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The cover and inside sleeve, created by Hipgnosis with George Hardie, features images of people interacting with a black obelisk-shaped object. Inside the sleeve, the item is referred to simply as "The Object". It was intended to represent Zeppelin's "force and presence". Hipgnosis co-founder Storm Thorgerson wrote that the obelisk represented the power of Led Zeppelin, saying they were "so powerful, they didn't need to be there". Both Page and Plant have said that the presence of the object in the photographs made people stop and think about what is real, which reflected the music.
The background in the cover photograph is an artificial marina, installed in London's Earl's Court arena for the annual Boat Show, in the winter of 1974–75. The band played a series of concerts at this venue in May 1975, a few months after the boat show. The inner sleeve photographs came from various archive stock pictures, and was designed to resemble a feature in National Geographic. The girl on the back cover photo is the same one that appeared on Houses of the Holy. Hipgnosis and Hardie were nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Album Package in 1977.