tion. That’s how you win. </sarcasm off>

I do not fol­low these rec­om­men­da­tions, so I real­ly can’t tell you what images you should enter to win.
It is total­ly up to you. Once you have vot­ed your­self in a num­ber of competitions/challenges, you might observe a pat­tern you fol­low. Which images do you vote on? What­ev­er you do, oth­er peo­ple do the same.

Anoth­er thing to think about when you enter images is the form fac­tor. Very wide panora­ma images do not dis­play well, espe­cial­ly not in the mobile app.

A quick sta­tis­tic here I just con­duct­ed: For a recent open-top­ic chal­lenge, I looked at the top 100 images and found the fol­low­ing: 96 were land­scape-for­mat, 4 were square, 0 were por­trait-for­mat. 98 were col­or, 2 were B&W. Over half of the 100 were land­scape images 56), 8 flow­ers, 6 birds, 16 oth­er ani­mals, and 14 var­i­ous oth­er sub­jects. If you only take this one open chal­lenge as your data set to draw your con­clu­sions from, you would want to enter a col­or land­scape image in land­scape ori­en­ta­tion to have a bet­ter chance of winning.

You should also think about how you do the post-pro­cess­ing. Peo­ple look­ing at your images and vote on them will most cer­tain­ly not have a col­or-cal­i­brat­ed mon­i­tor, but the chal­lenge host (a ‘Guru’) might have one. As you enter images into the competitions/challenges, you can win in three dif­fer­ent ways (more details on that fur­ther down):

  • Top Pho­tog­ra­ph­er (get­ting the most accu­mu­lat­ed votes for your set of images)
  • Top Pho­to (get­ting the most amount of votes for a sin­gle image)
  • Guru’s top pick (the most favored image picked by the chal­lenge host (a ‘Guru’)- there can be many Guru picks, but only one image gets the Guru’s Top Pick)

So as the top two cat­e­gories are select­ed by the par­tic­i­pat­ing voters/random peo­ple, the last cat­e­go­ry is select­ed by the known chal­lenge host, which might be impor­tant to know for the selec­tion of images you enter. Do your research about what the Guru likes, when the guru picks are done, the time zone the guru lives in. If the Guru has Black & White images all over in the pro­file, you might hit a sweet spot with a B&W image entry. All por­trait images? Put a por­trait in. Peo­ple have con­scious and uncon­scious bias­es when they pre­fer or dis­like images. If you are in for get­ting the Guru Pick, find out about the Guru’s likes and dislikes.

Just to remind you here, this is a game where you try to win by find­ing out what works. If you do pho­tog­ra­phy to give your­self a cre­ative out­let, then cre­at­ing images specif­i­cal­ly to please a Guru might not be a good idea. But it could also have the effect of widen­ing your pho­to­graph­ic hori­zon if you try new types of images you nor­mal­ly don’t do. Don’t let the process of select­ing images for a com­pe­ti­tion crip­ple your cre­ativ­i­ty by try­ing to please the Guru in a spe­cif­ic way.

Going back to the ques­tion of what images to enter, I have to re-iter­ate that you should read the chal­lenge rules care­ful­ly. Some require spe­cif­ic image prop­er­ties the images should have, or must not have to get a Guru’s Pick (e.g. no water­marks). Then there are gen­er­al rules for all chal­lenges, e.g. you are not allowed to enter images that are not your own (kind of obvi­ous, right?). Read the rules care­ful­ly, or oth­er­wise, your images might be removed from the com­pe­ti­tion, or even worse, you get your account deleted.

Adult Content

And then there is one spe­cial kind of images you see every now and then. People’s gen­i­tals. Be pre­pared. Sex­u­al­ly real­ly explic­it images are not allowed on Gurushots, but some peo­ple cross the bor­der from nude fine art images (which are allowed for some chal­lenges) to pure porn images. You can also turn off the dis­play of ‘Adult Con­tent’, but that obvi­ous­ly does only work for images that have been marked as ‘Adult Con­tent’ by the image author. That is a flag you can set (tick the box) when you sub­mit your image to the Gurushots platform.

As a hint for enter­ing your images, nude images tend to not rank very well as peo­ple could have the ‘I‑do-not-want-to-see-adult-con­tent’ flag set and only see a black image marked as adult con­tent. You can then select to tog­gle that set­ting and view the image, but that is anoth­er cou­ple of clicks. Chances are, you get few­er views than oth­er con­tent that is not restrict­ed to view.

What happens at the end of the challenge

At the end of a chal­lenge, you are most like­ly inter­est­ed in how well your images com­pet­ed. There is a bit of a delay after the chal­lenge end­ed before you can see the results. The sys­tem needs to cal­cu­late a num­ber of things, and the Guru needs to pick the ‘Guru’s Top Pick’ Winner.


There are up to three cat­e­gories you can win in a challenge:

  • Top Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Winner
  • Top Pho­to Winner
  • Guru’s Top Pick Winner

The first one is only avail­able for mul­ti-image chal­lenges, so sin­gle-image type chal­lenges only have two winners.

The ‘Top Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Win­ner’ is the play­er who got the most accu­mu­lat­ed votes for the 2 (or 4) images in the com­pe­ti­tion at the time the chal­lenge end­ed. Pre­vi­ous­ly swapped out images are not count­ed. I don’t know what hap­pens if two play­ers have the exact same num­ber of votes, I guess there are some fur­ther back­up deci­sion rules to decide on who the win­ner is. Do you know?

The ‘Top Pho­to Win­ner’ is the play­er who has the image with the most votes for a sin­gle image in that challenge.

The ‘Guru’s Top Pick Win­ner’ is select­ed by the Guru at the end of the chal­lenge among all Guru Pick images the Guru select­ed through­out the chal­lenge. Basi­cal­ly a best-of-the-best approach from the view­point of the Guru who cre­at­ed the challenge.

All three of the win­ning meth­ods are equal in terms of qual­i­fy­ing you for the ‘1x Win a Chal­lenge’ require­ment for the Guru game lev­el. You need one of them. But it’s hard. At the time of writ­ing this, I achieved 50 Guru Picks with my images, but no win. I think most ‘Mas­ter’ play­ers are stuck on the miss­ing ‘Win’ they need to progress to the ‘Guru’ level.

Awards and Achievements

Some awards and achieve­ments can only be cal­cu­lat­ed after the chal­lenge end­ed because they depend on a cer­tain per­cent­age of the par­tic­i­pat­ing play­ers which is only known at the end. For exam­ple, there are ‘Top x%’ achieve­ments (‘Top 10%’ or ‘Top 20%’ or ‘Top 30%’) that you can get if your image is among the top x% of all images in that chal­lenge. Or a ‘100 Top Rank’ achieve­ment for get­ting into the best 100 images. The achieve­ments are avail­able for both cat­e­gories, top image, and top pho­tog­ra­ph­er (votes accu­mu­lat­ed across all your 2 or 4 images), the icons for them are a bit dif­fer­ent, and they are count­ed sep­a­rate­ly. You can see all your achieve­ments on the ‘Achieve­ments’ page of your pro­file. If you hov­er over an icon, you can see a short expla­na­tion about that spe­cif­ic achievement.

If you ful­fill all require­ments for a game lev­el, you get a noti­fi­ca­tion of that lev­el advance­ment after all require­ments have been met, usu­al­ly after a chal­lenge ended.

Progressing on the ladder

Gurushots pro­vides a lev­el-up sys­tem to reward you when you play the game and achieve set goals. The game lev­els are: 

New­bie — Rook­ie — Chal­lenger — Advanced — Vet­er­an — Expert — Cham­pi­on — Mas­ter — Guru (and then more lev­els of Guru, Guru I‑IX)

To advance to the next lev­el, you have to ful­fill spe­cif­ic set requirements.

What are the require­ments from lev­el to lev­el? On a lap­top (using a brows­er), go to ‘My Chal­lenges’. You will see your unlocked rank at the top togeth­er with all the oth­er ranks in the game. A lock sym­bol is dis­played between the ranks, if you hov­er over that, you get the list of require­ments to unlock that lock and get to the next level.

The require­ments are a com­bi­na­tion of some or all of the following: 


The ‘Achieve­ment’ require­ment refers to the lev­el sys­tem inside a chal­lenge. When you enter an image into a com­pe­ti­tion, it starts with ‘no achieve­ment’. The rules of each chal­lenge tell you what the lev­el require­ments are to get to a spe­cif­ic lev­el, e.g.

- Pop­u­lar — 40 votes
- Skilled — 160 votes
- Pre­mier — 600 votes
- Élite — 1200 votes
- All Star — 2300 votes

In this exam­ple, you would get the ‘Élite’ Achieve­ment once you col­lect 1200 votes in that chal­lenge. That is accu­mu­lat­ed, so all images in a set are summed up. Once you get to a new lev­el, also GS points are award­ed, e.g. when you achieve the ‘Skilled’ lev­el, you get 200 GS (Gurushot) points added to your points.

Points collected

This is straight­for­ward and always a require­ment for a lev­el-up. You need to col­lect a cer­tain amount of GS points. These points are award­ed when you achieve a new lev­el inside a chal­lenge (see ‘Achieve­ments’ above). One exam­ple would be the lev­el-up require­ment for the ‘Vet­er­an’ game lev­el is to col­lect 9,000 GS points.

The points you col­lect in a chal­lenge are as fol­lows, at least accord­ing to my lat­est records:

- Pop­u­lar — 150 GS points
- Skilled — 200 GS points
- Pre­mier — 250 GS points
- Élite — 300 GS points
- All Star — 350 GS points

That means, if you advance in a chal­lenge all the way up to ‘All Stars’, you get 150+200+250+300+350 GS points = 1250 GS points in total. If we pick up the ‘Vet­er­an’ exam­ple from above (9,000 points required), you would have to par­tic­i­pate in 8 chal­lenges and go all the way to ‘All Star’ in 7, and to ‘Pre­mier’ in the 8th, to ful­fill one of the require­ments to get to the ‘Vet­er­an’ game level.

If you only ever get to the first ‘Pop­u­lar’ lev­el in a chal­lenge, you would have to enter 60 chal­lenges to ful­fill that require­ment for the ‘Vet­er­an’ lev­el. so basi­cal­ly over time, you will col­lect enough points if your images are good enough to reach at least the ‘Pop­u­lar’ Lev­el in a challenge.

Number of “Successful Swaps”

I’ll start with an exam­ple here. To get from ‘Rook­ie’ to ‘Chal­lenger’ you have the require­ments of ‘3 x Suc­cess­ful Swap’.

What is a suc­cess­ful swap? I explain a bit fur­ther down how swaps work, just a quick expla­na­tion here: If you exchange one image for anoth­er in a chal­lenge, that is a ‘swap’. A ‘Suc­cess­ful Swap’ is one where the replace­ment image gets at least 50 votes more than the replaced image had at the time when it was replaced in that chal­lenge. An exam­ple would be:

You place an image into a chal­lenge, and over time peo­ple vote on it and it has now 312 votes. You decide that it does not get as many votes as your oth­er images in the chal­lenge, so you replace it with anoth­er of your images (you swap it). That image now col­lects votes in that chal­lenge, and if it man­ages to get over 362 votes (312 + 50), it is con­sid­ered a ‘Suc­cess­ful Swap’ and counts against your require­ments for the num­ber of suc­cess­ful swaps you need.

I would not regard this require­ment as par­tic­u­lar­ly dif­fi­cult to achieve, so don’t wor­ry about it, it reg­u­lar­ly hap­pens with­out too much effort. If you are real­ly strug­gling with this, just do the swap at the begin­ning of the chal­lenge, your swapped-in image will nat­u­ral­ly get more than 50 votes more than your swapped-out image.

Guru picks

That is a more dif­fi­cult achieve­ment. You need 1 Guru Pick for the ‘Cham­pi­on’ lev­el, 3 Guru Picks for the ‘Mas­ter’ lev­el, and 5 Guru Picks for the ‘Guru’ Level.

I explained what a ‘Guru Pick’ is fur­ther up, so by now you know that it is depen­dent on anoth­er play­er (a ‘Guru’) if you get this achieve­ment or not. The only way to get it is with per­se­ver­ance, good qual­i­ty images, and a bit of luck. You can how­ev­er nudge the scale of prob­a­bil­i­ties a bit by using some tac­tics to get your image in front of the Gurus more often, but you still can’t force them to vote for the image to give it a ‘Guru Pick’. More about what I think are use­ful and use­less tac­tics will be explained in the third arti­cle of the series. 

Number of specific ranks achieved

I start again with an exam­ple. From ‘New­bie’ to ‘Rook­ie’ lev­el you need ‘3 x Skilled’ ranks achieved. That means you need to have entered at least 3 chal­lenges and achieved the ‘Skilled’ rank in each of these chal­lenges. These rank require­ments get pro­gres­sive­ly hard­er, e.g. to get to ‘Mas­ter’, you need ’20 x All Star’ ranks. From my expe­ri­ence, this require­ment is best ful­filled by par­tic­i­pat­ing in long-run­ning ‘Exhi­bi­tion’ — type chal­lenges (chal­lenges where you can get exhib­it­ed if you get to a cer­tain rank and pay a fee). GS wants you to get to ‘All Star’ in these com­pe­ti­tions, as that is a com­mon require­ment to be able to par­tic­i­pate in the exhi­bi­tion. So it makes sense for them to have a rel­a­tive­ly low entry bar­ri­er for ‘All Star’ lev­el in these chal­lenges to increase the num­ber of play­ers that are eli­gi­ble for the exhi­bi­tions (if the play­er pays the fee, did I men­tion that?).

Global Photo Club

How ‘Swaps’, ‘Fills’, and ‘Keys’ work

You get a start­ing set of these perks when you sign up to the plat­form, to get started.

What can you do with them?

All three of the perks in the list give you an advan­tage in the game:

Swaps: Dur­ing a chal­lenge, you might notice that some images do not do well, they do not get many votes. So you want to replace that image with a more promis­ing one. But Gurushot doesn’t let you just replace it, it costs one of your pre­cious ‘Swaps’ to do so. Because it is expen­sive to change images, think about each image you place into a chal­lenge, and when. Be espe­cial­ly care­ful when the sys­tem sug­gests chal­lenges for you to par­tic­i­pate in. The sys­tem pro­pos­es a set of your images that might or might not be fit­ting for that chal­lenge, and as soon as you click ‘Join’, all of the pro­posed images are in the chal­lenge. If that was not what you want­ed, you can’t revert that action/mistake, if you are not imme­di­ate­ly delet­ing them from the chal­lenge. And it is not obvi­ous how to do it. You might end up hav­ing to swap them out for a bet­ter fit­ting image, each of the swaps cost you one ‘Swap’. So my sug­ges­tion is: Don’t join a chal­lenge with the sug­gest­ed list of images, join it with­out any images, and add them care­ful­ly one by one after you joined. You have to start the chal­lenge with at least one image, but you don’t have to fill all the remain­ing spots (in a 2- or 4 slot chal­lenge). Add the remain­ing images later.

Every now and then the sys­tem con­ve­nient­ly sug­gests swap­ping images in your run­ning chal­lenges, so you get tempt­ed to use your ‘Swaps’. Think about why the sys­tem does that. Is it because it thinks you can do bet­ter with a dif­fer­ent image (the one it pro­pos­es)? Think again.

Fills: You can use a ‘’Fill’ instead of man­u­al­ly vot­ing. When you vote man­u­al­ly, you have to vote for a num­ber of images to get your expo­sure-bonus meter (more on that fur­ther down) for that chal­lenge from ‘low’ to ‘high’. If you use a ‘Fill’, that meter gets filled up to the max, sav­ing you the vot­ing. There is also a ‘Fill all’ but­ton (how con­ve­nient!) to let you fill-up the expo­sure-bonus meter of all the chal­lenges you cur­rent­ly par­tic­i­pate in. But it costs you one ‘Fill’ for each chal­lenge, so if you have e.g. 10 open chal­lenges run­ning and click ‘Fill all’, you instant­ly use 10 ‘Fills’, and the meters are all filled up.

So why would you use a ‘Fill’? If you are tired of click­ing on hun­dreds of images to boost your expo­sure-bonus meter up, then you might want to get some relief and click on the ‘Fill’ but­ton. Get a break. I use it some­times if the chal­lenge has most­ly real­ly bad images in it. If you don’t want to vote up lots of bad images (and you shouldn’t, see ‘Vot­ing’ sec­tion), then you have two options: Go through hun­dreds of bad images, click on one or two good ones and watch the meter move only a tiny bit towards the ‘high’ side, or take the short­cut and press ’Fill’. Gurushots knows how short the atten­tion span of peo­ple is. Peo­ple use short­cuts. But they cost you a ‘Fill’. See ‘How Gurushot makes money’. 

Keys: Keys can be used to unlock two things that might be locked by the sys­tem (because they can):

  • Join a chal­lenge short­ly before it ends
  • Use the ‘Boost’ but­ton anytime

They lock chal­lenges that went on for a while and get clos­er to the end. I haven’t fig­ured out yet when exact­ly that hap­pens. So if you did not join when the com­pe­ti­tion was ‘new’ish, you might need to use a ‘Key’ to unlock it so that you can join late in the game.

The ‘Boost’ button

There is also that ‘Boost’ but­ton which lets you boost the expo­sure of one of your images in a chal­lenge. To boost an image means it gets viewed by more peo­ple, receiv­ing poten­tial­ly a lot more votes than with­out the boost. I had images dou­bling their votes with the boost, so it is essen­tial to boost an image if you want to have a chance of win­ning. Dur­ing a chal­lenge, the ‘Boost’ but­ton gets only unlocked for one ran­dom day. It does hap­pen some­where in the mid­dle of the chal­lenge if it is a > 6 days chal­lenge (I think). You don’t get the free boost in the first cou­ple of days, and you don’t get it in the last cou­ple of days. Not sure about the specifics here, though. Short chal­lenges might not release the ‘Boost’ but­ton before the chal­lenge ends, so the only way to boost one image, in this case, is to use a ‘Key’ to unlock the boost. It might be a bug in the game, but maybe it is a feature.

As you don’t know when the unlock hap­pens, you can eas­i­ly miss the unlocked ‘Boost’ but­ton if you par­tic­i­pate in heaps of chal­lenges because the but­ton is nor­mal­ly locked. If you miss it, you then get a rather mock­ing mes­sage after the fact (‘Oh no! You missed it!’). Why do they not give you a mes­sage when the free boost appears? Well, you know the answer. If you miss the free boost, you have to pay with a ‘Key’ to unlock it. To make sure you don’t miss it, you have to come back to the app at least once a day to check that. All part of the plan. Very clever. See the sec­tion “How Gurushot makes money”.

How do you get the ‘Swaps’, ‘Fills’, and ‘Keys’?

Easy. Pay for them (buy a bun­dle, see ‘How Gurushot makes mon­ey’) or earn them by par­tic­i­pat­ing in chal­lenges. To re-iterate:

  • a free ‘fill’ every 3 challenges
  • a free ‘swap’ every 5 challenges
  • a free ‘key’ every 7 challenges

Or you win a chal­lenge, but to win a chal­lenge you real­ly have to use up perks (main­ly swaps, and one or two ‘keys’ to unlock the chal­lenge and the ‘Boost’). And win­ning a chal­lenge is not easy. I have tried and failed so far. And I have par­tic­i­pat­ed in a three-dig­it num­ber of chal­lenges (that’s a wild guess, but prob­a­bly close to true).


To get the expo­sure-bonus meter from low to high, you have to vote for images, my high­ly sci­en­tif­ic test process deter­mined between 40–100 upvotes are need­ed. To give you one exam­ple for a 100 vote chal­lenge: You start your vot­ing ses­sion, the first 8 images are rub­bish in your opin­ion. Then there is one you find accept­able, at least it com­plies with the chal­lenge top­ic, so you vote for it. Con­grat­u­la­tions, you have now moved your vote meter 1% (remem­ber, you need 100 up-votes to get it to ‘high’). That exam­ple illus­trates that you quick­ly want to do one of two things: just vote for every image, regard­less of the qual­i­ty or if it com­plies with the chal­lenge rules. Or you hit the ‘Fill’ but­ton and get instant relief, the meter jumps to ‘high’. That’s one rea­son why bad images can win, or at least get a lot more votes than they deserve. There is no incen­tive for the vot­er to only vote for the images you real­ly like and are of high qual­i­ty. Quite the oppo­site, you vote your poten­tial rivals to vic­to­ry and it might take ages to find 100 real­ly good images in your vot­ing session.

That is what I hate about the vot­ing sys­tem, it favors quan­ti­ty over quality.

I still try to only vote for good images. I use the enlarged (‘full-screen’) mode on a desk­top com­put­er with a col­or-cal­i­brat­ed mon­i­tor to judge the qual­i­ty of the image (main­ly sharp­ness in the right spots, but also halos and oth­er imper­fec­tions). But as you have to vote for hun­dreds of images, the process is nat­u­ral­ly flawed as you have to decide very quick­ly on a vote or not. Sub­tle images that would grow on you if you take the time to study them don’t stand a chance if they don’t have the instant wow fac­tor. Sad.


An impor­tant part of the vot­ing sys­tem is a con­cept called ‘Vot­ing-Pow­er’. As you climb the lad­der up from ‘New­bie’ to ‘Guru’, you gain vot­ing-pow­er with each step. Dur­ing a vot­ing ses­sion, if a ‘Newbie’-ranked play­er votes for your image, you get one vote added. But if a ‘Mas­ter’ votes for your image, you get 8 votes added to your image. The sys­tem is designed to give high­er-rank­ing play­ers (like mas­ters and gurus) more weight in deter­min­ing the top images, under the assump­tion that the high­er-rank­ing play­ers are only vot­ing for the high-qual­i­ty images, there­fore pro­pelling the best images to the top of the rank­ing pile. I let you judge if that sys­tem works as intend­ed. But you need to know that for win­ning a chal­lenge in the top-vote cat­e­go­ry, you want as many high-rank­ing play­ers as pos­si­ble to vote for your images to gain the most amount of votes. For that, you want to know how these play­ers act, when they vote, and how they vote. If you find out about that, you have an impor­tant part of a win­ning strategy.


“Views” for your images are count­ed two ways, one is the over­all amount of peo­ple look­ing at your sin­gle image over time, wher­ev­er it pops up. That could be some­one look­ing at your pro­file, that gen­er­ates a view. If you are com­pet­i­tive and par­tic­i­pate in the chal­lenges, you are more like­ly to be inter­est­ed in the views gen­er­at­ed dur­ing a chal­lenge, and these views are count­ed sep­a­rate­ly, per chal­lenge. So if peo­ple get your image on their vot­ing screen to see, two counts are updat­ed: the num­ber of views you get for that image in the chal­lenge, and the over­all count of views for your image since it was uploaded. 

You can’t real­ly do much with that count alone, but you can use it in com­bi­na­tion with oth­er fac­tors to get a feel­ing of how suc­cess­ful your image is, or when is a good time to enter images into com­pe­ti­tions. Know­ing the views (or bet­ter: how they increase and when) helps when you try to cre­ate a win­ning strat­e­gy for the game.

Vote-View Ratio

So you know about how ‘Views’ and ‘Votes’ come into play. But what can you do with it? Well, I think the most impor­tant thing is you can mea­sure some sort of suc­cess of your image. Think about it for a minute. As per def­i­n­i­tion, all images in a chal­lenge should have the same amount of ‘Views’ at the end of the chal­lenge (some peo­ple say that is not true, but it is what we are told and I assume here that it is cor­rect, for the sake of the argu­ment). The win­ning image was able to get the most votes from these views, so the high­er the vote/view ratio, the bet­ter the image per­formed in that chal­lenge. The win­ning strat­e­gy needs to max­i­mize the vote/view ratio for an image in a spe­cif­ic challenge.

The good thing about the ratio is you can cal­cu­late it for your images. The bad thing is, you have to cal­cu­late it, it is not vis­i­ble as a ratio val­ue, and it is not vis­i­ble per chal­lenge. So you have to make a note of your images ‘Views’ and ‘Votes’ when you enter them into a chal­lenge and track that ratio through­out the chal­lenge to get an idea about how good it is. Votes alone at the begin­ning of a chal­lenge are not real­ly telling you much, but if you know how many views you need­ed for the num­ber of votes you got, you can judge if it is rel­a­tive­ly well-received in that chal­lenge or not. It takes some effort to keep track of that ratio, some peo­ple do it in the com­ments sec­tion of their images, some peo­ple keep spread­sheets or some­thing sim­i­lar updat­ed to record the ratio over time and draw their con­clu­sions using that data. Some peo­ple don’t care about it at all. I think it is vital to mea­sure some sort of pub­lic vote suc­cess for your image. I found that my bet­ter-per­form­ing images all have a vote/view ratio of more than 2, which means that on aver­age I get 2 or more votes per view on these images. Have a look at the win­ning images of the types of com­pe­ti­tions you are inter­est­ed in. I think most of them will have a ratio of more than 2.

For the guru picks, that ratio is not impor­tant. You can get a Guru’s Top Pick Win with­out a good vote/view ratio, so you can get to Guru rank with­out all that Jazz. Great!

Exposure Bonus Meter

The expo­sure meter is the most mys­tic thing in the Gurushot uni­verse. I think. If you know exact­ly how it influ­ences how much the expo­sure changes, and for how long, then you know a lot more about how your win­ning strat­e­gy has to look like. But that’s only my belief. Here is what I know.

Your ‘Expo­sure Bonus’ meter dis­plays a gauge from low to high. If you vote (or use a fill), this meter goes slow­ly (or instant­ly if you use a fill) from low to high, see ‘Fills’ fur­ther up. But what does that mean for your ‘expo­sure’? And why and when does it go down again?

The high­er the val­ue of that meter, the more like­ly it is that a play­er gets to see your image in a vot­ing ses­sion. Only if a play­er actu­al­ly sees your image they can vote on it, so to max­i­mize the vote/view ratio it is impor­tant to get the meter to the max­i­mum val­ue, but not nec­es­sar­i­ly all the time. That is part of your strat­e­gy: When do I vote to get the meter up? Do I keep it up? Do I use a ‘Fill’ or vote?

Even if the meter is on ‘low’, your image(es) will be dis­played to oth­er play­ers, just not very often (in Face­book groups you will hear the term ‘ leak­ing’ for that). The only way to not show images to oth­er play­ers in a chal­lenge is to not have it IN the chal­lenge. Either by wait­ing to put it in, or by hav­ing it in, then swap­ping it out, and lat­er swap it back in at the ‘right’ time. That is also part of game strate­gies, avoid­ing the leak­ing of image views. But I would regard this as fine-tuning.

As soon as your Expo­sure Bonus meter is high­er than ‘low’, a timer reduces that val­ue. So over the course of sev­er­al hours, that meter goes from high to low. The rate at which it goes down is prob­a­bly linked to the rate it goes up with one vote, and it is dif­fer­ent for dif­fer­ent chal­lenge types. The longer a chal­lenge lasts (days or weeks), the low­er that ratio is. E.g. a short chal­lenge might have a 2.5 ratio, which means you have to vote up 40 times to get the meter to 100% (high). A slow­er chal­lenge might have a 1.67 ratio, which means you have to vote 60 times for an image to get the meter max­i­mized. I think I had val­ues between 40–100 votes to get the meter from low to high. You can’t see that val­ue dis­played in the User Inter­face of the web page, but you can count it when you vote. And if you are a web devel­op­er, you can see that val­ue dis­played in the JSON response of the get_vote_data request to the serv­er. But is the knowl­edge of that ratio impor­tant? Not real­ly, it just lets you know how much you need to vote to get to ‘high’. It is an inter­est­ing detail, not much more. 

I don’t know if the reduc­tion of the Expo­sure Bonus meter is reduced in a lin­ear fash­ion or not, I would have to keep track of that, but I couldn’t both­er so far. I also don’t know how high up you have to keep it to get what amount of views in what amount of time.

Well, there are a lot of things I do not know about how the Expo­sure Bonus Meter actu­al­ly works, but I believe it is an impor­tant instru­ment to keep track of.

“Following” others, “Followers” and “Likes”

I don’t use these fea­tures much, but it is easy to explain. You can ‘Fol­low’ oth­er peo­ple to see some of their activ­i­ties. If oth­er peo­ple choose to fol­low you, you have ‘Fol­low­ers’. “Likes” can be award­ed to images you see by click­ing on the heart-shaped sym­bol on the upper right. These images appear then in your pro­file as “Likes”. This spe­cif­ic mechan­ic lets you col­lect images you want to have a look at lat­er, and to see who entered them. It lets you see who entered them. Does that ring a bell? If you want to see dur­ing your vot­ing ses­sion who entered a spe­cif­ic image, just ‘Like’ it, open your ‘Likes’ in anoth­er tab (to not lose your cur­rent vot­ing screen), there you have the fresh­ly liked image and you can click on it to review all the details. So much for anony­mous vot­ing. It takes not much effort to find out who the author of an image is. But some peo­ple write it on the image any­ways (-> water­marks, see above), so the vot­ing is not that anony­mous as it should be.

Reporting System

Dur­ing chal­lenges, you might notice some images which vio­late cer­tain rules. Gurushot pro­vides some ways to report these offend­ing images, but not all vio­la­tions can be han­dled in-game.

The only way to report off-top­ic images is if you get an offend­ing image dur­ing a vot­ing ses­sion as part of your ran­dom image pool to vote on. If you lat­er spot an image as off-top­ic (e.g. in the rank­ing screen), you do not have that option any­more. You might have dif­fer­ent options, e.g. a ‘sim­i­lar image’ option for a mul­ti-image chal­lenge to com­plain about a sim­i­lar image from one play­er in the same challenge.

One exam­ple of how that is not ide­al: One cur­rent image in the ‘droplet’ chal­lenge has a high-vot­ed image with bub­bles, which look like droplets if you only look at it for a split sec­ond. But tech­ni­cal­ly, that should have been removed from the com­pe­ti­tion as off-top­ic, but I can’t report it from the rank­ing screen.

You can con­tact Gurushots about any oth­er vio­la­tions via the ‘Con­tact’ link at the bot­tom of the web­site screen. You can then enter details of what­ev­er you want to dis­cuss with them, and it goes into a tick­et sys­tem and you even­tu­al­ly get a response from a sup­port per­son. That does not nec­es­sar­i­ly mean that you get your com­plaint resolved or actioned on, but at least it ends up some­where in their sys­tem, and they can do some­thing about it. I cur­rent­ly have a com­plaint open, as a recent chal­lenge with the top­ic ‘Pho­to of the Day’ had heaps of images in there which were not uploaded in the 24 hours before the chal­lenge as the chal­lenge brief explic­it­ly (and in bold) required. Instead, peo­ple chose to enter old­er images that had been entered in old­er com­pe­ti­tions. Very unfor­tu­nate is the fact that the chal­lenge host, the Guru, did not check their own chal­lenge require­ments for the guru picks, and select­ed a num­ber of these old­er images for the Guru picks, and also the Win­ning ‘Guru’s Top Pick’ image. You can judge for your­self if the com­plaint sys­tem works or not by review­ing if the Win­ning ‘Guru’s Top Pick’ image of that com­pe­ti­tion is still an image that has been used in a com­pe­ti­tion that end­ed before the 21st Jan­u­ary 2021. If that is still the case at the point in time you read this, then they chose to ignore the com­plaint and do noth­ing to cor­rect the mis­take. I have already sent a fol­low-up email to GS, but got no response so far (7th Feb­ru­ary), and no vis­i­ble action on the out­come of that com­pe­ti­tion, so I think they chose to ignore that complaint.

Global Photo Club

That’s it for the first part, you should now be equipped with the basic knowl­edge of how Gurushot works for the most part. And you should know about all the impor­tant parts to piece togeth­er your strat­e­gy for win­ning, right? I wish you good luck with the game, some luck is required.

Keep in mind that Gurushots is a Game.

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