“Since the photograph was needed urgently, I had to improvise a studio situation in the hotel,” Mr. Freeman wrote in his 2003 book, “The Beatles: A Private View.”
“There was a broad side light from the windows and a deep maroon curtain that could be pulled behind them to create a dark background. They came down at midday wearing their black polo-necked sweaters. It seemed natural to photograph them in black-and-white wearing their customary dark clothes. It gave unity to the image. There was no makeup, hairdresser or stylist — just myself, the Beatles and a camera.”
The resulting image, used for the 1963 British album “With the Beatles” and for the 1964 U.S. release “Meet the Beatles,” showed the four band members looking directly at the camera, without smiling. The light from the dining room windows left their faces half in shadow.
Knowing the photograph would have to fit the near-square shape of an album cover, Mr. Freeman asked drummer Ringo Starr to stoop slightly, as John Lennon, George Harrison and Paul McCartney stood behind.
“By using this heavy source of natural light coming from the right,” McCartney later said, “he got that very moody picture, which most people think he must have worked at forever and ever. But it was only an hour. He sat down, took a couple of rolls, and that was it.”
The portraits appear so focused and precise that many people have assumed Mr. Freeman created a montage from four separate photographs. In fact, all four members of the band are in the same, unretouched image.
“Will we ever forget that photo?” Washington-based photography curator Chris Murray said in an interview. “It heralded the beginning of the British Invasion. You’re listening to the impact of that music for the first time, then you look at Robert Freeman’s portrait of the Beatles — it was magical.”
Mr. Freeman, who was 82, died either Nov. 7 or Nov. 8. His death was announced on the Beatles’ official website and by McCartney and Starr in statements, but other details were not immediately available. He been in failing health since having a stroke in 2014.
From 1963 to 1965, Mr. Freeman worked extensively with the Beatles, shooting the covers for the British releases of “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Beatles for Sale,” “Help!” and “Rubber Soul.” (The corresponding U.S. albums sometimes had different cover art.)
The slightly distorted color image of “Rubber Soul” came about by accident. Mr. Freeman often projected his photographs on a piece of white cardboard the same size as a record album, “giving us an accurate idea of how the finished product would look,” McCartney wrote on his website.
“During his viewing session the card which had been propped up on a small table fell backwards giving the photograph a ‘stretched’ look. Instead of simply putting the card upright again we became excited at the idea of this new version of his photograph. He assured us that it was possible to print it this way and because the album was titled Rubber Soul we felt that the image fitted perfectly.”
Robert Freeman was born Dec. 5, 1936. Little is known of his early life, including his birthplace, which is alternately given as London or Cambridge, England.
After graduating in 1959 from the University of Cambridge, he became a photojournalist for the Sunday Times of London and other publications. He photographed Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in the Kremlin and also shot photos of jazz artists, including John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Cannonball Adderley, on their visits to Britain.
He forwarded some of those images to Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, who invited Mr. Freeman to take pictures of the band as it was rising to fame. He also designed the end credits for two films featuring the Beatles, “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964) and “Help!” (1965), and did the photography and design for two books by Lennon. Mr. Freeman published two books of photographs about his time with the Beatles.
His marriage to Sonny Spielhagen, with whom he had two children, ended in divorce. He was later married to author Tiddy Rowan, with whom he had a daughter. A complete list of survivors could not be confirmed.
Mr. Freeman, who once lived one floor below Lennon in London, later resided in Hong Kong and Spain. He sold much of his collection to photography collector and curator Raj Prem.
“Freeman was living in Hong Kong when Lennon was assassinated in 1980,” Prem told CNN in 2013, “and he told me that he had a photo of Lennon on his wall and it fell down at exactly the same time.”