Griffin Roeger, a 17-year-old graduate of Campo Verde High School, was awarded first place in the Adventures in Nature Photo Contest with “Arizona Highways” magazine and The Nature Conservancy for his photo “Wild Stallions.”

At the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Roeger and his family waited as photo editors from the magazine critiqued his photo and eventually announced not only did he come in first, but also won $5,000. The photo will be displayed in Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and possibly featured in the magazine.

Roeger said he’s been interested in photography for about five or six years, and the curiosity started when his mom brought home a new Canon camera one day. He said he decided to pursue photography further because it allowed him to practice taking pictures while being outside or hiking, another one of his passions.

This year, four judges critiqued the photos in the contest. The first was Jeff Kida, the “Arizona Highways” photo editor, who also has contributed to “The Los Angeles Times” and “The New York Times.” The second was Rick Wiley, photography director at the “Arizona Daily Star” for the past 13 years. Another was Mark Skalny, who has been a photographer for “Cowboys and Indians,” “W Magazine” and “Men’s Vogue.” The last judge was Bob Billups, a volunteer for The Nature Conservancy photo archive and a retired music professor with a passion for landscape photography.

Roeger said he was shocked when he won the contest.

“It felt amazing when I won, knowing that people really enjoyed my photo enough to make it win first place,” he said.

Roeger was at the Salt River with his dad and a few friends when he snapped the winning shot. They originally had ventured to the river to shoot pictures of bald eagles, but two feisty horses stole the show.

“They just didn’t like that they were in each other’s territory,” Roeger said.

Roeger’s digital photography teacher at Campo Verde High School, Lindsey Hoffman, said she is incredibly proud of him.

“He’s incredibly humble and just has a way with wildlife photography,” she said in an email. “It’s like animals aren’t scared of him. He’s turned in several photos over the years that have just blown me away. I hope he makes a career of it because he’s just so talented.”

Roeger plans to attend Chandler-Gilbert Community College for two years and Arizona State University for two years. He’s not sure yet what areas of study he’ll pursue.

Second place in the photography competition was awarded to Braden Matsuzawa for “Caterpillar,” and Damian Galasso snagged third place for “Lightning Flash.” The contest also awarded honorable mention to seven images featuring scenes from a desert sunset to a star-filled sky to a cloudy Mount Lemmon skyline.