What is the most popular photograph in the world? Well it might be the photograph below by John Hedgecoe. It has appeared internationally on over two hundred billion stamps in Britain and the Commonwealth. He was a photographer who lived in Little Dunmow, Essex.

In 1966, he was approached by the postmaster general to take a portrait of the Queen. A session took place in the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace and, despite the quantity of film expended, lasted only 20 minutes. When the Queen inquired whether he had finished – “So soon, Mr Hedgecoe?” – he seized the opportunity for a second impromptu shoot in the music room. The Queen selected her preferred image and the sculptor Arnold Machin then made a plaster bust, which Hedgecoe photographed for the stamps.

John Hedgecoe obituary, The Guardian, 2010

Below are a selection of other photos that Hedgecoe took in the session with the queen, both with a background and some as a silhouette.

Both were used to make Arnold Machin’s sculpture relief of the queen seen here in different light and at a slight angle to each other.

Here is a design Arnold Machin submitted in 1968 when the Royal Mint were looking to replace the currency for decimalisation in 1970. This without the text. The winning front side of the coin was by Robin Ironside.

Hedgecoe was born in Brentford, Middlesex, the son of a banker. Becoming interested in photography when he was 14. During the Second World War his family moved to Gulval, near Penzance in Cornwall. Hedgecoe attended Guildford School of Art (now University for the Creative Arts), while also completing his National Service with the RAF. During his service with the RAF, Hedgecoe experimented with aerial photographic surveys of bomb damage from the war. In 1957, he started work as a staff photographer at a magazine, until 1972. He worked at the RCA as a professor of Photography and died in 2010.

As well as over ten books on photography Hedgecoe wrote one novel, Breakfast with Dolly, illustrated by Quentin Blake.