McBean began his career in the theatre as mask-maker and scenery designer before turning to full-time theatre photography. McBean is renowned for his theatrical and inventive photography of the 1930s and 1940s. Imitated throughout his career, his influence especially in advertising is still prominent today. In 1935 he opened his own studio; and his prominent style was soon being published in glossy magazines. The Surrealist Exhibition in 1936 was an influence on McBean's theatrical portraits. After the Second World War he opened a larger studio in Covent Garden, and in the 1940s and 1950s was inundated with commissions from theatre companies. In the 1960s McBean photographed the Beatles for their first album.