Mason alum views the world through a wide-angle lens


Neil Adams figures he’s seen just about everything as a photographer.

headshot of neil adams
Neil Adams. Photo provided

He’s shot portraits, events, and “some pretty interesting things” for the U.S. Army. And his freelance work for the food industry led him to remote photography, which he said provided a new avenue of creativity.

But one of his most memorable moments came while working for what was then George Mason University’s Office of University Publications in 1995, when he hung out of the side of a Huey helicopter to take some aerial shots of the campus.

“We did about five or seven loops around George Mason,” said Adams, who worked at Mason from 1991 to 1999. “I had a harness on, and I was hanging out the side of the helicopter.”

Adams, who did his undergraduate work at Howard University, said his love of photography began when he was growing up in Baltimore. His father was a projectionist who on Saturdays took his son to work at the movie house, where Adams marveled at the lighting and visuals on the screen.

Photography, though, would enable Adams to control the scene and its atmosphere, he said. And by the time he was 16, Adams was being mentored by his photographer cousin.

aerial of the Fairfax Campus 1995
Aerial shot of the Fairfax Campus, 1995. Photo by Neil Adams

“We were doing darkroom techniques, and from there I just started doing more and more,” Adams said. “I went to college to learn more.”

 Adams treats his food industry photography as seriously as if he was shooting someone’s portrait. It’s art, he said.

“The same rules of composition go into practice with food photography,” Adams said, and added, “In today’s food photography, the goal is to make it appealing but at the same time realistic so that anybody can reach out and touch it and grab a bite to eat.”

During the pandemic, Adams branched out to remote photography in which, through a secure app, he controls another person’s phone or computer to snap their picture. It’s something he said he’s done for clients at Harvard and in places such as Los Angeles, Mumbai, Istanbul, and Italy.

“I’m able to use my skill in composition to direct the other person as far as what to do and how to do it,” said Adams, who lives in Woodbridge, Virginia. “But I was still in control of their camera, so I was able to control the aperture and shutter speed. It’s really been a creative boon to me.”

Still, when asked about his most memorable moment, Adams’ memory returned to Mason and the day he rode in a helicopter the ROTC had on campus as a showpiece.

“I was always one with the attitude of if you don’t ask, you’ll never get,” Adams said. “So I walked over to the officer, told him who I was, and asked if there was a possibility they could take me up to take some aerials of the university. They said, sure, you just have to put on a uniform. They gave me a uniform, I went to my office to change, and they took me up.”

Just another day at the office for Adams, who began studying for his master’s while he worked for Mason. He completed his MA in visual information technology in 2001.

“The first few semesters were challenging with everything that goes along with working and being in school and tackling a graduate degree,” he said. “But I found it to be very rewarding. And my fellow classmates, we have made some lifelong friendships from that program. So it was very beneficial for me.”