In this age of mobile phones and social networks, anyone can snap a picture and share it for the world to see. But what guarantees that the next photo will be better? Or that anyone is even watching?

Step in GuruShots, the Israeli startup that’s created an online platform for budding photographers.

Here, users upload their photos for the community to see, rank, vote and comment on. This way, they get instant, real-time feedback on their efforts and can advance in their photography skills while getting recognition for their work.

The idea for the platform, explains founder Gilon Miller, came from a conversation with his brother.

“My brother is in the US and he likes to take photos as a hobby,” he explains. “He was telling me that he was feeling he lost his motivation. The reason was that he had just finished a [photography] course and he was kind of left on his own. … What you really want to do is show your photo to someone who will say, ‘Wow, that’s a really good idea.’”

From there, the way to GuruShots was clear. “What people are looking for is some kind of recognition for the photos that they take,” Miller says. “Taking a good photo is pretty easy these days, but being recognized for it isn’t.”

Photo by Adi Goldstein/GuruShots

The result is the online platform, established in 2014, that provides a gaming-like experience in which “newbies” work their way up different photography challenges to become “gurus” and create challenges for others in the community.

“The gamification, the real-time ranking, the voting system combined is really what’s unique about us,” Miller says, explaining that while platforms like Instagram allow social networking and certain exposure, they don’t necessarily mean recognition and guidance.

“We’re just giving people who like taking photos a more empowering experience because we’re very focused on giving you a lot of recognition,” he adds. “We have hundreds of challenges a month. You add photos to these challenges and then they’re ranked.”

Photo by Adi Goldstein/GuruShots

The obvious choices for challenges are nature and landscape photography, animals and people. It gets interesting, Miller notes, because they’re all the result of the feverish brains of the gurus themselves.

Top examples for user-generated challenges include, for example, a “funny cats” category (“I wouldn’t have thought about it – what does it mean ‘funny cats?'”), “all things beer,” “men can dress” and “hair up there” – a whole challenge dedicated to hairdos.

Photo by Adi Goldstein/GuruShots

Users are both male and female, ranging from people in their 20s to 40s on mobile apps to people up to their 60s using the Gurushots website. Overall, there are some 4 million users voting multiple times per month on the platform. Now that’s quite the audience for photos of your hilarious cat.

Especially when it also transitions into the real, offline world.

Photo by Adi Goldstein/GuruShots

“As much as we’ve gone digital as human beings, we still crave real-world experiences,” Miller notes. “We went so far, especially with Facebook and the social platforms, into the digital world, and people today are starting to crave going back or at least being connected to the physical world.”

To that end, GuruShots also hosts four or five monthly real-life exhibitions of users’ leading photos in galleries across the world, and the impact, Miller says, is enormous.

“These are people who would never, ever have an opportunity to be exhibited in an exhibition,” he says. “We’re making it accessible for them.”

Photo by Adi Goldstein/GuruShots

“We showcase typically between 600 and 1,000 of our users. About 40 to 50 are prints, and the rest are digital screens,” he adds. “We actually have people flying people from all over the word to come see their works.”

Exhibits include all the trappings of the art world – cocktails, lectures and the like. The result, Miller notes, is “so much more powerful than just the digital experience.”

And whether you want to take your photography on or offline, Miller has simple words of advice: “The main thing is just going out there and doing and trying and trial and error.”

Photo by Adi Goldstein/GuruShots

“People aren’t so good at guessing at what other people will respond to most. In GuruShots, it’s through this A/B testing of these photos that you’re learning and getting feedback.

“You can’t improve if you don’t get feedback, and that’s what GuruShots is all about.”

Time to get those cameras out, then.

For more information about GuruShots, click here.

Photo by Adi Goldstein/GuruShots