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From three years in silent darkness to photographing the world's most famous - the incredible story of Adam Jacobs

Adam Jacobs meeting Nelson Mandela after photographing him in Johannesburg, South AfricaAdam meeting Nelson Mandela after photographing him and Bill Clinton in Johannesburg, South Africa

“Photographing Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela in the latter’s private office in Johannesburg, just the three of us, was incredibly surreal and humbling. Having the opportunity to be in such an intimate setting with two of the greatest icons of the 21st century made me realise how far I’d come from lying debilitated in a dark room for almost three years..”

Internationally-renowned photographer Adam Jacobs (Geography, 2008) has the career many dream of. From Mick Jagger to Barack Obama, the London 2012 Olympic Games to the Superbowl, Adam’s portfolio is full of stunningly beautiful images of the most famous people and places in the world. But Adam’s path to superstar photographer has been anything but smooth.   

“I have a condition called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). It affects your autonomic (involuntary) nervous system and can cause a myriad of symptoms. I live with severe chronic migraines along with constant dizziness. It started in my first year at Nottingham – I had to defer my degree and spent almost three years lying debilitated in a dark room, the time I should have been enjoying myself at Nottingham. After countless misdiagnoses, I was eventually diagnosed after I went to America for a series of specialised tests.”

It was during Adam’s time in America that his passion for photography transformed from a hobby into a concrete career. 

“After being discharged from the clinic in America, I started being able to function again, doing what to a normal person would seem like small menial tasks like going to a grocery store or a coffee shop. I’d always take a camera with me as a distraction from my chronic head pain – I’d shoot literally anything and everything. It was only after taking some photographs to be developed at a small, local camera store that the lady questioned whether I was a professional. It was at this point that I thought maybe this could not only be a form of therapy but a concrete career. It was apparent that a career in banking or commercial property wasn’t going to be viable due to my condition, and in photography I had found something that I truly enjoyed.” 

A stitched panoramic photograph of the University of Michigan stadium by Adam Jacobs
A stitched panoramic photograph of the largest stadium in America at the University of Michigan. This is the photograph Adam first took into a camera shop after coming out of hospital when to his surprise the attendant asked if he was a professional photographer.

With the remote help of tutors at Nottingham and the use of world-class academic facilities at the University of Michigan, based in Ann Arbor where he was treated, Adam graduated with a first-class degree only one year after his classmates and set about building a solid portfolio of work. 

“I initially built a reputation as a photographer by creating very large panoramic photographs of stadiums by stitching anything from 50 to 500 photographs together to create unique and immersive perspectives. I want to ensure the viewer feels like they are there at the game. My work has led me to be commissioned to shoot sport with more of a fine-art spin, capturing athletes, stadiums and action from completely different angles and perspectives to help my photography stand out from a conventional ‘action shot’. Shooting the London Olympics in my home city, World Cup finals and the Superbowl have all been ‘pinch me’ moments for a die-hard sports fan!”

With hard work, determination and persistence, Adam’s creative portfolio of work soon opened doors to higher profile jobs and reputation building opportunities. 

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a position to photograph luminaries such as Nelson Mandela in his office, Barack Obama at a rally, Mick Jagger on his tour bus and joking around in a studio with Andy Murray…all pretty surreal from where I started. You quickly realise though that however high profile people are, essentially they are still normal people who like and dislike the same things as you and I. I try to find something that I can relate to with my subjects ensuring I can quickly build some form of rapport. This ultimately leads to a more intimate, captivating and meaningful portrait.”

An Adam Jacobs portait of Mick JaggerMick Jagger in a portrait Adam took on assignment

The challenge and art of composing such breaktaking photography has provided Adam with a therapeutic way to distract from his symptoms. But his condition has also shaped his unique perception on the world. 

“My condition causes all of my senses to be constantly heightened – it’s like the volume switch is always turned up, meaning my sensitivity to light, sound, smell and touch are all elevated. Given that the etymology of “photography” stems from “painting with light”, I can definitely see things in a different way now. My eye picks up on shadows and highlights in ways that I would not have previously noticed. Further nuanced colours are perceived as more vivid to my system. This is reflected in much of my fine-art work where I use big, bold and bright tones and shades to allow viewers a window into my migrainous world. There are so many things that go into making a good photograph, but I think ultimately nothing beats strong composition and the ability for a photograph to speak to you on some level. The best photographs always tell a story.”  

Adam Jacobs fine-art piece of Manhattan One of Adam’s fine art pieces taken from a helicopter above Manhattan

“Despite some difficult times, I have always tried to stay positive and not let my illness dictate my life. In the last year alone, I’ve done projects as varied as being the official photographer for the Superbowl and America’s Cup, hung out of a helicopter above Manhattan and sold my fine-art work into the Sir Elton John Photography Collection. There are so many more projects I’d like to tackle too. I’d love to photograph gorillas in the wild in Rwanda, and I’ve been working on a series documenting “Abandoned Spaces” across America for a number of years that I’d like to expand across Europe. I have one particular location that I’d love to shoot - a derelict Soviet Union outpost in Bulgaria that looks like it’s come straight out of a Bond movie!"

A derelict powerboat stadium in the US, part of Adam Jacobs's Abandoned Spaces project
A photograph of a derelict powerboat stadium in the US which forms part of Adam’s “Abandoned Spaces” fine-art photography series

“The diversity of work, the incredible people I am fortunate enough to meet and the amazing places I travel to ensure that I’m constantly learning and appreciative of the amazing world around me. Photography certainly keeps me on my toes!” 

Discover more of Adam’s incredible story and stunning photography at

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