NOVAPORTRAITS: Student-led Photography Business

Whitney Critchfield, Sentry Reporter

Two students at our school are using their photography skills to make a positive change in the community by offering free senior portraits. Seniors Audrey Tong and Donté Allen started their photography business, NOVAPORTRAITS, while they were juniors, their time in quarantine giving them an opportunity to kickstart their idea. Inspired by photographer Matt Mendelsohn, who photographed our school’s 2020 seniors free of charge for his “Not Forgotten” project, Tong brought her idea for the program to Allen. 

We started it to share our appreciation of seniors because … this was a hard year…. We just wanted to create a sense of community and bring some seniors together and document this important year,” Tong said. 

Tong and Allen were brought together by their love of photography in their sophomore year of high school, and they have been friends ever since. Tong comes from a background of casual landscape photography, particularly natural scenes, while Allen discovered his calling in sports photography during his junior year. 

“To me, sports photography is one of the coolest things I have done and seen.… Getting that cool photo of a player catching the ball or shooting, or just doing something epic, that is an unforgettable moment. So having a photo of that is just unique to me,” Allen said.

The two have had an unconventional senior year due to COVID-19, but that has not stopped them from finding the positive aspects of their situation.

“It has just given me a new perspective on life,” Allen said. 

Not only have Tong and Allen dealt with the struggle of quarantine and online school, but they have used it as motivation to help their peers. 

“There’s a lot of change and it is stressful, but I hope this project gives other seniors hope,” Tong said. 

So far, Tong and Allen have photographed their friends. But they are working to expand their program and advertise to teens across Arlington. They currently have a NOVAPORTRAITS Instagram account and website and are planning on airing an advertisement on the Yorktown Weeklies. They have also submitted their Arlington Magazine interview to the Washington Post in hopes of being featured in the “DC, MD & VA” section. Getting students to reach out has been one of their biggest struggles, but it has only made the pair more determined to succeed. 

“I know that it is going to take time; it is not going to be quick and easy, so I am not going to be rushing and expecting everybody to randomly [Direct Message] … us,” Allen said. 

Both Tong and Allen hope to continue their photography in the future, and for them, NOVAPORTRAITS is only the beginning. 

“I have … dreamt of working for Patagonia or [National Geographic] as a photographer, traveling the world. But if that doesn’t happen, I will definitely still continue photography on the side through college and the rest of my life. I … think it is a great way to get creative and it … [has] a good output,” Tong said.

Allen also has big plans for photography in his career.

“Sports photography is probably the one thing I do want to do, and I am going to keep continuing to get better,” Allen said. 

NOVAPORTRAITS is a great example of teen ingenuity, and Tong and Allen will go far in their future endeavors. But, most importantly, they found a way to help others during these difficult times.

“The … message we want to convey to the community is that we are all here for each other,” Tong said.