As a photographer, there are plenty of places I can upload my pictures so that people can see them. Not only can you submit photos to stock photo sites like Adobe Stock and Shutterstock, but you can utilize marketplaces like Fine Art America to sell your photography. Often, this doesn’t necessarily help strengthen your brand, as each picture can be lost in a sea of other photographs that other photographers are trying to sell. Even photo sharing sites like Flickr are merely a reliable place to store your pictures so that they can be pulled up quickly and used on other parts of the web.
If I want exposure, I need to utilize the “big three” of social media to get my pictures out to potential viewers. Facebook allows me to post on a scheduled basis and collect my pictures into albums, but many more people are utilizing hashtags on Twitter to gain views and followers. Of course, there is the most obvious place to post photography in a social setting: Instagram. A lot of photographers will strictly stick to Instagram due to its focus on pictures, but it still has some weaknesses.
While the limitations of the square format for Instagram pictures has since been lifted, the main weakness with the platform seems to be discovery. It’s difficult if not impossible for me to find other photographers, let alone have other photographers (or potential buyers) locate me on Instagram. Sure, we’re all supposed to use hashtags to link our work to the zeitgeist of the trending topics, but if you happen to use the wrong hashtags, you’re still going to be hidden underneath the endless sea of selfies and plates of food.
Instagram as a service seems to be mostly used by people who want to post their social life in pictures, and not necessarily as a place for photographers to show off their best photos. After all, many photographers will want to know how they stack up against their peers. I have found over the years that photography contests can be equally validating and frustrating. If you win contests, your work is validated. If you lose, even with your best effort put forward, it can be frustrating to see a picture that you think is aesthetically inferior being preferred over your own. While wide-open photography contests pit the best photos of each photographer against each other, themed contests are a chance for photographers with a few lucky shots to show off their skills—even if they haven’t put in the time and money to reach a professional level.
The other problem with some contests is that the judging can be limited to a single individual, whose aesthetic tastes might not be the same as the photographers who submit to said contests. Judging pictures by a committee are somewhat better, as any personal biases are usually canceled out in the end. While I understand it’s difficult for a single photograph to be everyone’s favorite, the scientist in me thinks the sample sizes for judging are far too small in these contests.
Unless a photographer is actively searching for contests to submit their work, there aren’t likely to be many contests in their geographic region where they can enter their photographs. Similarly, there may be plenty of websites that run photography contests, but finding ones that seem legitimate can be challenging as well. Let’s also not get into the fees for contests, which can include any production costs for printing and framing, as well as just baseline entrance fees.
So, where does this put the photographer who wants to compare their work against other photographers’? A couple of months ago, I saved an advertisement I saw on Facebook for an app/website called Gurushots. When I saw the same add on Instagram a few weeks ago, I decided to give it a try. I was immediately hooked. This was exactly what I was looking for! The setup is designed to have all photographers judge each other’s work, thus advancing the pictures that are considered “the best” into the higher tiers of a variety of competitions and contests.
Gurushots is essentially a free-to-play photography game that has a series of “tiers” for the photographers who participate. Each tier requires you to meet certain criteria, like having a photograph reach “all-star” status, or successfully swapping a poorly-performing photograph for a better one. These tiers helped motivate me to find the somewhat more obscure pictures from my portfolio that would best meet the theme of the contest, and thus help me to move up the ranking. Each contest on Gurushots also has a series of tiers for your photos, ranging from Popular to Skilled to Premier to Elite to All-Star, which are used to help unlock the different photographer tiers. I was extremely validated when, within the first week of starting the game, I reached “Expert” status—three short of the titular “Guru” tier. To do so, I had to rack up 3 Skilled rankings, 10 Premier rankings, 15 Elite rankings, 5 All-star rankings, successfully swap five pictures, earn 15,000 Gurushots points, earn a top 30% rank in a contest, and earn a top 20% rank in a contest. The fact that I was able to reach such a high tier so quickly really boosted my confidence as a photographer.
Of course, there is a “game” element to Gurushots as well. There are three limited resources: swaps, autofills, and boosts. Each of these can be bought with real money, but meeting certain contest and tier criteria also reward these resources. The “swap” allows you to exchange photos, as I mentioned earlier, but the “boost” allows your pictures to be more heavily featured in the algorithm for the contest they’re boosted on so that more people can see it, and thus more people can vote on it. Most contests will have a 24-hour period where the “boost” ability is free, so you need to come back every day to ensure you don’t miss a free opportunity. The “autofill” is similar to the “boost” in that it increases your exposure during contests, but only by maxing out the “Exposure Bonus” meter for a 24-hour period. I’ll get into the “Exposure Bonus” next, as it’s what I think is the best part of the game.
On Instagram, you can get “likes” and “comments” on your pictures, but these metrics don’t translate into more views for your photographs. In Gurushots, you can vote on the other photographers’ pictures for the contest you’re entered in, which in turn increases the exposure your own photographs receive for the contest. Since this meter slowly depletes over time, you must keep coming back to ensure your photos receive a high Exposure Bonus for an extended amount of time. This solves the “sample size” problem of photography contests: the more people who have the chance to vote on your picture, the more votes your picture will likely receive. These individuals can also like and comment on your pictures—like the current setup of Instagram—but the votes are really what count here.
So, why is Gurushots a missed opportunity for Instagram? I think most people use Instagram for its intended purpose: as a social network. However, what I wouldn’t give to also have the ability to submit my Instagram pictures to photography contests where I can compete against my friends and other photographers around the world. Gurushots does have the ability to follow photographers, as well as to ask your friends to join the game, but it seems less-developed than Instagram’s ability to combine picture sharing with your friends and family. Plus, if Instagram made it so your pictures reach the people you don’t typically interact with (via the same voting system mentioned above), then independent and unknown photographers could quickly create a following of fans without as much work as it currently takes on the platform.
I know it seems like I’m gushing all over Gurushots, and I can assure you that this is not a paid advertisement for them. However, I think it’s the boost in confidence that many photographers might need to keep refining their craft. These contests force us to try new things, explore new ways to photograph our world and see how other photographers are doing new and interesting techniques with their own photography. If you want to follow me on Gurushots, you can use this link to my profile.