A TEENAGER who taught himself photography through YouTube tutorials has won praise from an acclaimed international documentary photographer.

Tai Newman’s stunning shot of the night stars was named winner of Ripon Grammar School’s community-wide lockdown photography competition.

People were asked to sum up their experience of lockdown in one compelling  image.

National Geographic and Time magazine photographer Mark Read said Tai’s photograph was conceptually very strong and also showed great technical ability.

“I like how he put a lot of thought into the process, stayed up late and pulled off what’s quite a difficult photograph.”

Runner up in the competition, which was open to the wider community, was 12-year-old RGS student Martha Jones, whose striking photo from her window intrigued Mr Read.

“Tonally I love this, and I am intrigued by its abstract nature. But the reason I chose it is because the photographer is 12 and to recognise this as an interesting study at that age is wonderful. Many would have dismissed it as out of focus or a mistake.”

In third place was RGS premises manager Andrew Hogg’s thought-provoking shot of a woman on a bench at Saltburn.

“The graphic composition of this works so well, it feels very melancholy which probably reflects the time we are in. And I like the way it’s been retouched and graded,” said Mr Read, a Ripon Grammar School past pupil now based in Los Angeles.

RGS student Isabella Royston’s joyful picture of her dog came in fourth place in the competition, sponsored by Ripon Business Services: “In these turbulent times it’s nice to see an image that conveys such optimism, as well as being a great moment caught,” said Mr Read.

He also highly commended 13-year-old George Glenton’s photograph of his brother Ben jumping on rocks in Dartmoor: “The scale is impressive, the figure is so small in the frame but is also what you focus on, this is a great use of negative space to emphasize the acrobatic shape.”

Mr Read said: “It’s an interesting time for photography as well as one of reflection. Many of the images captured the mood and it was tough to whittle it down to the winners.

“I was especially thrilled by the younger competitors and would encourage them to continue shooting and sharing images.”

Tai, from Ripon, explained how he stayed up until 2am to capture his photograph, entitled Light in the Dark. Having set up his camera on a tripod with a ten second timer, he ran to the top of the hill to appear in the photo: “I really like this picture because even through hard times we can find the light in the dark to guide the way,” he said.

Passionate about the stars and planets, he took astronomy at RGS for GCSE: “I had ambitions of being an astronaut one day and then stumbled across astrophotography.”

His photo was taken in a field opposite his home, where he stood on a hill to expose the whole horizon: “I used a canon 90D with a stock lens. It’s the know-how of working out shutter speeds and adjusting according to the lens which was the tricky bit.”

He discovered his passion for photography three years ago, when his father bought him a Canon 4000D: “Since then, I’ve watched a tonne of YouTube videos to learn about cameras inside and out.”

Having left Ripon Grammar School following his GCSEs this year to study photography at Harrogate Grammar School, he enjoyed having more time to take pictures in lockdown: “Honestly it has been the best thing for me, to have time to focus on developing my skills.

“Every day I would walk down our lane with my two cats taking photos with different lenses and trying different angles and shutter speeds.”

He aims to work as a photographer one day: “I would like to work for National Geographic, being able to travel the world with my camera is a big dream of mine.”

Martha, who took her photo with a Fujifilm x10 camera through a window overlooking her garden, said it represented how, despite things sometimes seeming out of focus, there is always colour and beauty behind the blur.

She joined a photography club at her primary school when she was nine: “I’ve loved taking photos ever since, mainly things to do with nature or which strike me as particularly beautiful.”

Lockdown taught her to be more organised and have more patience, she says: “It gave me plenty of time to photograph things.”

Mr Hogg said his photo, Social Distance, showed that, while time is precious and Covid-19 is stealing it, there is still colour and life in our world.

Having taken photos since childhood, he explained: “Because of the pandemic, I had not been out with my camera for a while and decided to go to Saltburn with my Lecia.

“Photography makes you examine the world in more detail and see its beauty. This is from a series of photographs I took that day, trying to capture the current mood around social norms.”

Although lockdown restricted his photography, he feels proud his youngest daughter is working on a hospital frontline and that RGS is doing its best as a school in the most difficult of circumstances.

Isabella, 15, captured her dog Flora during a walk in the countryside in Whixley: “Walking the dogs each day relieved a lot of stress. To see them enjoying themselves and the crops growing – both oblivious to the problems and suffering caused by Covid-19 – helped lift my spirits,” she said.

She took the photo on her iPhone 11 mid-way through lockdown, when exercise was limited: “The corn was just starting to grow, and Flora loved running through it. Photography isn’t my strong point, it was just a one-off moment I captured.”

Tai’s winning photo will now be reproduced on a large canvas; Martha’s on a slate, Mr Hogg’s on a mug and Isabella’s on a mouse mat or coaster. All prizes have kindly been donated by Ripon Business Services.

*Ripon Business Services, First Floor, Queen’s House, Lavender Alley, Ripon HG4 1EB Tel: 01765 692699 Email: info@riponbusinessservices.co.uk