The Abbey Road cover photography session

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All four Beatles gathered at EMI Studios on the morning of Friday 8 August 1969 for one of the most famous photo shoots of their career. Photographer Iain Macmillan took the famous image that adorned their last-recorded album, Abbey Road.

Here is a photograph taken on the same day, showing the empty crossing.

Abbey Road, taken on the morning of the album cover shoot, 8 August 1969

Iain Macmillan was a freelance photographer and a friend to John Lennon and Yoko Ono. He used a Hasselblad camera with a 50mm wide-angle lens, aperture f22, at 1/500 seconds.

Prior to the shoot, Paul McCartney had sketched his ideas for the cover, to which Macmillan added a more detailed illustration.

Sketch for the Abbey Road album cover photo shoot, 8 August 1969

As the group waited outside the studio for the shoot to begin, Linda McCartney took a number of extra photographs.

The Beatles prepare for the Abbey Road album cover photo shoot, 8 August 1969

A policeman held up the traffic as Macmillan, from a stepladder positioned in the middle of the road, took six shots as the group walked across the zebra crossing just outside the studio.

The Beatles crossed the road a number of times while Macmillan photographed them. 8 August was a hot day in north London, and for four of the six photographs McCartney walked barefoot; for the other two he wore sandals.

Shortly after the shoot, McCartney studied the transparencies and chose the fifth one for the album cover. It was the only one when all four Beatles were walking in time. It also satisfied The Beatles' desire for the world to see them walking away from the studios they had spent so much of the last seven years inside.

Macmillan also took a photograph of a nearby tiled street sign for the back cover. The sign has since been replaced, but was situated at the corner of Abbey Road and Alexandra Road. The junction no longer exists; the road was later replaced by the Abbey Road housing estate, between Boundary Road and Belsize Road.

On 22 May 2012 one of the outtakes from the photography session sold at auction in London for £16,000 ($25,000).

Also on this day...

Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.

49 responses on “The Abbey Road cover photography session

  1. shivabeach

    The vast number of stories about that shoot are funny to think of now. Paul was dead because he wasn’t wearing shoes, I buried Paul on the album, innumerable facts about the cars etc and none of it is true. The shoot was just taken, nothing set up

    Bless the Beatles forever

    1. BID316

      Well, of course the photo was “set-up.”

      The Beatles used “deceit” as a means of drawing publicity. All of the “Paul is dead” clues were “a coincidence (according to The Beatles).”

      Do you believe that (maybe) the four most famous guys in the world couldn’t find four red carnations during the filming of Magical Mystery Tour and Paul just “happened” to wear the only black carnation? According to The Beatles, that’s what happened.

      We’re still talking (writing) about it 45 years later!!

      1. iselliot

        They probably gave Paul the black carnation in MMT because at that point they WISHED he was dead. The Beatles had much better (and worse) things to deal with in this period than to try to perpetuate an absurd fan rumor.

        1. iselliot

          I think what people forget is the Beatles more than anyone understood the value/ non-value of “meaning”. John’s writing in 67 was absurdist and confounding because he understood that no matter what he said it would be parsed for deeper meaning. So the Beatles became masters of the random- i.e. Strawberry Fields and Walrus. They did whatever they did and let other people make stuff up because that was what they were going to do anyway. And we’re still doing it. But of course it’s all a moot point because they never really existed.

  2. islander5160

    The fact that Paul wore sandals in two of the shots proves there was no intent to give a clue about his “death”. It was just another photo shoot, as shivabeach also observed.

    What’s really cool is that these are pics of the Beatles that even I have never seen; and I thought I’d seen them all!

    1. John

      The VW Beetle belonged to one of the people living in the block of flats across from the recording studio. They tried to have it moved but the owner was on holiday so they just left it there. After the album was released, the number plate (LMW 281F) was stolen repeatedly from the car. In 1986, the car was sold at auction for £2,530 and in 2001 was on display in a museum in Germany

      1. Daniel

        I don’t see the VW in the morning photo. So, if the car’s owner was on a “holiday”, why wasn’t the VW parked there?. Was the “beetle” parked later to be with the “beatles” in the mid-morning shoot? (see the shadows).

          1. Iain

            Daniel is right! The picture is the same shot without the Beatles in. It isn’t taken from the other side.
            You can see the white pillars on the left in both shots. You can see the horizontal line in the tarmac behind Ringo’s head in both and the big branch high in the middle of the picture is in both.

          2. John

            If the photo without the VW had been taken from the other direction it would have been totally different. Right behind the camera on the cover photo is the corner of Grove End Road. This junction would have taken up most of the shot if the photo had been taken from the other direction

            1. Dan

              Funny about the guy’s license plate being continuously stolen. In the US, he’d get a new plate with a different plate number.
              In New York someone has a personalized plate# ‘LMW281F’. It must belong to a Beatle fan willing to spend about $50/year (£32/year) extra for the plates.

      1. ak

        One of the “clues” that Paul was dead was the plate, 28IF — he’d be 28 if he lived. Also, his eyes are closed, he’s out of step with the others, he’s smoking and he’s barefoot (as are bodies when buried). The others are dressed – John in white as a preacher, George in jeans like a gravedigger, Ringo in black like a pallbearer.

  3. Jim

    plz. paul is out of step. cig in right hand. a well planned out picture. RIP Paul Cole in right side. Lennon represented God,Ringo the preacher,Paul the body & George the grave gigger.

    1. iselliot

      please, with your absurd PID bullsh*t. would you say the other five shots are “well planned out”? clearly it was all very random and only one shot was usable. i can’t believe people are still on about that nonsense. it’s embarrassing. and John was killed by the CIA, right? amazing.

    2. John

      No. John was the Minister, Ringo, the Undertaker, Paul, the “Corpse” and George, the Gravedigger…

      Someone above mentioned”I buried Paul” being on Abbey Road,” but that was at the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” 2 years earlier. I think The Bealtles played up the “Paul is Dead” hoax, and palnted “clues… They were “Merry Pranksters,” ya know! 🙂

      1. Anna

        I agree, John. I think they knew they weren’t going to stop the rumours from spreading, so they planted more ‘clues’. But I don’t think all these clues were intended – some, but not all.

      1. Michael Campbell

        Sorry to be picky, but the Tate murders happened just after midnight on the 9th August 1969. Given that LA is 8 hours behind GMT, that would put the murders at around 08.15am on the 9th August British time. Roughly 21 hours AFTER the photoshoot. Still within the same 24 hour timeframe though. Some reports state that the FIRST killing that evening was just before midnight of 18 year-old Steven Parent who was visiting a friend who lived in the gatehouse behind the main building.

  4. Mike Bulley

    Can anyone identify the lady in the purple stripped coat talking to Ringo and then seen with another few people as they prepared to cross the road. Was she part of the photographic team (wardrobe lady?) or just a bystander. Only curious. Thanks

    1. Melissa Thomas

      She lives in the house they are standing in front of. I visited this crosswalk with my family and was admiring all of the graffiti on the wall written to the Beatles. My dad wanted to write something and my mom told him no, but then he kept bugging he for a pen. I didn’t write anything but somehow ended up with the pen. She came out of her house and of a fairly large crowd, picked me out, and shoved me! She sad, “How dare you write on my wall! Haven’t you any respect?” I was so stunned I didn’t have anything to say. My mom and dad just stared in disbelief and had nothing to say, either. She the stormed past me on her merry way. I have a feeling she gets up and does that at least once a day, haha.

  5. Daniel LESUEUR

    and what was the name of the man looking at them ? I saw a paper about him about one or two years ago. in 1969 he didn’t knew the Beatles and was just wondering why four crazy guys were crossing the street several times !

      1. jeff

        yeah isnt it strange that there were 2 pauls on the cover,and a 5th BEATLE such as Billy Preston,i mean WILLIAM PRESTON,LIKE WILLIAM CAMPBELL,,,HMMM,,,,

  6. Tiffany

    When I see this picture I always think about how on this same day and year in America Sharon Tate was being murdered by some crazies who read too much into the Beatles’ songs…

  7. Michael gregory

    If you look at the live cams of the abbey road crossing at any time of the day you will see people trying to relive that photo,very funny.

  8. Michael Ciardi

    Interestingly, on the same day that this photograph was taken…August 8, 1969, Charles Manson and his family were about to slaughter Sharon Tate and her house guests in Southern California. Why is this important? Manson’s whole premise Helter Skelter was based off the Beatles recordings, particularly the White Album. Manson was obsessed with the Beatles music. His motives for ordering the killing of the residents at Celio Drive was most likely based on a vendetta he had against Terri Melcher, who produced the Beach Boys music. Melcher reneged on a promise to give Manson a recording contract about a year earlier. Melcher rented the house on Celio Drive, a place Manson was familiar with, but unbeknownst to Manson, Melcher moved out, and Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski became the new occupants. When Manson ordered the girls and Tex Watson to kill everyone at that address on August 8th 1969, it was not a random choice. It was what Manson wanted, revenge pure and simple.

  9. Neil

    The Beetle was my fathers Car His name is Malcolm Tanner, He used to live in the flats opposite the studio, (he actually still has a spare set of keys for the car) His number plate was stolen numerous times after the release of the album..As far as any hidden messages in the number plate I’m afraid its obviously a coincidence..Wish he’d held on to the thing it must be worth a fortune now..

  10. terry

    neil was your father on holiday as someone stated earlier on the blog? The car didnt seem to be parked there in the morning shots so did he come home and park there and did he see the shoot?

  11. Pallav

    The “Paul is Dead” rumor/conspiracy was perpetuated by some American college it’s often the case with so many other conspiracies and urban legends – big foot, Sasquatch, chupacabra, alien abduction..ah, being an American is such an intellectual many things happen only to them..and it therefore took an American by the name of Mark David Chapman to bring down the lion-head of The Beatles, the one guy who consistently wrote such meaningful stuff as A Day in the Life..

  12. Beatle "Ed"

    I have spent the morning googling headings for the front cover of The Beatles “Abbey Road”.

    You are in safe hands, here. The Beatles Bible, thank you.

    For the last year, my son’s lasting legacy before leaving for College was to pin up an enormous giant color poster of the iconic abbey Road album, it help inject new life in the room I grew up in during the sixties, and in turn help house and raise our firstborn.

    The house that I inherited and grew up in is a small rambler, my father was an architect and engineer and responded to my sister’s request to buy and play albums by The Beatles, starting with their first two albums shortly after the Ed Sullivan Show, Winter ’64.

    All the children on the block came to dance and listen to them, at what may have been a burden for my sister, garnering attention the wrong way this was my territory.

    It really was something to see, the way that my parents let down their hair over the years, buying all The Beatles’ albums as they were released each succeeding year up to the white album.

    And so, it really is a dreadful miscarriage that there was something about the Beatles double album that stopped my parents from purchasing their albums after 1968,, I knew most of the songs from The Beatles Abbey Road off my transistor radio but it wasn’t up until the late 70’s when I was 18 and had moved out, starving at my first rental flat that I finally got to hear how Abbey Road was meant to be heard, perfect really to experience it for the first time trying to make sense of the world as a young man starting out fresh.

    Lord knows, when I inherited my parent’s house. I worked hard to collect all of The Beatles albums for our kids, I would have never predicted the direction how music would be traded a short few years after that, I am pleased to say our kids children went through a rite of passage listening to all The Beatles licensed CD’s or watching Yellow Submarine, for the first time, it really clicked for them when they understood where I got silly cryptic references or remarks like, “It’s no longer a blue world”! Or, “Where do we go from here, Argentina”?

    So… yes, Abbey Road really fills in the gap for our family, to be young, vital and overall feeling that you are invincible as each succeeding generation ought to if they care and want to make a difference.

    It is with some relief that I am able to finally organize my thoughts exactly what I am looking at.

    1). The photographer attests, The Beatles were walking from left to right.

    2). The left side of the lens is Abbey Road, the right side opens up to a garden fence with long chairs next to the street for weary pedestrians.

    3).Paul McCartney had some thumbnail sketches that he had drawn up to convey what he was looking for, the fifth photo of the shoot, captures the spirit what he wanted perfectly.

    4). All their legs are in a V-shape formation, demonstrating their ability to be in synch of one another, important for a band.

    5). It is totally appropriate to assume by being a, “lefty” that McCartney would have a little different swagger, walking and holding his cigarette, all beautiful in The Beatle cannon.

    6). All of THe Beatles look beautiful. Three of the members wore suits by the same designer, putting to rest in my mind, that they could go shopping whenever they liked, the new young millionaire that had outfits made for them.

    7). Beatle George and the new up and coming blue collar look at the cusp of an exciting new decade where The Beatles promoted the working class hero, right on time and right on the money.

    8).The photographer only having ten minutes to clip off some shots, remembers having to carry a ladder to position and use in the middle of the street, and that they hired a policeman to direct traffic, another Beatle moment, who’s job was to pick up the phone and enlist aid.

    9). Ftting, that the photographer was able to attest, the real symbolism behind the photograph tbesides being in synch, they are walking away from the studio and their private sweat shop way of life,for those of us that never made the sojourn, who would’ve ever guessed across the crosswalk opens up to a lawn to catch the sun and lawn chairs for reprise.

    10) A picnic in the middle of the freeway, really.

    11). By knowing that they are walking left to right, on Beatle John’s side of the street traffic is approaching, and exiting on the left, no symbolism necessary besides to know the negative hasn’t been flipped flopped.

    12). The Apple licensed product that I recently bought at a giant retail chain has The Beatles walking the opposite direction, right to left, Beatle John leading the way back to the EMI salt mines, symbolic perhaps Apple feels their work was meant to carry on, how could licensed Apple product have The Beatles going in the other direction, intentional or an oversight, really… Apple?

    13). There is a picture of The Beatles’ contract that clearly shows their contract was picked up and not intended to be up for review until 1975, instilling into my heart and lifeblood, Abbey Road was the new direction where to go.

    14). By knowing the proper direction, lamp post are across the street opposite from EMI, their color tone borders on white, and serve to to repel the harsh properties of the sun, black street post are on the other side, and there is an iconic red mail box beyond the V.W.

    15). By all purposes the direction of the street heading toward the general vicinity of Abbey Gardens, the park that the street may have been named after, most palatial and upscale, some history there, who were the original settlers before the advent of a state of art recording studio, a place for people in the neighborhood to gather, no doubt.

    16) Abbey Road helps to put The Beatles on the map.

    17). Linda, Paul’s wife was present her photos attest there are all kinds of people within range of a Beatle sighting,

    18). Our dear Miss Linda is wearing a black sleeveless one piece dress with lace for a collar, very British and important to discover in my book.

    19). An incidental shot of he “little old lady” in a very mod housecoat and dress print talking to the band in front of her house and the website where a fan says many years after the shoot, the little old lady picked her out among a group of tourist to accost because the young lady happened to have a pen in her hand, her parent’s pen, I think that must be true.

    20). In the original photo the “little old lady” looks very advanced for her age, but is probably only around her fifties, life was much harder and rougher after the war, I do believe as she progressed it must have taken all morning just to step out and accost the fans for writing graffiti on her bulkhead.

    21). The American tourist to the right of Beatle John in a smart dress suit thatt lies to rest that he nay have been an EMI executive, which the media was able to locate many years later and get his testament is a bit of a creep to miss going into the local museum with his wife in order to take in some sights and sounds off the street, it’s a character right out of an unwritten Beatle tune.

    22). How much did the tourist doctor his account by stating years later that he discovered himself in the picture when his wife was back home learning to play one of their songs on ther electric organ, another account to chalk up to, “Something”.

    23). There is a picture of Linda on the corner of EMI where there is another older lady in a one piece dark dress that looks remarkably like George Martin’s wife, what are the odds.

    24). Photographs for the album were taken with the Beatles walking in both directions, coming towards and walking away from Abbey Road studio, I obsess over who are the three people in the main photo just beyond the V.W. There are appears to be a blond lady and a large rugged man leaning over to her side, and a professional looking man next to the giant.

    25). Outtakes where the band is walking the other direction to EMI show the rugged man is larger than the other man, and the lady is absent, where did she go in the length of the ten minute shoot, could The Beatles not occupy her time and attention for the length of ten minutes, is she one of them, her outfit may be a blouse and flair pants but the way that the light and distance blends she looks a lot like she is wearing overalls, the rugged man looks a lot like Tom Jones, although I think he is shorter.

    26). There are pictures of very smart looking people to the side of the V.W. one lady, a brunette has a one piece black dress, very interesting that color would be popular at the height of summer.

    27). When blown up to the size of our giant poster on the wall the speckled pavement indeed appears to crackling and sizzling in the summer sun, multi-colored jewels to my reckoning, and the first modern roads for horseless carriage.

    28). The outtake of the duffel bag in front of Beatle John as the group lounges and smoke on the EMI steps, priceless outtakes for certain, their clothes limp from the heat, they sweat and breathe like you and i, oh, my.

    29). Nice to have one picture where all the elements come together, no pun intended, but that is how it goes when you have a broad vision to attempt to try and record and preserve some of the magic in the air, floating freely when we were all still in our young bodies. No last hurrah for me, although time is precious and friends matter, The Beatles legacy is only just beginning.

    Make all the seasons of your life a summer of love~

    Robby Stoneman

  13. Gordon Lafleur

    As a professional photographer for the past 45 years I can tell you with certainty that this photo was not taken at 1/500 at f22.on transparency film. Even the most sensitive transparency film of the era, Kodak high speed Ektachrome, would have been three stops under-exposed at that setting.

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