How I Became a Guru

Updated: Aug 18, 2019

Online photo contests can be a fun, informational and fulfilling. They can be a way to improve your photography. Recently I decided to try my hand at one and chose the self-proclaimed #1 online photo contest in the world: GuruShots.


The ultimate rank in the game is Guru, a rank achievable only after entering at least 100 challenges, winning at least one of them and getting your photos picked by the Guru's of the game. No small feat.


I started with an open mind and feel that after 4 months of playing the game I have learned a few things about my photography. It has been a positive experience, one that I would recommend.


Make no mistake, this is a game that is designed to make money for its creators. But you can play the game for free and win at it. I did.

What follows are the lessons I learned about playing the games and the strategies involved in winning.


How I achieved Guru rank in 4 months.


Spoiler Alert: It wasn’t easy, and if you are looking for a magical sure-fire recipe to win you’ll be disappointed.


Having said that let me say there is a learning curve to get good at playing GuruShots, and if I had known at the beginning what I now know it would have been a little easier.


If you are an experienced player you can skip the next section. Beginners read on!


The game is straightforward. Enter photos into a challenge and wait for the other players in the game to vote for your photo. The photographer with the most votes at the end of the challenge wins.

Each challenge is run by a Guru. They set the topic and describe what they are looking for in the detail tab of the challenge. During the challenge the Guru running it will pick a few of the pictures that have been entered and give them a coveted Guru’s Pick. At the conclusion of the challenge, the Guru will select one image from among all the Guru Picks and crown it the Top Guru Pick for that challenge.


You are encouraged to vote in the challenge, and in doing so, you give a boost to the exposure your photo receives. This ‘exposure meter’ slowly empties, and you must go back and vote again to refill it and give your photo another boost. I am amused by a picture in my mind of me puffing on a feather to keep it airborne.


In general, there are two kinds of challenges, those that last 66 hours called speed challenges, and the long challenge which typically last 7 to 9 days. Others last even longer. Speed challenges permit only one photo to be entered, while the long challenge allows you to enter up to four.


You can win a challenge in one of three ways:


  1. Have the most votes for your photograph(s) at the end of the challenge – wins Best Photographer

  2. In long challenges (those with 4 images) the photo with the single most votes wins Best Photograph.

  3. The Guru running the challenge picks your image as the Top Guru Pick.


As you move up the ranks towards Guru, you will soon learn just how important and rare a win is.

The name of the game then is to win a challenge and get Gurus to pick your photos. So, your photos must appeal to two different people: The voters who are photographers just like you, and a Guru, who is often a professional photographer.


I learned I had to decide if I wanted to try and win the challenge or get a Guru Pick. The photograph(s) I entered and the strategy for the challenge depended on this.


Winning My First Challenge


Tufas at Sunset. First photo to win an online contest.

One important thing to realize is that you cannot expect to win a challenge without a great photograph. It needs to be well composed, in focus and compelling. You are competing against professionals after all, and these are the basics! Ignore them and your chances of winning are about the same as being hit by lightning.


I won my first contest 90 days after I started. The image was a good one, and I had received many compliments on it. But it failed to crack the top 100 for the first few challenges. I then decided to analyze my strategy. I finally settled on the following:

  • Wait to enter the challenge until about a third to half way through the time limit.

  • Look at the front runners and see what is popular.

  • Enter a photo that might prove just as popular. Use your best judgement and/or intuition. Having many images to choose from is very helpful. This is more art than science.

  • Don’t be afraid to swap your entry for another photo even if there are just two hours left in the contest.

  • If you enter more than one challenge at a time, don’t use the same image in more than one.

  • It should be obvious that you need to vote in the contest to raise your exposure. Almost everyone waits until the challenge is nearly over to vote one last time to fill their exposure meter to the max in the closing minutes of the contest.

This image got much more attention when I cropped it.
  • Most voting is done on the tiny screen of a phone. I soon learned that if I was entering a challenge about birds, flowers, dogs, cats, people and anything else with eyes I had a higher vote count if I cropped the image.


Getting Guru Picks