GuruShots Survival Guide (Part III)

Wel­come to part III of this Gurushots arti­cle series. In the first part, I cov­ered all the basics but sprin­kled in some tips & tricks as well. If you don’t know what Gurushots is and how it works, then I would rec­om­mend spend­ing a bit of time read­ing the first part or dive into the game, then read the sec­ond part to learn more about the pit­falls. The third part (this arti­cle here) is about how I use Gurushots, and there is also a sec­tion about some strate­gies I found useful.

How I use Gurushots

I use Gurushots

  • to improve the qual­i­ty of my pho­tog­ra­phy. So how does that work? The main fac­tor is the con­stant encour­age­ment to enter images into chal­lenges. Some chal­lenges remind you of pho­tog­ra­phy tech­niques you might have neglect­ed or nev­er explored. E.g. recent­ly there was a chal­lenge ‘look­ing down’. And I noticed that I don’t have many images where I am on an ele­vat­ed view­point, look­ing down on a sub­ject. So I made a men­tal note to explore that tech­nique next time I am on a field trip. 
    I also remem­ber that I shot a num­ber of images specif­i­cal­ly for a Gurushots chal­lenge, e.g. ‘Umbrel­la’. I put an umbrel­la in the dri­ve­way, used the gar­den hose to ‘let it rain’, and con­vert­ed the image to black & white.
monochrome umbrella

That image went into the Gurushots chal­lenge, but I also used it in a club com­pe­ti­tion. I prac­ticed staging/arranging sub­jects, and macro pho­tog­ra­phy, and using the Nik Efex Pro plug-in for the B&W conversion.

  • to get some expo­sure by enter­ing (paid) exhi­bi­tions.
    I talked about that in part II already, it is not a major thing I do with Gurushots (prob­a­bly because it costs mon­ey), but every now and then I like par­tic­i­pat­ing in an exhi­bi­tion. I don’t believe it will actu­al­ly give me ‘reach’ or much ‘expo­sure’, but it is a nice feel­ing that your image is seen by peo­ple going into an exhi­bi­tion and have an inter­est in photography.
  • as a port­fo­lio site to hold a good col­lec­tion of my cur­rent images. I don’t have an Insta­gram port­fo­lio or any­thing which dis­plays a wide range of my images, so I use Gurushots to pass on the URL to fam­i­ly mem­bers and friends if they want to see what kind of pho­tog­ra­phy I do. I do have a web­site where I also put images online, but it is more curat­ed and doesn’t have that much variety.
  • to get ideas about pho­tog­ra­phy projects. Sim­i­lar to what I said fur­ther up, I think it improves your pho­tog­ra­phy if you get ideas about new projects you can then fol­low up on. Get to a car race. Vis­it the local air­port to take some images of starting/landing air­planes. Vis­it a bal­loon fes­ti­val. Do some street pho­tog­ra­phy. Shoot only B&W for a day. Cap­ture smiles on faces. Take images of pat­terns and tex­tures. The list is endless.
  • to look at beau­ti­ful images, be inspired by them, and learn from the very good pho­tog­ra­phers on the plat­form (you just have to skip the awful amount of not-so-good images). I like to use the vot­ing ses­sions to also col­lect real­ly good and inspir­ing images I come across by ‘lik­ing’ them. Over time, the ‘likes’ sec­tion of your pro­file will then have a lot of images you found great at one time. Take some time to review and study them, you can learn a lot by try­ing to find out what attract­ed you to these images. Some have EXIF data exposed, you can review the set­tings and learn from that as well.
  • as a play­ground to test images for their ‘wow’ fac­tor. To do A/B test­ing in prepa­ra­tion for oth­er pho­tog­ra­phy con­tests. Remem­ber, I am a pho­tog­ra­phy club mem­ber and we reg­u­lar­ly par­tic­i­pate in pho­tog­ra­phy com­pe­ti­tions with edu­cat­ed and com­pe­tent judges to cri­tique the images. These com­pe­ti­tions have a dif­fer­ent rule­set and envi­ron­ment, but the images still need to have a wow-fac­tor to impress the judges, as they also might only have a very short amount of time to let your image advance or fail. So images in Gurushots com­pe­ti­tions that do not do well might lack that wow-fac­tor. It is just an indi­ca­tion, but it is some­thing to think about.
  • as a social­iz­ing plat­form to com­mu­ni­cate with fel­low pho­tog­ra­phers. The new ‘Team’ fea­ture lets you chat with team­mates and dis­cuss strate­gies or exchange pho­to loca­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties or just have some small talk. If you are not in a local pho­to club, it can be a good place to just talk to oth­er pho­tog­ra­phers. Some teams are restrict­ed to a local area, so you might actu­al­ly meet team mem­bers in real life (as I did). 
Global Photo Club

Strategy Section

This is what some peo­ple were wait­ing for, the “get­ting rich quick” section.

Hold your hors­es! There is no quick and sure­fire way to get to “Guru” sta­tus if that is why you are read­ing this. Sorry.

But I can list a cou­ple of things I found use­ful to do to increase votes and to avoid time- and mon­ey wast­ing. Here we go.

This sec­tion is only about try­ing to win a chal­lenge. It is about game strat­e­gy (remem­ber, Gurushots is a game). It is not about how to get bet­ter at pho­tog­ra­phy. If you don’t have enough decent qual­i­ty images to put into chal­lenges, then you need more luck to get to the top rank. Hav­ing lots of great qual­i­ty images def­i­nite­ly helps.

Dis­claimer: I am like a blind talk­ing about col­or. I haven’t won a chal­lenge yet. But I was close (#4 place once), and I have 71 Guru Picks under my belt. So what I present to you are pieces in a puz­zle that con­stant­ly changes the image you want to assem­ble as Gurushots changes the soft­ware and algorithms.

Two ways to win

Every nor­mal chal­lenge has two dif­fer­ent modes of winning: 

  • get the most pub­lic votes for one image, or for a set of images (2 or 4 image sets), or both
  • get the top “Guru Top Pick”

Your strat­e­gy for win­ning one or the oth­er would be quite dif­fer­ent, as you tar­get dif­fer­ent decision-makers.

Let’s have a more detailed look at the two sec­tions and the win­ning conditions.

Most Public Votes

There are two sub-types here, the sin­gle-image speed chal­lenges, and the mul­ti-image set chal­lenges (2 or 4 images). The sin­gle image chal­lenges only have two win­ners, where­as the oth­er chal­lenges have three win­ners because there is also a win­ner for the most votes across all images you put into the set of 2 or 4 images.

They all have in com­mon that you need oth­er play­ers to vote on your images, not the guru who cre­at­ed the chal­lenge. That brings a whole new dynam­ic when you try to opti­mize your win­ning strat­e­gy. Basi­cal­ly, to max­i­mize the votes per view you want

  • high pro­file play­er (mas­ter, guru) with high vot­ing pow­er (8 or 9) to vote
  • a filled expo­sure meter at the right time
  • a guru pick (50 votes) helps
  • more views (boost­ed)
  • images that appeal to the mass­es and are on-topic

These are the main fac­tors you need to opti­mize to get a good shot at win­ning the pub­lic vote in a chal­lenge. Keep in mind that the sys­tem tries to give each image in the chal­lenge the same amount of views, regard­less of when it was entered.

Let’s start with the first bul­let point. How do you attract high-pro­file play­ers, the “Gurus” and “Mas­ters”, to vote for your images? Let’s take a step back and look at how a vot­ing ses­sion in a web brows­er works. When you open the vot­ing screen, the sys­tem has deter­mined a set of 200 images to dis­play to you. As they nor­mal­ly do not fit all on your screen at once, they are only loaded as you would be able to see them on your screen. So a small­er screen might fit six images, then the first six images in that 200 image batch are loaded and dis­played. Is it ran­dom in which order the 200 images are pre­sent­ed? I believe not. That is where the expo­sure bonus meter comes into play. I believe the order of the images in the vot­ing ses­sion is most­ly deter­mined by their hid­den expo­sure meter val­ue. So the first cou­ple of images you see in a vot­ing ses­sion have a high expo­sure meter val­ue, where­as the last images in the 200er batch have prob­a­bly a low expo­sure meter bonus value. 

Stay with me. Going back to how the vot­ing ses­sion works. Once you see the six images on your screen you then vote on the images you find wor­thy of your vote. You scroll down, the next images are loaded and you repeat the vot­ing until you have seen all 200 images, or you have decid­ed to end the vot­ing ses­sion some­where in between. You then click on ‘sub­mit vote’, and at that point, the list of seen images is sub­mit­ted back to the serv­er, togeth­er with the list of images you have vot­ed for

How do you vote? Do you take your time for each image, eval­u­ate it enlarged to full-screen view, use a col­or-cal­i­brat­ed mon­i­tor, think about if an appro­pri­ate com­po­si­tion has been applied, is it sharp where it should be, is the hori­zon straight, are sen­sor spots vis­i­ble, is the aspect ratio fit­ting for the sub­ject, where are lead­ing lines and does it have a good sto­ry?
Or do you take a split sec­ond to make a deci­sion on what to vote for in a rapid-fire bam-bam-bam way? To get it done as quick­ly as pos­si­ble, as you still have 20 oth­er open chal­lenges to vote on?

Now think about what most high-pro­file play­ers would do. Ide­al­ly, they would do the qual­i­ty vote style, but real­is­ti­cal­ly they do the quan­ti­ty vote style. That means they tend to get fin­ished as quick­ly as pos­si­ble, so they vote for a lot of images at the begin­ning of the vot­ing ses­sion (maybe the first 50–100 images), that is the quickest. 

Does that ring a bell? You want to be in the first half of the vot­ing screen to get vot­ed on by gurus.

What else do the expe­ri­enced play­ers do? They vote right at the end of the chal­lenge, min­utes before it ends. I can’t real­ly explain why that is, I can only guess. But I have seen it over and over. If you are in the lead 10 min­utes before the end of the chal­lenge, chances are you will not win the chal­lenge, and that is espe­cial­ly soul-crush­ing. I have been there. So try again next time to be at the top a lit­tle bit lat­er.
Hav­ing a full expo­sure boost meter at the end of the chal­lenge is key in my opin­ion. It makes sure your image is exposed to the full poten­tial. What do I mean by that?

It has to do with the num­ber of play­ers par­tic­i­pat­ing in a chal­lenge grow­ing over time. The most poten­tial views your image can get are right at the last sec­ond because then the max­i­mum num­ber of play­ers in that chal­lenge is reached. But obvi­ous­ly, the vot­ing can’t all hap­pen in the last sec­ond, so you take the sec­ond-best option by expos­ing your images as late as pos­si­ble, and have the boost acti­vat­ed, but still with enough time before the chal­lenge ends, to give the play­ers time to vote for your image and get all the views (and hope­ful­ly votes) it is enti­tled to.

So to get the most bang for your buck you want your images displayed

  • first on a vot­ing screen
  • short­ly before the chal­lenge ends

To get both done at the same time, you want to fill your expo­sure meter a cou­ple of min­utes before the chal­lenge ends. How long before is an art form I haven’t mas­tered yet. It depends on the type of chal­lenge, how many votes it has, and when the chal­lenge ends. If you do it too late, you miss poten­tial votes. If you do it too ear­ly, you might get more not-so-high-pro­file-play­ers in the vot­er mix and you lose a few poten­tial views com­ing in at the late game.

Now let us cir­cle back and re-iter­ate: The sys­tem tries to give each image in the chal­lenge the same amount of views, regard­less of when it was entered.

Imag­ine you enter an image at the begin­ning of a chal­lenge. Your images get dis­played to vot­ers over time until they reach the same amount of views as all the oth­er images in the chal­lenge (that is a mov­ing tar­get as new images are entered by play­ers into the chal­lenge over time). But if you enter ear­ly, you get a lot of views from play­ers that have only low vot­ing pow­er. You want to avoid being exposed to these low-pow­er vot­ers. Why? Easy cal­cu­la­tion: if your image would only be dis­played 500 times to a begin­ner play­er (1 vote pow­er) and all vote for your image, you get 500 votes. If your image would only be dis­played to gurus and all vote for your image, you get 500 times 9 vot­ing pow­er= 4500 votes. In both cas­es, you got 500 views. But the votes tal­ly is dras­ti­cal­ly dif­fer­ent (500 vs 4500).

So you def­i­nite­ly want as many high-pow­er play­ers as pos­si­ble. How do you do that? The best way is to enter late in the chal­lenge. That is prob­a­bly one rea­son why the votes of high-pro­file play­ers are accu­mu­lat­ed towards the end of the challenge.

Anoth­er way to avoid the view ‘leak­ing’ dur­ing a chal­lenge is to wait until the first flur­ry of votes is gone, then swap it with a place­hold­er image, and then swap it back in at the end of the chal­lenge (“dou­ble-swap”). That way you do not have to use a ‘key’ to enter late, but instead, you have to use two swaps. The swapped image keeps the views it had at the point in time when it was swapped off. But as the view tar­get ris­es dur­ing a chal­lenge, a ‘view-gap’ is cre­at­ed for the off-the-chal­lenge image. When you swap it back into the chal­lenge, the sys­tem tries to close that gap and puts it in many vot­ing ses­sions. It is sim­i­lar to if you would put in a fresh image not used before in that chal­lenge. If that is at the end of the chal­lenge, you get exposed to high-pro­file play­ers as men­tioned above.

You still can’t force gurus to vote for your image, or pre­vent new­bies to vote for your image. You can only try to shift the bal­ance to what you believe is in your favor.

One note about the cost of the strate­gies. If you are low on resources, typ­i­cal­ly low on unlock-keys (as you only get a free key every 7 chal­lenges you par­tic­i­pate in), you can instead enter ear­ly with a place­hold­er image. Near the end of the chal­lenge, you swap that image to the image you real­ly want in the chal­lenge. That way you use a swap instead of a more expen­sive key. Is that as effec­tive as the dou­ble-swap strat­e­gy men­tioned above? Don’t know. The sin­gle swap at the end takes prob­a­bly more time as the image has to catch up more views. It might be hard­er to time cor­rect­ly. But it only cost one swap instead of two. I think it is worth test­ing out.

We have talked about the expo­sure bonus meter a num­ber of times, and how I believe it works. But we also have to know when to use it and when not to use it.

That is one com­po­nent that needs exper­i­ment­ing with. For exam­ple, is it enough to only put your expo­sure meter to the max at the end of the chal­lenge (and boost, if that is avail­able)? In the­o­ry, that should give you the max­i­mum expo­sure with the min­i­mum vot­ing time per chal­lenge. I need to put more test­ing into that to ver­i­fy if that is a valid assump­tion. Also, a lot of test­ing is need­ed to find out the best remain­ing time for dif­fer­ent kinds of chal­lenges to start vot­ing (1, 2 or 4 image chal­lenges, amount of votes already cast, end time rel­a­tive to Euro­pean prime time, exhi­bi­tion chal­lenge or not?). And then there is the boost. Do you turn that on at the same time you get your expo­sure meter to the max? Or wait until your poten­tial view count is reached, and then increase it by boost­ing the image? Does it make a dif­fer­ence? I don’t know yet. I will find out, eventually.

To sum­ma­rize:

To get a high pub­lic vote count,

  • enter as late as possible
  • have the expo­sure bonus meter filled at the end
  • wait unti­ly­ou know which image is your best one, then boost that, also as late as possible
  • if you want to enter ear­ly to avoid using the late entry unlock key, put in a place­hold­er image and replace it short­ly before the chal­lenge ends. This way you exchange the expen­sive unlock key for a cheap­er swap. In this case you need to give it a bit more time, as the replace­ment image needs some time to catch up to reach the same lev­el of views as all the oth­er images in the challenge.
Global Photo Club

Guru Top Pick

When you look at the “Rank” sec­tion of a chal­lenge, you can select to see the cur­rent rank­ing of the two or three sec­tions in which you can win. One would be titled the “Guru’s Top Pick”. This is a bit con­fus­ing, as the images you see there are the guru’s picks through­out the chal­lenge (in which order?), but the win­ner is then select­ed by the guru sep­a­rate­ly after the chal­lenge end­ed, as the best of the pre­vi­ous­ly picked guru picks. That is then the Top Top Guru pick. Or the Win­ning Top Guru Pick. How would you name that? I think the sec­tion would be bet­ter named “Guru Picks”, and the win­ner is then the “Top Guru Pick”. Well, it was not my choice to make. Just be aware that the images you see in the “Guru’s Top Pick” sec­tion are not sort­ed by any rank, they are just the pool of images the guru then has to select one image from at the end of the chal­lenge to pick the win­ner of the “Guru’s Top Pick” section.

If you are after the Top Guru pick to win a chal­lenge, you don’t have to care about the pub­lic votes at all. It doesn’t mat­ter if you get to “Élite” or “All-Star Lev­el” at the end of the chal­lenge. You just need to be on the vot­ing screen with your images when the guru makes the picks. And you have to have an image that pleas­es the guru’s eyes. To put it in bul­let points:

  • Have a high-qual­i­ty image with impact that is
    - on top­ic
    - con­forms to spe­cial require­ments set out in the brief by the guru
    - is entered ear­ly in the challenge

Ok, that was only one bul­let point, but you get the idea. Let’s have a more detailed look at it.

On top­ic and the chal­lenge brief: Read the chal­lenge brief. If it says: “no bor­ders and no water­marks”, then you can’t expect to get a guru pick if you have a water­mark or a bor­der for your image. They are still valid for the chal­lenge, the guru is just not keen to pick them for the Guru’s Pick. Take these point­ers and fol­low them.

Put high-qual­i­ty images in. That means they should have a min­i­mum res­o­lu­tion for a prop­er desk­top screen, prob­a­bly 1920 by 1080 or bet­ter. Use a col­or-cal­i­brat­ed mon­i­tor your­self to make sure that a guru that uses a good col­or-cal­i­brat­ed mon­i­tor sees the image the same way as you do. You don’t know if a guru has a good mon­i­tor, but I think it is rea­son­able to sug­gest that the per­cent­age of gurus with a col­or-cal­i­brat­ed mon­i­tor is high­er than the aver­age play­er. So make your images look good on a prop­er­ly cal­i­brat­ed monitor.

Your images should be of high qual­i­ty not only in a tech­ni­cal sense but espe­cial­ly in a pho­to­graph­ic sense. That top­ic fills library walls. Here is a short­list to give you some idea about what I am talk­ing about:

  • clean image with an instant mes­sage or story
  • no dis­trac­tions like dust spots or oth­er tech­ni­cal imperfections
  • straight­en a hori­zon, have ver­ti­cal lines exact­ly vertical
  • is the image sharp in the spots where it mat­ters? E.g. eyes of the sub­ject should be in focus. 
  • is there a story?
  • is the eye going to where you want it to go, and can your image hold the attention?
  • is the image prop­er­ly exposed to sup­port the message?
  • if you have a B&W con­ver­sion, is it jus­ti­fied, does it make the image bet­ter in B&W?
  • have you thought about the com­po­si­tion? Would a dif­fer­ent angle, time of the day/year give you bet­ter lighting?
  • are you com­pet­ing with lots of oth­er sim­i­lar images, or do you have the spe­cial sauce baked in? The ‘wow’ fac­tor which makes the guru stop and look?

But what is a good pho­to? The guru might have a dif­fer­ent opin­ion on that than you have, so look at the images the guru already picked, to get an idea about what he/she is after. It helps if the guru is a reg­u­lar chal­lenge host, then you can review past chal­lenges and see if there is a per­son­al pref­er­ence vis­i­ble. Maybe he likes peo­ple images. Or she prefers lots of neg­a­tive space. Or high-con­trast. Or a fad­ed look. Or a spe­cif­ic col­or palette. Or nature images. Or abstracts. Or con­cep­tu­al images. Or fun­ny images. Try to find out if there is a pref­er­ence at all.
Warn­ing: To please a known judge might be a method to win a challenge/game, but it might not be use­ful to advance your pho­tog­ra­phy style. Try to active­ly sep­a­rate these, be con­scious about it. Oth­er­wise, you might end up with a type of pho­tog­ra­phy you do that is not your own anymore.

To have a chance for the ‘Guru’s Top Pick’, you have to put the image into the chal­lenge ear­li­er on. If you enter your images 10 min­utes before the chal­lenge ends, you will nev­er get a Guru’s Pick (but you might get a lot of pub­lic votes instead).

And then there is some luck involved as the guru will not see all chal­lenge images. They just can’t review all of the thou­sands of images. If you want to know how one of the gurus con­duct­ed a pick­ing ses­sion, here is a Youtube video worth watch­ing: 

Not sure if that is a typ­i­cal ses­sion, but it seems rea­son­able that oth­er gurus pick in a sim­i­lar fashion.

That con­cludes my three-part Gurushot series. If I ever make a fourth part, it will be about how I final­ly got the win I need, and I prob­a­bly put in an update to bring the arti­cles in line with the cur­rent game, as it evolves over time.

I hope you learned some­thing use­ful by read­ing the series. See you in the chal­lenge! If you are curi­ous, here is my pro­file on GuruShots:

Global Photo Club

Further Resources:

Red­dit sub­fo­rum: There are some knowl­edge­able peo­ple there, but dis­cus­sions can get heat­ed quick­ly. Be friend­ly, ask polite ques­tions, and you get answers. 

There are a free and a paid eBook from Tom Bour­don:

I got Tom’s paid ebook when it was on spe­cial. I won’t get into any detailed con­tent here, as it is copy­right­ed mate­r­i­al. I found it help­ful to get some views from one of the most promi­nent Gurus. I would say you ben­e­fit the most from the ebook if you are

  •  a beginner/intermediate pho­tog­ra­ph­er (as there is a good sec­tion about gen­er­al pho­tog­ra­phy top­ics in there) 
  • and/or are a Gurushot play­er who hasn’t reviewed oth­er sources yet (like the sub-red­dit men­tioned before).

Don’t expect secret strate­gies to win in there, but it clears up how some things work. Or worked, as the game evolves over time.

3 thoughts on “GuruShots Survival Guide (Part III)”

  1. good arti­cle! dont for­get to warn peo­ple it’s based on gam­bling prin­ci­pals- small rewards to get you to spend $$$ – and it’s just a game . .


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