Sayville chamber teen photographer wins top journalism award


High school junior Ryan Sweezey loves being a photographer — he just wasn’t sure how good he was at it.

That is until the New York Press Association last week gave the 17-year-old wunderkind a first-place “Art Photo” prize in its annual Better Newspaper Contest for his awe-inspiring nature photo that graced the front page of The Suffolk County News in early August.

“I was honestly shocked,” he told “I always hear that I’m a good photographer — and that I have good pictures — from family, or from people who have personal connections to me. So, I just never know if I am a real good photographer or they’re just trying to like kiss my butt.

“I guess this award means that a lot of people like my photos enough for me to win first place,” added Ryan, whose winning shot was captured inside Brookside County Park in Sayville.

“These people don’t know me. They don’t know who I am. They just thought my pictures were good.”

What an understatement. Consider these comments from one of the NYPA judges:

“The colors, perspective and depth of field create a sense of motion in this image of still water. This is an image that you keep looking at and discovering new things all the time. It is compelling and interesting.”

Ryan, a Longwood High School student who also has written for The Suffolk County News, has taken photos for the weekly newspaper for over a year. He has been a photographer for the Greater Sayville Chamber of Commerce for two-and-a-half years.

“Ryan’s work is incredible; his age didn’t really play a role in us publishing his photos,” Suffolk County News Executive Editor Nicole Fuentes said. “He has been a huge supporter of our papers, and we are really lucky to have him.”

Fuentes said she screamed for joy when she heard Ryan’s name announced as the first-place winner.

“I was so happy and proud of him,” said Fuentes, herself a first-place winner for her reporting of Health, Health Care & Science. “I’m really not surprised he won the award, the kid has some serious talent. I’m certain he is on to big things.”

Sam Desmond, a reporter with The Suffolk County News, added that “Ryan has a brilliant, true, artist’s eye. He captures the unique soul of every assignment.”

Ryan has been shooting photos since he was 14, said his father, Craig, himself a photographer. The pair are fixtures at every big event in Sayville, at new business ribbon cutting ceremonies and at important announcements — always with their eyes behind a lens.

The winning photo

Craig and his son both expressed how pivotal the chamber and the newspaper have been toward fueling Ryan’s growth and success as a cameraman.

“Sam (Desmond) and Nicole (Fuentes) have been huge supporters, along with (Greater Sayville Chamber President) Eileen Tyznar,” Craig Sweezey said. “Ryan’s relationship with Eileen and the chamber has been so important.”

Nobody in town seemed more excited for Ryan than Tyznar.

“Ryan has proven to be an established professional photographer at a younger age than most!” she said. “The chamber was fortunate enough to hire Ryan as the eyes and ears of our organization over 2 1/2 years ago, when he first told me he was interested in photography.”

Ryan initially asked Tyznar if he could take some photos at the chamber’s events to demonstrate his talent.

“He didn’t disappoint, for sure,” Tyznar said. “Ryan has showed us an abundance of creativity with every shutter click of his camera and a very unique way of seeing the subjects that he photographs.

“He has put our Sayville/West Sayville community and others on the map, and manages to make lasting memories of moments that keep our chamber alive and fresh,” Tyznar added.