michael hughes’s blog

The making of… Abbey Road

Posted in The making of... by michaelhughes on January 1, 2009
2007 London, Abbey Road. Zebra crossing and Beatle's Abbey Road CD

2007 London, Abbey Road. Zebra crossing and Beatle's Abbey Road CD

















The Abbey Road picture belongs to my Souvenirs set. It was taken in October 2007. I had previously tried this shot in July 2005, about a week after the London bombings. A combination of factors  made me dissatisfied with the results and I left one (lightly photoshopped) version in the set knowing that I would want to go back to it. 


The problem with the first version was that I had not got close enough to the crossing. The original cover photography was done by Iain Macmillan, who had 10 minutes for the shoot on the 8th August 1969. Macmillan had an elevated perspective with a normal or slightly long lens for the original. According to Wikipedia the man on the pavement in the background is an American tourist who only found out much later that he had been immortalised. On the left of the original picture is a VW Beetle which they had tried to had moved for the shot. The owners lived in the apparment block opposite. Later, the number plate was stolen many times as a souvenir. The car was sold at auction in 1986 for $23,000 and is on display at the VW Museum in Wolfsburg, Germany.


I used the equivalent of  a 24 mm on a Canon 10D for the first shoot. The traffic police came along while I was standing in the middle of the road and told me to move on or put on a signal jacket (which I did not have). I am afraid I let myself get hassled by the situation which lead to the unsatisfactory results.


In 2007 I was a lot more relaxed. This time I had the equivalent of a 17 mm on my Canon 5D (same lens, different chip) and had thought through my strategy. I got into position in the middle of the road (with signal jacket) close up to the crossing and started adjusting the perspective through the lens. This time there was less traffic and I was determined to get a good result. As ever, the whole time cars are coming and going, people walking across the crossing, the usual chaos.  


I found early on in my photography that, although difficult, it is usually good to let a bit of chaos get into your pictures. I like it when things happen in my pictures which I have not planned. Photography is a lot like dancing; you have to move and be aware of what you are dancing with in a long improvised movement in which you press the shutter intuitively. There are at least two aspects to this; one is the risk-taking which keeps you on your toes, the other is humility, the acceptance that complete control always excludes  new ideas you may not have thought of. 


The Abbey Road Studio's entrance

The Abbey Road Studio's entrance

At this moment, where I was all set up, one of those moments happened. Abbey Road is a real holy shrine for Beatles fans; they come from all over the world to sign their names on the wall or to photograph themselves walking across the crossing. Just at that moment five young men from Germany had turned up, dressed in black to do just that. One of them took up a position behing me and to my right, while the other four began the crossing, at first from right to left. 


I used this test run to see if the real figures in my viewfinder were approximately the same size as the Beatles on the CD in my viewfinder, adjusted by moving in a little more, lining up the lines at the side and on the crossing. The problem I was dealing with was that when they were behind the CD they were completely invisible, the joke would come when it would appear that they were walking out of the cover onto the crossing. I realised that the best bet would to have just one of the real figures walking on the crossing at approximately the same distance as between the figures on the cover. The problem with that was that I had no control over the movements of the Germans and would have to hope that luck was with me. And it was; instead of bunching up and hanging around on the edge of the crossing and my picture, they all moved quickly towards the guy with the camera, allowing me to pick off the straggler and make him into the fifth Beatle, apparently alone.


Including setting up, I took 35 pictures which coincidentally is a roll of 35mm film. According to the EXIF I started at 21.10.2007 at 13:00:03 with two test shots for the light began the actual shoot at 13:00:55 and finished at 13:02:39, so that the entire thing lasted about a minute and a half. 


Flickr index: over 42,000 views, 318 faves, 78 comments  http://www.flickr.com/photos/michael_hughes/1732837188/


3 Responses

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  1. David Styles said, on April 15, 2009 at 12:58 am

    I write a weekly blog, written from the perspective of a London cabbie.
    At the moment I’m doing a piece on Abbey Road crossing (including people standing in the middle of the road getting in the way of my cab!) and would like to include your picture with of course attribution back to your site.

    Your description of the original shoot was very interesting.

  2. Jaeger said, on October 16, 2009 at 12:03 am

    I’m a friend of David Hornbacks as well and I stumbled across this just now looking for an old blog entry of David’s. Not a photographer myself, I can’t compare your photographs with any sophistication to the global family tree of photographers but I can say I love the cleverness in these. And they are, technically, very crisp and sharp. I only wish you could all make a good living at it in a world saturated with images.

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